B.S. Degree Requirements

As of Spring 2019

Required Physics Courses

  • PHYSICS 161D: Fundamentals of Physics I or equivalent*
  • PHYSICS 162D: Fundamentals of Physics II or equivalent*
  • PHYSICS 164L: Introductory Experimental Physics I
  • PHYSICS 165L: Introductory Experimental Physics II
  • PHYSICS 264L: Optics and Modern Physics
  • PHYSICS 361: Intermediate Mechanics
  • PHYSICS 362: Electricity and Magnetism
  • PHYSICS 363: Thermal Physics
  • PHYSICS 417S: Advanced Physics Laboratory and Seminar**
  • PHYSICS 464: Quantum Mechanics I
  • One physics elective numbered 200 or higher.
  • One physics elective numbered 300 or higher.

 Required Mathematics Courses

  • MATH 122L: One-variable calculus or its equivalent
  • MATH 212: Intermediate Calculus
  • MATH 221: Linear Algebra and Applications
  • MATH 356: Elementary Differential Equations

A note on the math requirements: for students who have already taken, or started, the MATH 216/353 sequence, these courses will be accepted in place of MATH 221/356. However MATH 221/356 is the preferred sequence for physics majors.

*PHYSICS 141L/142L or 151L/152L are acceptable for satisfying introductory physics requirements for physics majors, for students who have already taken these when starting as a physics major. However, PHYSICS 161 and 162 are strongly encouraged, as they provide better preparation for subsequent courses. Students with AP credit in calculus-based mechanics and E&M are encouraged to take 163D in lieu of 161D and 162D.  All prospective majors should take the half-credit introductory laboratory courses, 164L and 165L.

**An experimentally-intensive research independent study can substitute for 417S, with approval of the DUS.  The independent study must include all of the following components: hands-on laboratory work, data analysis and interpretation, writeup sufficient to qualify for W course code, and oral presentation. Students with exceptionally strong hands-on experimental research experience via non-independent-study experience (e.g., summer research) may also, with DUS approval, substitute another course for PHYSICS 417S.


Students planning to attend a physics graduate program should also get:

  • Research experience through a research independent study (PHYSICS 493) or through summer research. Research can be highly rewarding and prepares a student well for graduate school, for employment, and for professional schools. Research can also lead to much stronger letters of recommendation since a faculty member will get to know you well through collaboration. You can talk to the Director of Undergraduate Studies or with any of the professors in the Physics Department to learn about research opportunities.
  • One or more upper-level physics courses beyond the required physics courses. PHYSICS 465: Quantum Mechanics II, the second semester of the upper-level quantum sequence, is especially recommended but other choices could be astrophysics, biophysics, computational physics, particle physics, and nonlinear dynamics.
  • At least one math course beyond the basic math requirements. If you want to choose a math course that also strengthens your ability to do graduate physics research, some choices could be complex analysis, partial differential equations, abstract algebra, differential geometry, perturbation theory, and numerical analysis.
  • demonstrate substantial mastery of some physics topic by doing enough research to write an honors thesis, see Graduation with Distinction.

Knowing How to Program

All physics majors should know how to write computer programs at the level of an introductory computer science course such as COMPSCI 101, and they should learn this skill as soon as possible, preferably by the end of their sophomore year. Knowing how to program greatly increases the opportunities for undergraduate research, theoretical and experimental.

Courses at UNC

Duke students can take physics courses at nearby UNC Chapel Hill, which substantially increases the variety of possible physics courses. Travel back and forth between Duke and UNC is made convenient by the free Robertson Scholarship bus that runs about every half hour between Duke and UNC.

You can take up to one course per semester at UNC-CH (or at any other of the local universities like NC State although UNC is by far the easiest to get to) as long as Duke does not offer an equivalent course. UNC's Physics Department especially has advanced undergraduate courses in condensed matter physics and astrophysics that are currently not offered at Duke.

Please see the UNC physics course offerings. Check out these courses and then sit down with the Director of Undergraduate Studies to see if one of them can fit into your educational plan.