Honors-in-Discipline Program
Department of Physics & Astronomy
East Tennessee State University


The Department of Physics & Astronomy Honors-in-Discipline (HID) Program offers up to 38 hours of Physics Major courses plus a 6 hour Senior Thesis. In addition, 8 credit hours of Astronomy will be offered as honors enriched. All of the courses are existing courses which have enrichment components for Honors students. The courses are described below.

Astronomy is not required for the Physics Major. An Honors-in-Discipline Physics Major requires the same courses listed in the ETSU Undergraduate Catalog: PHYS2110-20, 3010, & 3710, and at least one of of the advanced courses PHYS 4117, 4617, 4717. A minimum of 18 credit hours of honors courses, including the Senior Thesis, is required for a Physics HID Major. Eight of the 18 credit hours must be PHYS3010 and PHYS3710. The remaining 10 credit hours must be selected from the 3000 and 4000--level Physics courses listed in Table 1. PHYS2110-20 may be taken as honors enriched, but is not required, and is not included in the 18 credit hour minimum requirement. Students entering from a college or university will take Technical Physics, with exceptions made for students who have already had a similar course.

Table 1. Honors Enriched Courses in Order From Introductory Courses to Upper Level Courses.





Astronomy I

ASTR 1010-088



Astronomy II

ASTR 1020-088



Technical Physics I

PHYS 2110-088


Calculus I

Technical Physics II

PHYS 2120-088


Calculus I


PHYS 3010-088


PHYS 2110-2120


PHYS 3210-088


PHYS 2110-2120


PHYS 3510-088


PHYS 2110-2120

Atomic & Nuclear Physics

PHYS 3610-088


PHYS 2110-2120

Electricity & Magnetism

PHYS 3710-088


PHYS 2610-2620

Kinetic and Statistical Physics

PHYS 4117-088


PHYS 2110

Quantum Mechanics

PHYS 4617/5617-088


PHYS 3610

Electromagnetic Theory

PHYS 4717/5717-088


PHYS 3710

Course Descriptions and Enrichment Experiences

  • Astronomy I and II
    Astronomy I is an introductory course which includes historical astronomy, celestial motions, properties and observation of light, and physical characteristics of the solar system and the Sun. Includes laboratory activities involving telescope observations of the solar system and stellar objects. Designed for students desiring a laboratory science for its general education value. Astronomy II introduces students to the study of stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole. Includes laboratory activities involving telescope observations of star systems, nebulae, and galaxies. Three hours lecture, two hours laboratory each week.

    Honors students will do a laboratory or theoretical component. The laboratory component will involve either observations with the ETSU observatory or remote observing with the SARA telescope, while the theoretical component will involve computer simulations of astronomical phenomenae. A final report will be required by honors students on this activity.

  • Technical Physics I and II
    This is a year long, calculus-based physics course. It is a 5 credit hour course that meets every day. One day a week is for laboratory exercises. This is usually the first physics course that our majors take. It is also currently a required course for math majors, and pre-engineering students.

    For the Honors in Physics it is proposed to add 3-4 intensive laboratory exercises each semester. These would be more involved than the normal 1 and 1/2 hour weekly laboratory exercises. The new exercises will involve 2-3 week long projects centered around existing equipment in the Physics Department. We have lots of good demonstration equipment available as single lab stations. We do not use this equipment in regular labs because we have only single set ups.

    The Honors in Physics students will use this laboratory equipment to do detailed experiments. The first semester experiments will involve a computer interface to accurately measure free fall, a new experiment on determining the moment of inertia of a flywheel, the Cavendish Experiment (to measure G), and an experiment on the computer to demonstrate chaos. The second semester will involve measuring the speed of light with new apparatus using fiber optics, a computer experiment to measure an RC time constant, microwave optics and electromagnetic waves.

    Students will be required to perform the experiments and submit detailed lab reports.

  • Mechanics
    This course studies statics and dynamics of particles and systems of particles. An introduction to Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations of Newtonian mechanics. Three one-hour lectures and one two-hour recitation session each week. Mechanics is one of the Department of Physics Oral and Technology Intensive courses. To meet the requirements of the Oral Intensive portion, students must present their weekly homework problems in front of the class, and present their semester long project during the last week of class. To meet the Technology Intensive portion, the students must do a weekly computer problem and have it ready for presentation in class.

    For the honors students, it is proposed to expand the semester long project. Term projects will consist of choosing a project that the student wants to work on, doing the work, and writing up a report. The project will then be presented to the faculty in a regular Physics Seminar. Some suggestions for topics are: the Foucault pendulum (build one that works), the three-body problem (a computer exercise like sending a rocket from the earth to the moon), study air resistance (indoors, i.e. on a computer, or outdoors, make measurements), nuclear scattering, Fourier methods, numerical methods (solving any of the simple computer homework problems with more elaborate numerical techniques), forced harmonic oscillator, and a study of chaos (build a circuit that exhibits chaos or study by numerical methods).

  • Optics
    Geometrical optics including reflection, refraction, dispersion, thin and thick lenses, optical instruments. Physical optics including electromagnetic character of light, interference, diffraction, polarization, and related topics.

    For the Physics Honors Program, it is proposed to expand the semester long project. Term projects will consist of choosing a project that the student wants to work on, doing the work, and writing up a report. The project will then be presented to the class as a seminar. Some suggestions for term projects are: the electron microscope, x-ray diffraction, speckle astronomy, Doppler radar, Fourier spectroscopy, phase contrast microscopy, microwave optics, Michelson's stellar interferometer, long-baseline interferometers, and image enhancement.

  • Biophysics
    This course is designed for students who desire to learn physics as applied to biology and medicine. Areas discussed include, the stellar origins of the molecules of life, molecular self organization, principles of nucleic acid structure, principles of protein structure, thermodynamics of living systems, instrumental techniques such as X-Ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, and biophysics topics of interest to the students The class is a combination of standard lecture and journal club format. Once a concept has been discussed in class, the students find journal articles for use as reference materials for class. There is one midterm exam, one final exam, and a research project consisting of a literature review of any topic of interest and a brief oral presentation of your project. The final project and presentation will be enlarged to accomodate honors students. In addition, hands on research opportunies in our labs will be made available for honors students. The honors students will present their projects at a regular physics seminar.
  • Atomic & Nuclear Physics
    A semiquantitative introduction to the physics of the atom and its nucleus: constituent parts of atoms, atomic transmutation, nuclear fission and fusion, and related topics.

    Honors students will be required to choose a relevant topic in modern physics, and write a term paper on the subject. They must also present a seminar on the subject to the rest of the class.

  • Electricity & Magnetism
    An intermediate-level course in electrostatics, dielectrics, magnetic materials and effects, development of Maxwell's equations. Three one-hour lectures and one two-hour recitations/laboratory session each week.

    This course is primarily a lecture/problem solution course. Honors students will be given more challenging problems.The problems will be a different set than those normally assigned in class which explores the topics in more depth. Problems will be taken from more advanced electrostatics texts, and from the problems in the class text.

  • Kinetic and Statistical Physics
    This course deals with the flow of energy between matter and the associated properties of matter under conditions or states of equilibrium. In this course, we will investigate the basic laws of thermodynamics using both a macroscopic and a microscopic approach. Three one-hour lectures and one two-hour recitation session each week. The only prerequisite is Technical Physics I.

    Students taking this course for honors credit will be assigned additional more difficult problems for each problem set. They will also be required to write a term paper on a relevant topic in thermal physics. They must give a talk on the topic to the rest of the class.

  • Quantum Mechanics
    An introduction to quantum theory and nonrelativistic quantum mechanics. Historical development of ideas which led to present-day theories. Schrodinger's equation and applications, approximation methods, matrix methods, and related topics. Three one-hour lectures and one two-hour recitation session each week.

    The honors component will consist of an independent computer modeling project related to the course, a 10-page paper describing the work, and an oral presentation of the work at the end of the semester. A list of possible projects will be supplied to the student (e.g., numerical solution of the Schrodinger Equation for the helium atom, development of white dwarf models based on the quantum mechanics of degenerate matter, etc.) or students can develop research projects on their own (with approval of the professor). Both the paper and the presentation will have to be on a professional level. Finally, note that the "regular" students do not have any "special" projects that are required of them.

  • Electromagnetic Theory
    Principles of electromagnetic theory, Maxwell's equations, selected applications, and related topics. Three one-hour lectures and one two-hour recitation session each week.

    In light of Maxwell's Equations, polarization becomes a powerful tool for the study of scattering and absorption. Honors students will choose polarization, waveguides, dipole radiation, or syncrotron radiation as a topic and prepare a lecture for the class. The lecture will include a demonstration. Examples of topics include circular polarization in biophysics, or the scattering of light from interstellar grains.

  • Senior Thesis
    The Department of Physics, Astronomy, and Geology will require the completion of a senior Honors Thesis (PHYS4018) as their capstone course. A faculty member in the Department, chosen by the student, will direct the year-long, 6 credit hour, thesis project. Two faculty members, one from Physics and Astronomy and one from outside the Physics and Astronomy Division will serve on an advisory committee with the project director and also act as readers of the thesis. The thesis will be defended publicly.

  • Physics Honors Page
    Physics Home Page
    ETSU Honors Page
    ETSU Home Page

    For more information, contact Dr. Mark Giroux or the course instructor.

    Last Modified March 7, 2009 by B. J. Smith