First-year Focus

Which Physics Course is for Me?

Physics is a key foundation course for many areas of study.  We have three introductory sequences to choose from--all of which have lectures, discussions, and laboratories:

125-1,2,3 is taken by ISP students (and sometimes by other well-prepared students who are also enrolled in MENU or an equivalent Math sequence)

130-1,2,3 is the "algebra-based" version of introductory Physics.  Many BioSci majors choose to take 130.

135-1,2,3 is taken by Physics majors and many Engineering students.  Chemistry majors must also take 135.

When Can I Take Physics?

During the academic year, if you are taking Physics 125 or 130, you must take the classes in fall, winter, and spring quarter.  The sequence begins with 125-1/130-1 in the fall, continues in the winter with 125-2/130-2, and concludes with 125-3/130-3 in the spring.

If you are taking 135, we offer two options.  Sequence one begins with 135-1 in the fall and continues with 135-2 and 135-3 in winter and spring quarters respectively.  Sequence two begins with 135-1 in the spring quarter and continues with 135-2 the following fall and finishes with 135-3 in the winter quarter.  Both sequences are identical in content.  We recommend that students complete Math 220 and 224 (or their equivalents) before taking Physics 135-1, so please keep this in mind when choosing which sequence to take.

Getting Started in the Major

The Physics major and minor are open to all undergraduates at Northwestern, with a range of concentrations to choose from.  The major is designed to help students acquire a broad background in physics and related fields (for more information on why a Physics & Astronomy major may be the choice for you, please see this page).

Many of our students have taken physics before coming to Northwestern, but it is not necessary to have had a physics class before beginning the major.  In the first year, most students take a year long series of introductory physics: Physics 135-1, 2, 3.  Qualified students may take Physics for ISP with the consent of the department. 

In addition to physics many first year students take a year-long series in calculus (Math 220, 224, 230). For further information on degree requirements, please see this page.  A full list of undergraduate courses offered in the department can be found here.

Exam Credit

Students with AP scores of "5" will be awarded credit as follows:

AP Physics B Exam Credit for Physics 130-1, 2
AP Physics C-1 Exam Credit for Physics 135-1
AP Physics C-2 Exam Credit for Physics 135-2

In addition, placement exams are offered each September for Physics 130-1, 2 and Physics 135-1, 2.  Passing a placement exam leads to transcript credit for the corresponding course.  Placement exams for the 2012-13 academic year will be offered on Friday, September 21 from 3 pm - 5 pm in L211 of the Technological Institute.  Students who have conflicts with the Friday exam time should contact Deborah Brown for a make-up exam time. Results will be posted the next day on the Physics & Astronomy home page under "Placement Exam Results" (left column).  Please contact Deborah Brown with any questions about the placement exam.

Research Opportunities

As a Physics & Astronomy major you will have the opportunity to work with one of our faculty members in doing original research.  We encourage each student to discover an area of physics they particularly enjoy and identify a research advisor.  Please see here for more information on undergraduate research opportunities.


Please contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Director of Undergraduate Studies
Professor André de Gouvêa
Phone Number: 847-467-6462
Office: Tech F426
Office Hours: Wednesday 2:00 - 4:00 pm

or, if Prof. de Gouvêa is not available:

Director of Introductory Studies
Dr. Michael Smutko
Phone Number: 847-491-4568
Office: Dearborn 9A

Permission Numbers

If you are having trouble finding an open lecture or lab section for Physics 130 or 135, you may need a permission number to register. Please contact Dr. Michael Smutko ( for assistance.

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August 26, 2013