Information about Physics Courses for Incoming Freshmen

Ph1 - Ph1 is an Institute requirement, so you must either take Ph1abc or have the requirement waived.

The 2016 Placement Exam is no longer active.

The Physics Section Placement Exam

The summer before coming to Caltech, you received a physics placement exam. Your score on the exam was used to place you in one of the ten recitation sections of Ph1a. There are three different types of Ph1a sections:

Sections 1 & 2: These sections are designed for students who were exposed to less physics in high school than is the norm. These sections provide extra review of basic physics, in order to bring everyone up to speed by the end of the term.

Sections 3 - 8: These are typical sections.

Sections 9 & 10: These are advanced sections for students who have already seen a lot of physics. They cover the material in more depth, and may include some additional special topics.

The Physics Advanced Placement Exam

Students placed in sections 9 & 10 will receive a copy of the Advanced Placement Exam in their Freshman packet. The exam covers basic Newtonian mechanics like that done in Ph1a. You do not have to take the exam if you don't want to. If you did not receive an exam but want to try it anyway, you can get a copy from the Physics Department Office, room 110 E. Bridge. Anyone who takes the exam and does well enough, will place out of Ph1a and will receive the Ph1a units.

If you place out of Ph1a, you will be given the option of taking additional exams to place out of Ph1b and Ph1c as well, which should be done as soon as possible fall term. Ph1bc covers electromagnetism and special relativity, the former using differential calculus. You will need to know about div, grad, curl, and a bit about the differential form of Maxwell's equations to place out of Ph1bc. Only a few students place out of Ph1bc each year. If you have questions, ask at the Physics Department Office, 110 E. Bridge.

First-year Courses Other Than Ph1

Ph3 - This is a freshman physics lab that includes mechanics and E&M, along with statistical analysis of data. It is open to freshmen 2nd and 3rd terms, except by permission of the instructor. Ph3 is often taken by students who do not intend on majoring in physics.

Ph8 - This is a take-home lab course covering experiments in electromagnetism.

Ph10 - This is a seminar course designed to introduce 1st-year students to physics research that is happening at Caltech. It mostly requires attendance and a bit of reading.

Ph11 - This course has 1st-year students doing real physics research. It is an excellent experience, but can be very time-consuming. Click here for details.

Ph20-22 - These are three parts of a computational physics lab. The lab is not about how to program, but rather how to use computers to solve problems in physics. Check the Caltech course catalog for more details.