If you have particular topics you'd like me to address, let me know and I'll add them to the site. )

**What courses should I take?**

Of course you should take the required major sequence courses in the Physics
department:

Physics 23 - Dynamics of Particles and Systems, Waves

Physics 24 - The Maxwellian Synthesis: Dynamics of Charges and Fields, Optics

Physics 25 - Modern Physics

Physics 26 - Intermediate Lab

Physics 27 - Methods of Theoretical Physics

Physics 30 - Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics

Physics 43 - Dynamics

Physics 47 - Electromagnetic Theory I

Physics 48 - Quantum Mechanics I

and if possible the advanced electives:

Physics 52 - Advanced electromagnetism

Physics 53 - Quantum mechanics II

Physics 98 - Senior Honors (which counts for three courses: one in the fall
and two in the spring).

There are also two required math courses:

Math 11 - Introduction to the Calculus

Math 12 - Intermediate Calculus.

Some computer programming experience, perhaps acquired in a computer science
course, may also prove to be useful.

In addition, depending on student (and faculty) interest and available
manpower, we hope to offer some interesting electives. Recent
upper-level electives include:

Physics 40 - Topics in Contemporary Physics [last offered S01]

Physics 60 - Particle Physics [last offered S02]

Physics 75 - Advanced Statistical Mechanics [last offered F01]

Physics 76 - Quantum Information, Quantum Measurement and Quantum Computing [last offered S06]

Physics 80 - General Relativity [last offered F03, and as a reading course in 04 and 05 ].

We sometimes offer reading courses to students interested in subjects not currently taught. This depends a bit on faculty interest and expertise and on what time we have available. Ask any of us for details.

Examples of possible reading courses might include:

Symmetry methods (Group theory for physics)

Supersymmetry

Quantum field theory

Classical field theory

Gauge theory

Advanced statistical mechanics

Advanced classical mechanics

Fluid dynamics

Condensed matter physics

Geometrical methods of mathematical physics

Statistics and probability in physics

Computational physics

Nonlinear dynamics/chaos

Particle physics

General relativity

Cosmology

Group theory for physics

Classical optics

Quantum optics

Path integrals

String theory

Physics of sports

Physics of music

Waves

Foundations of quantum mechanics

Mechanics of solids

Biophysics

Stochastic processes

Nuclear physics

Atomic physics

Environmental physics

Atmospheric physics

Control theory

Operator theory in physics

Physics of finance

Also, the other colleges and UMass offer a range of advanced courses each year (including graduate courses at UMass). Look at the Five College Course Catalog for ideas, or come talk to me for suggestions.

Theoretical physics is math-intensive, and there are several courses
in the math department that could be especially useful. In particular,
I'd recommend at a bare minimum:

Multivariable calculus

Linear Algebra.

Some of the material in these courses is covered in less detail in Physics 27.
Since Physics 27 is a relatively new course and its syllabus is still evolving,
check with the instructors to see how great the overlap will be.

If your schedule permits, the following courses (roughly in order of importance) could be useful
for theoretical physics:

Differential equations

Functions of a complex variable

Differential geometry

Functions of a real variable

Groups, Rings and Fields

Topology

Introduction to statistics

Perhaps the most important math course that's not taught regularly in the physics or math departments is what I'd call Symmetry Methods in Theoretical Physics. Physicists loosely refer to the subject as Group Theory in Physics, but the title can be a bit deceptive. What is considered interesting in group theory to physicists is not what is usually covered in introductory math courses on Groups, Rings and Fields. If you want to study symmetry methods and group theory from a physics perspective, a reading course in the physics department may be your best option.

Courses in number theory, logic, and set theory tend to be less useful to physicists. You should of course take such courses our of interest in the subject, not because you think they will be useful in studying theoretical physics.

Some sample schedules:

**No advanced placement, only the essentials:**

(9 physics + 2 math + 21 other courses)

**First Year: Fall semester**

Physics 23: Newtonian Synthesis

Math 11: Calculus I

First Year Seminar

one other course

**First Year: Spring semester**

Physics 24: Maxwellian Synthesis

Math 12: Calculus II

two other courses

**Second Year: Fall semester**

Physics 25: Modern Physics

Physics 27: Methods of Theoretical Physics

two other courses

**Second Year: Spring semester**

Physics 26: Intermediate Laboratory

Physics 30: Statistical Mechanics

two other courses

**Third Year: Fall semester**

Physics 43: Mechanics

Physics 47: Electrodynamics

two other courses

**Third Year: Spring semester**

Physics 48: Quantum Mechanics

three other courses

**Fourth Year: Fall semester**

four courses

**Fourth Year: Spring semester**

four courses

**No advanced placement, the essentials + thesis:**

(12 physics + 2 math + 18 other courses)

**First Year: Fall semester**

Physics 23: Newtonian Synthesis

Math 11: Calculus I

First Year Seminar

one other course

**First Year: Spring semester**

Physics 24: Maxwellian Synthesis

Math 12: Calculus II

two other courses

**Second Year: Fall semester**

Physics 25: Modern Physics

Physics 27: Methods of Theoretical Physics

two other courses

**Second Year: Spring semester**

Physics 26: Intermediate Laboratory

Physics 30: Statistical Mechanics

two other courses

**Third Year: Fall semester**

Physics 43: Mechanics

Physics 47: Electrodynamics

two other courses

**Third Year: Spring semester**

Physics 48: Quantum Mechanics

three other courses

**Fourth Year: Fall semester**

Senior honors thesis (counts as one course)

three other courses

**Fourth Year: Spring semester**

Senior honors thesis (counts as two courses)

two other courses

**One year of calculus and one semester of introductory mechanics
advanced placement, the essentials + thesis + some suggested electives for
the grad-school bound:**

**First Year: Fall semester**

Physics 27: Methods of Theoretical Physics

First Year Seminar

two other courses

**First Year: Spring semester**

Physics 24: Maxwellian Synthesis

three other courses

**Second Year: Fall semester**

Physics 43: Mechanics

Physics 25: Modern Physics

two other courses

**Second Year: Spring semester**

Physics 30: Statistical Mechanics

Physics 26: Intermediate Laboratory

two other courses

**Third Year: Fall semester**

Physics 47: Electrodynamics

three other courses

**Third Year: Spring semester**

Physics 48: Quantum Mechanics

Physics 52: Electrodynamics II

two other courses

**Fourth Year: Fall semester**

Senior honors thesis (counts as one course)

Physics 53: Quantum Mechanics II

two other courses

**Fourth Year: Spring semester**

Senior honors thesis (counts as two courses)

Physics 60: General Relativity

one other course

**As an undergraduate, can I really do a thesis in theoretical physics?**

Yes. Typically one or two theses in the department each year are primarily
theoretical in nature, and experimental theses often require a good measure
of theoretical work in elaborating the theory behind the experiment. The
results of the work are sometimes written up to be
published in major physics journals, and students are typically co-authors on these papers.

**Some recent theses:**

**2005:**

Nathaniel Reden

Tarun Menon

**2004:**

Mark Wheeler

Matt Willis

Nate Powell

Solomon Granor

Michael Reed

Douglas Orbaker

**2003:**

Jessica Cabot

Ted Reber

Andrew Foss

Oliver Elliot

**2002:**

Ross O'Connell

Scott Owen

Mike Niemack

Catherine Deibel

Rebecca Erwin

Matt Hummon

Anne Kemble

**2001:**

Keith Ulmer

Ben Samelson-Jones

Chris Bednarzyk

Matt Taylor

**2000:**

**1999:**

**How should I proceed if I want to do thesis work in theoretical physics? Do I need any special preparation?**

There is tremendous variation among possible thesis topics and the
corresponding prerequisites. Any student that has completed all (or even most)
of the courses in the physics major sequence is prepared for a broad
range of possible theory topics. However, to work in some subjects,
especially those which are not covered in detail in the major sequence,
I would strongly recommend some additional preparation prior to undertaking
thesis work. This additional preparation might entail taking one of
the electives, a graduate course at UMass, or a reading course on the
topic of interest. For example, a student interested in thesis work
in theoretical particle physics might benefit from taking the particle
physics elective, and a student interested in a string theory thesis might
take a reading course in string theory or a graduate course at UMass
(although, depending on the student and the project, these might not be
necessary).
While it would be ideal to take additional courses before undertaking the
thesis, taking those courses in the senior year simultaneous to thesis work
might also be beneficial (although again, perhaps not necessary).
Some of these courses may have their own prerequisites,
so some attention to scheduling may be necessary. I encourage you to
consult with me or one of the other faculty as far in advance as possible,
so that you can anticipate what courses will be available and appropriate
to the work you want to do. Don't assume you know can figure it out yourself
from reading course catalogs... come and talk to us.

Doing summer work with a faculty supervisor can be a useful way to try out theoretical work and get in some background work for a thesis. The options for summer work available to you depend on which faculty are around over the summer, what sources of funding are available to support you over the summer (from the faculty supervisor's own grant, the College, external grants, or other sources), and the particulars of your own background (the courses you've taken, your interests, you experience with computers and computer programming, etc.). In the early stages of your college career not all summer theory projects would likely be appropriate for you, but even early on there are usually interesting projects that you can undertake. Since funds are limited and there are often deadlines for applications, it is important to discuss the possibilities with faculty well in advance of the summer so that they can be aware of your interest and so they can let you know what steps to take and when to take them. In the fall or early in the spring semester is not too early to drop in and talk to faculty about summer work. [The deadline for Hughes Foundation grants is March 1.] Don't wait until the end April to think about it! (Although if you do, come by and talk to us anyway; we may still be able to arrange something. The department very much want to help all students, and especially our majors, get the research experiences that want.)

**What is it like to do thesis work in theory? Is it all on computer?
Do I have to come up with my own new theories?**

**What sort of theoretical physics do faculty at Amherst study?**

Lots. The
Amherst College Physics department web page lists some faculty interests.
Two of us,
Professor Jagannathan and myself (Prof. Loinaz), describe ourselves as
theoretical physicists, but most of the rest of the physics faculty
do theoretical work at least occasionally, and many have or would supervise
theoretical senior theses. In the future I'll add some of the theoretical
research interests of the faculty here, as well as a list of theoretical
senior theses supervised.

**What sort of theoretical physics do faculty in the Five College area study?
**

There's an active community of theoretical physicists in the Five College area.
The
Five College Physics Website contains descriptions of the activities of
some faculty members and links to their web pages. I'll add some additional
descriptions here myself later.

**Are there theoretical physics talks in the Five College area that I can attend?**

Quite a few. Amherst College has a weekly colloquium series during the academic year that
often features theorists. The talks are Thursdays at 4:45 in Merrill 3, with
refreshments in at 4:15 in Merrill 204. All are welcome, to both the refreshments and the colloquium.
I'll add information about talks at UMass and the other colleges later.

**Have any Amherst alumni gone on to study theoretical physics in graduate
school?
**

Over the past several years, one or two physics majors per year
go on to graduate schoolwith the intent to study theoretical physics.
I'll add details later, but since I've been here our graduates have gone to
Caltech (2), University of Washington, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor,
University of Pennsylvania, the Institute for Mathematical Sciences
in Chennai, India, and the University of Maryland to study theoretical physics.

**Say I want to study theoretical physics in graduate school?
How should I proceed? Do I need to do a senior thesis in theoretical physics?
**