2019-20 Pomona College Catalog 
    Jul 25, 2024  
2019-20 Pomona College Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG] Use the dropdown above to select the current 2023-24 catalog.

Physics and Astronomy

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Professor Dwight Whitaker, department chair

Professors Hudgings, Mawhorter1, Moore2, Tanenbaum, Zook
Associate Professor Choi3

Assistant Professor Moreno
Visiting Assistant Professors Bahreyni, Mashian, Stecklein
Visiting Instructor Quetin
Natalie Hughes, academic coordinator

Physics is the study of the most fundamental properties of matter and energy, stressing the quantitative description of nature. As such, it has close connections to and applications in mathematics, the other physical sciences, particularly chemistry and geology and increasingly in the life and medical sciences. Astronomy, the study of the formation and evolution of the large-scale universe, extends the laws of physics to the largest scales of both space and time and allows students to apply their knowledge of physics to the formation and structure of stars, galaxies and the early universe itself. Both physics and astronomy have also been important in Western intellectual history and the development of fields outside the sciences such as philosophy, religion, history and politics. Majoring in physics or astronomy also develops capabilities valuable in many “real life” situations: problem-solving skills, quantitative modeling and analysis skills, technical reading and writing skills, experimental design skills and oral presentation skills. 

An important aspect of the major is the required senior thesis. Majors are strongly encouraged to elect independent research projects, usually in conjunction with a faculty member’s research program, which may be experimental, computational or theoretical. Recent thesis topics involving independent research have included organic solar cells, carbon nanotubes and graphene sheets, optical tweezers, microwave spectroscopy, computational general relativity, computational and experimental fluid dynamics, nonlinear dynamics and chaos, Bose-Einstein condensates, environmental science, acoustics and physics education research. Astronomy research projects have included monitoring active galactic nuclei, quasar absorption line spectroscopy, telescope instrument design, adaptive optics, analyzing optics, analyzing Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescope data and acquiring images of galaxies in infrared and optical wavelengths. Students may also carry out independent work earlier than the senior year as a summer research assistant or under Physics or Astronomy 199. 

The Pomona College Physics Major prepares students for careers in a wide variety of fields. Persons with a good grounding in physics are employed in all fields of engineering, in basic and applied research in physics, materials science, astronomy, optics, chemical physics, geophysics and biophysics. Our program also prepares students as well for careers in education, medicine, law, finance, consulting, small start-ups, arts and many other arenas. In many cases our alumni combine their technical skills with artistic passions. Many careers for astronomers exist in NASA and other research institutes, as well as in industrial settings where computer skills and image processing are important. A strong technical background is becoming increasingly useful in the fields of public policy, urban planning and environmental studies. Students interested in these fields may wish to investigate the programs in science, technology and society, public policy analysis and environmental analysis (see listings), with a focus on physics. 

The Pomona College Physics and Astronomy Department features some of the most advanced research-grade equipment in physics and astronomy for any undergraduate college. Major physics equipment includes facilities for electron scattering, cryogenics, high-Tc superconductivity, optical and scanned-probe microscopy, photolithography, ellipsometry, spectral reflectance, field emission scanning electron microscopy, electron beam lithography, energy dispersive X-ray analysis, atomic and molecular spectroscopy, high speed video analysis, Raman spectroscopy, nonlinear optics, holography, thermal imaging, laser tweezers, an all-optical system for producing Bose-Einstein condensates, a thin-film evaporator and a chemical vapor deposition system for growing graphene and carbon nanotubes. 

The astronomy facilities include a research-grade one-meter telescope in the San Gabriel Mountains equipped with optical and infrared-wavelength CCD cameras, as well as an on-campus observatory equipped with two computer-controlled 14-inch telescopes and a variety of portable and solar telescopes. An NSF-funded lab for adaptive optics research enables students to help develop cutting-edge instrumentation for our telescopes. Access to additional scientific instrumentation is provided through collaborations with other departments, such as Chemistry and Geology, and helps to enhance interdisciplinary scientific collaborations.

Research in both physics and astronomy is supported by substantial grants from both private and federal funding agencies. Endowments from the Seaver and Sontag families directly support research in Physics and Astronomy at Pomona College. The department also features professionally staffed machine and electronics shops to develop new instrumentation with state of the art facilities for machining plastics, metal, wood, design and fabrication of custom circuit boards, precision electronic measurements, micro controllers and 3D design and printing.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers multiple tracks to suit diverse student interests. The physics and astrophysics tracks provide rigorous training suitable for those students interested in graduate studies and research, while the astronomy and earth, planetary and space science (EPSS) tracks train students more broadly in science for careers in teaching, technology and space science. Within the physics track there are guides to prepare for careers in engineering, teaching and medicine. In all tracks, students receive a B.A. in physics upon graduation but can choose different groups of physics and astronomy courses to suit their interests.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is also actively involved in the environmental analysis and public policy programs. 

The Physics major is the most common major track pursued by Pomona College students entering engineering programs including the 3-2 and 2-1-1-1 dual degree programs between Pomona College and Caltech, Washington University and Dartmouth. The degree requirements for all four tracks and for the two minor programs are described below. 


1On leave fall 2019 2On leave spring 2020 3On leave 2019-20

Classification of Courses

Introductory courses: PHYS 041 PO , PHYS 042 PO PHYS 070 PO PHYS 071 PO PHYS 072 PO  and PHYS 101 PO 
Core courses: PHYS 125 PO , PHYS 142 PO PHYS 170 PO  and PHYS 175 PO 
Upper-division elective courses: PHYS 155 PO  , PHYS 160 PO , PHYS 176 PO , PHYS 185 PO . A student not electing the astronomy major or minor can also count ASTR 101 PO  and any pair of half-courses from ASTR 121 PO , ASTR 122 PO , ASTR 123 PO , or ASTR 125 PO  as electives for the physics major or minor.
Other requirements for the Physics Major: PHYS 128 PO , PHYS 174 PO , PHYS 190 PO PHYS 191E PO  or PHYS 191L PO , PHYS 193 PO 
Courses offered for non-majors: PHYS 003 PO PHYS 017 PO , ASTR 001 PO , or ASTR 002 PO 

Other Information

Physics Introductory Sequence: All students interested in the possibility of a physics, astrophysics or astronomy major or minor should take PHYS 070 PO  during their first year, if at all possible. During this course, students will take a test that will assess the strength of their high-school preparation in mechanics and electricity and magnetism. Students who pass this test will have completed the “introductory sequence” by taking only PHYS 070 PO ; others may need to take the additional half courses of PHYS 071 PO  and/or PHYS 072 PO  (to be determined) to strengthen their background in these areas. Taking both PHYS 041 PO  and PHYS 042 PO  also satisfies the introductory sequence requirement.

It is possible to study abroad and complete a physics major, although careful planning is necessary, and the fall of the junior year is preferred. The department recommends that students consider programs where it will be possible to take physics while abroad and that students avoid being away during their senior year if at all possible. The Department of Physics and Astronomy is also sometimes able to provide opportunities to do summer research overseas in both disciplines as another means of providing international experiences.

The department encourages physics majors to gain practical experience doing research in physics during the summer. Students have opportunities to do sponsored summer research both on campus working with physics faculty, as well as with researchers at a variety of research institutions around the world. The Astronomy Program has a unique partnership with the Carnegie Observatories, based in Pasadena, which places about four Claremont students in research jobs each summer and which makes use of the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Students have done research internships at the Brookhaven National Lab, National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Cornell University, Harvard University, Caltech, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Smithsonian and many other exceptional research institutions. Typical programs are 10 weeks long and include a stipend as well as some assistance with summer housing. The College has a strong record placing students in these programs both in the sophomore and junior years. In some cases, these projects are extended into senior thesis exercises.



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