Physics majors culminate their studies with independent projects in advanced physics lab

Degree options

  • Major or minor in physics
  • Teaching major in physics

Physics program overview

As a Cornell physics major, you are introduced to the foundational theories of physics—classical mechanics, electricity, and magnetism, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics—and to the ways physicists "do" physics, as you engage in hands-on activities in our lab courses. 

The physics major will prepare you for graduate work in physics or related fields such as astronomy and engineering. But within the liberal arts environment at Cornell, you will find connections between physics and other fields. You will find your analytical and problem-solving skills are highly valued in a variety of occupations, including software development, financial markets, business, and technical fields. 

Cornell physics faculty have varied backgrounds and interests in biophysics, medical imaging, condensed matter physics, and astrophysics, and they all share a dedication to teaching and innovation in the classroom. The professors will get to know you and your fellow physics majors, and they will tailor experiences to meet individual interests and goals. 

Benefits of One Course At A Time

Cornell College's academic calendar allows you to engage in more real-life experiences than you could under the semester system. It also encourages faculty to use active-learning techniques beyond traditional lectures. 

In Cornell physics classes, you will frequently work in small groups on hands-on activities or problem solving, while the professors are present to provide guidance and feedback. The curriculum also devotes an entire block to the introductory labs after you have been through two blocks of physics. This allows you to concentrate on lab technique and presentation skills, and uses labs that involve several areas of physics. 

During the advanced physics lab capstone course, you will spend an entire block researching a physics topic of your choosing. Working with a small team, you will plan, design, construct, and carry out your own experiments, much like in an actual research lab. Students who go on to work in research labs, either in graduate school or industry, find the advanced lab to be good preparation.

Other benefits of One Course include:

  • You can't postpone studying for most of the semester and then cram before a few exams, because assignments are often due the next day rather than the next week or month. Keeping up your pace will deepen your understanding of the material.
  • You can use the classroom to work with other students on homework beyond normal class hours.
  • You can complete longer lab experiments, not be confined to two or three hours. 
  • It's easier to take calculus before physics.

Research and projects

In addition to many hands-on experiences in your classes, you can apply to work with Cornell faculty and other students during summer research projects on campus. Current research projects include:

  • Exploring properties of star forming regions.
  • Developing videos showing how to construct useful equipment for both doing physics demonstrations and exploring a range of physical phenomena.
  • Creating a virtual-reality (VR) surgical simulator for orthopedic surgeons to alleviate the costs, risks, and errors associated with training surgical residents in real operating rooms.

The goal in our research program is to develop the fundamental skills needed to prepare for work in research lab settings, with a focus on student learning rather than faculty achievement. On-campus research frequently leads to undergraduate research placements at other larger institutions. Recent students have completed summer research experiences at places like Cornell University, the Hubble Space Telescope Institute, and the CERN particle accelerator lab in Switzerland.

Our majors have gone on to graduate studies in a variety of highly-regarded programs, or have found employment as engineers, lab scientists, project managers, entrepreneurs, teachers, and more.

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