Courses

Guide to Introductory Physics Courses at Tufts

Undergraduate

We offer two sequences of introductory physics courses:

  • PHY 1 and PHY 2 are algebra-based
  • PHY 11 and PHY 12 are calculus-based


It may be difficult to understand the similarities and differences between these sequences and to figure out which course is best for you. This brief guide may help.

Comparison of PHY 1 and PHY 11

  PHY 1 - Introductory Physics I PHY 11 - General Physics I
Content Mechanics
Kinematics
Newton's Laws
Energy
Momentum
Rotational Motion
Fluids
Oscillations or Heat & Temperature
Who takes it? Mainly biological science and pre-health students, usually juniors, seniors, and post-bacs Mainly physical science and engineering students, usually first-year and second-year students
Math prerequisite High school algebra and trigonometry MATH 32 - Calculus I (may be taken concurrently)
Calculus None Minimal
Lab 6 labs with oral interviews. Lab sections are shared between PHY 1 and PHY 11.
Offered Fall semester
Summer session 1
Summer session 2
Fall semester
Spring semester
Summer session 1


Comparison of PHY 2 and PHY 12

  PHY 2 - Introductory Physics II PHY 12 - General Physics II
Content Heat & Temperature or Oscillations
Waves
Sound
Electricity & Magnetism
Light & Optics
Relativity
Quantum Physics
Atomic & Nuclear Physics
Heat & Temperature or Oscillations
Waves
Sound
Electricity & Magnetism
Who takes it? Mainly biological science and pre-health students, usually juniors, seniors, and post-bacs Mainly physical science and engineering students, usually first-year and second-year students
Physics prerequisite PHY 1 or PHY 11 or equivalent
Math prerequisite High school algebra and trigonometry MATH 32 - Calculus I
MATH 34 - Calculus II (may be taken concurrently)
Calculus None Extensive
Lab 6 labs with reports. Lab sections are shared between PHY 2 and PHY 12.
Offered Spring semester
Summer session 2
Fall semester
Spring semester
Summer session 2


FAQs

Are PHY 1 and PHY 2 easier than PHY 11 and PHY 12?
Not necessarily. The mathematical level of PHY 11 is slightly higher than that of PHY 1 and that of PHY 12 is much higher than that of PHY 2, so the PHY 11/12 sequence can be challenging for students whose math backgrounds are less strong or in the distant past. On the other hand, even well-prepared first- and second-year students sometimes struggle in PHY 1 and PHY 2 because they do not yet have the maturity and study skills of the more experienced students in those classes.

Is the lab required?
Yes. All students in PHY 1, 2, 11, and 12 must complete the lab component.

I'm not in engineering or the physical sciences, but I have a strong math background. Should I take PHY 11/12 or PHY 1/2?
It would be fine, but not necessarily better, to take PHY 11 instead of PHY 1. But take PHY 2 rather than PHY 12. PHY 12 is a more narrowly focused class intended to prepare students for more advanced work in physical sciences and engineering with considerable emphasis on the mathematical and analytical techniques that those more advanced courses require. PHY 2 covers a much broader range of topics with greater emphasis on the conceptual understanding and is better suited for a student who will not go on to more advanced study in the field.

Can I take PHY 2 or PHY 12 without taking PHY 1 or PHY 11 first?
PHY 1 or 11 is a prerequisite for PHY 2 and PHY 12 for very good reasons. Even though the list of topics may seem very different, the material in PHY 2 and PHY 12 draws heavily on the ideas and methods developed in PHY 1 and PHY 11. If you have not taken one of those courses or had equivalent preparation, you are likely to have trouble.

I took AP Physics in high school. Can I skip these classes?
Please see the Tufts Bulletin and consult your advisor for the rules regarding AP credit. AP courses vary widely in quality and we have found that simply having taken one, even with a high grade, is no assurance that the material has been mastered at the necessary level. In general, it is not advisable to skip ahead unless you qualify for placement according to the rules in the Bulletin.

I'm a first-year student and am considering majoring in Physics. Is it OK to wait until the spring semester to take PHY 11?
If you're considering a physics major it's best to complete PHY 12 by the end of your first year, which means taking PHY 11 in the hall unless you have advanced placement according to the rules in the Tufts Bulletin. PHY 13, which is a requirement for the major and a prerequisite for many classes, is offered only in the fall semester and sometimes in the summer session, and should be taken after completing PHY 12. If you wait until the spring semester to take PHY 11 it is still possible to complete the major, but your course choices will be more limited, especially if you are not able to take PHY 13 in the summer.

I'm still confused, and so is my advisor. Now what?
Call the Physics & Astronomy department office at 617.627.3029 and ask to speak with a faculty member about your individual situation.