Academic Programs

Course Sequences for Undergraduate Programs

All students interested in becoming a physics major should meet with a departmental faculty advisor. Once enrolled, it is recommnded that you meet with a departmental advisor at least once per year.


Lower-Division Requirements : B.S. in Physics

All physics majors are required to complete the following lower-division courses. In order to complete a physics major in four years these courses should be completed during the first two years. All of these courses are available in either the Fall or Spring semesters except for the laboratory course PHYS 284 which is available in the Spring. MATH 229 is a co-requisite for PHYS 253. In general it is better to have taken some calculus prior to the term you are enrolled in PHYS 253 and so for most students it is recommended that they complete MATH 229 prior to enrolling in PHYS 253. Please consult the department for advisement if there is any uncertainty on when PHYS 253 should be taken. Students, including transfer students, who have taken the non-calculus courses PHYS 210 or PHYS 211 should consult the department for advisement.

  • Department of Physics - Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Quantum Physics
    • PHYS 253 (4 hours) Fundamentals of Physics I: Mechanics
    • PHYS 273 (4 hours) Fundamentals of Physics II: Electromagnetism 
      This is the normal calculus-based sequence. Students who start in the non-calculus-based courses may substitute the following:
      • PHYS 210 (4 hours) General Physics I
      • PHYS 211 (4 hours) General Physics II
      • PHYS 252 (3 hours) Intermediate General Physics
    • PHYS 283 (3 hours) Fundamentals of Physics III: Quantum Physics
    • PHYS 284 (1 hour) Quantum Physics Laboratory
  • Department of Mathematical Sciences
    • MATH 229 (4 hours) Calculus I
    • MATH 230 (4 hours) Calculus II
    • MATH 232 (4 hours) Calculus III
  • Department of Chemistry
    • CHEM 210, 212 (3,1 hours) General Chemistry I and Chemistry Laboratory I
    • CHEM 211, 213 (3,1 hours) General Chemistry II and Chemistry Laboratory II

Upper-Division Requirements : B.S. in Physics

All physics majors are required to complete the following upper-division courses. These courses are intended for the third year of a four year program. PHYS 375 can be taken during either the third or fourth year while PHYS 498 is taken during the student's final year. MATH 336 can be taken during the student's fourth semester immediately after completing MATH 232.

  • Department of Mathematical Sciences
    • MATH 336 (3 hours) Ordinary Differential Equations This is offered in both the Fall and Spring, but is a corequisite of PHYS 300 and PHYS 370.
  • Department of Physics
    • PHYS 300 (3 hours) Analytical Mechanics I (Fall)
    • PHYS 374 (3 hours) Introduction to Experimental Physics (Fall)
    • PHYS 320 (3 hours) Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics (Spring)
    • PHYS 370 (3 hours) Electricity and Magnetism I (Spring)
    • PHYS 375 (4 hours) Laboratory Electronics I (Spring)
    • PHYS 498 or PHYS 499H (1 hour) Senior Seminar (Fall or Spring Senior Year)

Upper-Division Requirements : Emphases

The physics department offers a variety of emphases to appeal to students of varied interests. Each emphasis is marked with a different set of requirements and electives to complete the major. These courses would be taken after the first two years.

Professional Physics

The goal of the professional physics emphasis is to provide a traditional education in physics for students intending to continue on to graduate school. The following courses are required for this emphasis:

  • Required
    • PHYS 383 (3 hours) Intermediate Quantum Physics (Fall)
    • PHYS 460 (3 hours) Quantum Physics (Fall)
  • Elective - Select two of the following lecture courses:
    • PHYS 400 (3 hours) Analytical Mechanics II (Spring)
    • PHYS 461 (3 hours) Modern Physics (Spring)
    • PHYS 463 (3 hours) Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics (Fall)
    • PHYS 470 (3 hours) Electricity and Magnetism II (Fall)
    • PHYS 485 (3 hours) Methods of Mathematical Physics II (Fall)
  • Elective - Select one of the following lab courses:
    • PHYS 475 (4 hours) Laboratory Electronics II (Spring)
    • PHYS 430 (4 hours) Optics (Spring)

For students who plan on attending graduate school in physics, it is strongly recommended that you take: a) one or more of PHYS 385 (Methods of Mathematical Physics I), MATH 240 (Linear Algebra), and MATH 339 (Engineering Mathematics I) prior to taking PHYS 460; b) both PHYS 400 and PHYS 470; and c) PHYS 485.

Majors seeking to complete this program should consider the following sequence for the third and fourth years. Courses marked with an * are elective.

  • Junior Year Fall
    • PHYS 300
    • PHYS 374
    • PHYS 383
    • MATH 336 (or Second Year Spring)
  • Junior Year Spring
    • PHYS 320
    • PHYS 370
    • PHYS 375 (or Senior Year Spring)
    • *MATH 240
  • Senior Year Fall
    • PHYS 460
    • *PHYS 470 or PHYS 463
    • *PHYS 485
  • Senior Year Spring 
    • *PHYS 461
    • *PHYS 400 
    • *PHYS 430 or PHYS 475
    • PHYS 498

Secondary School Teaching

The goal of the secondary school teaching emphasis is to provide the necessary background in physics to teach at the high-school level. The following courses are required for this emphasis:

  • Required:
    • PHYS 367 (3 hours) Waves and Vibrations (Fall)
    • PHYS 494 (2 hours) Use of Technology in Physical Science Teaching (Spring)
    • PHYS 495 (3 hours) Teaching of Physical Sciences (Fall or Spring)
    • ILAS 300 (1 hour) Clinical Experiences for High School Certificate
  • Additional courses are required for state teacher certification. See the STEM Teacher Certification site for details.

Applied Physics

The goal of the applied physics emphasis is to provide a physics major for students who plan to seek employment in a physics-related industry or in a professional school with physics applications.  This emphasis is intended to provide a solid background in physcs with a focus on a specific cross-disciplinary area.

The additional requirements for this emphasis are 17-19 credit hours including at least 10 hours of physics at the 300 or 400 level.  Students should consult with a departmental advisor for assistance in selecting an appropriate sequence of courses to constitute a track of study.  Example tracks include the following:

  • Computational Physics
    • PHYS 410 (3 hours) Computational Physics (Fall)
    • PHYS 475 (4 hours) Laboratory Electronics II (Fall)
    • PHYS 485 (3 hours) Methods of Mathematical Physics (Fall)
    • MATH 240 (4 hours) Linear Algebra (Fall or Spring)
    • MATH 435 (3 hours) Numerical Analysis (Spring)
  • Geophysics and Astronomy
    • PHYS 344 (3 hours) Astronomy (Spring)
    • PHYS 383 (3 hours) Intermediate Quantum Physics (Fall)
    • PHYS 430 (4 hours) Optics (Spring)
    • PHYS 477 (3 hours) Astrophysics (Fall)
    • GEOL 120A (4 hours) Introductory Geology (Fall or Spring)
    • GEOL 496 (3 hours) Geophysics (Fall)
  • Health Physics
    • PHYS 335 (3 hours) Biophysics (Fall)
    • PHYS 383 (3 hours) Intermediate Quantum Physics (Fall)
    • PHYS 430 (4 hours) Optics (Spring)
    • PHYS 434 (3 hours) Nuclear Energy and Radiation (Fall)
    • BIOS 208 (4 hours) Fundamentals of Biology I (Fall or Spring)
    • BIOS 209 (4 hours) Fundamentals of Biology II (Fall or Spring)
  • Materials Physics
    • PHYS 383 (3 hours) Intermediate Quantum Physics (Fall)
    • PHYS 434 (3 hours) Nuclear Energy and Radiation (Fall)
    • PHYS 475 (4 hours) Laboratory Electronics II (Fall)
    • PHYS 480 (3 hours) Materials Science (Spring)
    • CHEM 440 (3 hours) Physical Chemistry I (Fall)
    • CHEM 441 (3 hours) Physical Chemistry II (Spring)
    • CHEM 447 (3 hours) Physical Chemistry Lab (Spring)

Course Requirements : Minor in Physics

All physics minors are required to complete the following courses. At least six semester hours must be taken at NIU.

  • MATH 230 (4 hours) Calculus II
  • PHYS 253 (4 hours) Fundamentals of Physics I: Mechanics
  • PHYS 273 (4 hours) Fundamentals of Physics II: Electromagnetism
  • PHYS 210, 211, and 252 (total 11 hours) may replace PHYS 253 and 273
  • PHYS 283 (3 hours) Fundamentals of Physics III: Quantum Physics
  • PHYS 284 (1 hour) Quantum Physics Laboratory
  • nine additional hours from PHYS 300, PHYS 367,  PHYS 370, PHYS 374, PHYS 375, PHYS 383 or any 400-level physics course.