Carroll College, Helena Montana
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Physics Major - Program Overview

Cline and StudentsHave you ever wondered about questions like these?

  • How can an electron be in two places at once?
  • Why is the speed of light the speed limit of the universe?
  • How does laser light differ from regular light?
  • Do things really get heavier when they move faster?

If so, then you should consider studying physics!

Physics is the study of the universe at its most fundamental level, the quest to understand "How does it work?" At Carroll, the Physics major program is designed to acquaint students with topics like relativity, quantum physics, and optics: topics you don't generally see in the introductory courses for engineering and natural science majors. The focus of the major is on introducing you to the basic ideas of modern physics: along the way, you'll hone your mathematical problem-solving skills, create computer simulations, and do labs with lenses, lasers, and holography.

The Carroll College Physics Major Offers a Unique Freshman Curriculum

We have created a unique freshman curriculum, which clearly distinguishes us from physics programs at other institutions.  Most physics programs begin with a year-long freshman “general physics” sequence, taken simultaneously with freshman calculus, in which students study Newtonian mechanics in the fall and electricity and magnetism in the spring.  Instead, our physics majors take this course in the sophomore year.  In this way students have already completed their study of calculus before beginning the sequence, and they have the additional maturity and study skills that students have developed by their sophomore year.  As a result, our experience is that by teaching this sequence to sophomores rather than freshmen, we have increased student success rates.
Our major begins with two unique courses which will both serve as the freshman curriculum for our physics major, and satisfy the general CORE requirement for a natural science lab course.  These courses introduce some of the most interesting and stimulating aspects of contemporary physics, thus drawing more students into the program:  Students won’t have to wait until their junior and senior years to explore cutting-edge topics.  In the fall students take PHYS 155 (Robotics and Experimental Physics), in which they will learn to build and program robotic devices, and study crucial laboratory methods.  In the spring students will take PHYS 160 (Einstein’s Physics), in which they will study Einstein’s theory of special relativity and the concepts of quantum mechanics, discussing intriguing ideas like the famous Schrödinger’s cat paradox.
By placing these fun and exciting courses right up front, in the freshman curriculum of our physics major, and delaying the more quantitatively challenging general physics sequence to the sophomore year, our curriculum will help students be more successful in this program.

Mission and Goals

The physics major program is intended to help students develop into successful and creative thinkers, who are able to analyze a wide variety of problems, apply appropriate models to them, and derive quantitative predictions from those models.  These problem-solving skills are developed in the context of a curriculum which provides a solid grounding in the fundamental concepts of mathematics and physics, while still allowing students the freedom to explore diverse interests in other areas of the liberal arts.  Innovative and engaging entry-level courses for freshmen, together with a close linkage to Carroll's strong program in applied mathematics, are distinctive features of the physics major program.  Students completing this program should be well-prepared for either employment or graduate study in physics or related technical areas.  In particular, they should be able to

  • evaluate and interpret data and analyze information from a variety of sources
  • know or quickly learn how to operate various types of laboratory equipment, including computer-controlled data acquisition
  • develop and analyze mathematical models for physical phenomena
  • apply appropriate approximations that render mathematical problems amenable to analytical solutions or accurate computer simulations
  • communicate effectively, whether orally or in writing, with both technical and non-technical audiences

Request more information about this major

10 reasons

to choose carroll college for PHYSICS

  1. Destroy your opponents in our Sumo-bot tournament!
  2. You get to study mind-boggling ideas like relativity and quantum mechanics.
  3. You’ll find out what all that calculus you took is really good for.
  4. You’ll know more about how the universe works than most other science, engineering, or math majors.
  5. You’ll learn much of the physics needed for summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (“REU’s”) in cutting-edge problems at universities across the country.
  6. You will be well prepared for graduate studies in a variety of fields ranging from applied math to engineering.
  7. You can take advantage of small class sizes to get individualized attention from professors.
  8. You’ll learn what really happened to Schrödinger’s cat.
  9. You can impress your friends and relatives with scary-looking equations.
  10. You get to probe the mind of God.


The extra knowledge you'll gain from a Physics major can be of great benefit if you intend to pursue graduate studies in fields as diverse as electrical engineering, applied math, chemistry, or aerospace engineering.

Class Act: Physics Class

Charlie Misra, Beartooth NBC

A new physics class is giving Carroll College students a more hands-on learning experience.

The Robotics and Experimental Physics course, taught by Dr. Kelly Cline, is part of a new physics major being offered at Carroll. Beartooth NBC’s Charlie Misra spoke with Professor Cline about his new physics class, which he describes as exciting and dynamic.

Cline says, "We present these challenges and then different groups and different teams solve them in different ways.  And so it's a way that people can be creative and try different ways of exploring things and every group has their own unique ideas."

Read more of this story and watch the related video

Physics four-year plan