Welcome to the Physics Department at the University of Michigan! The first year in a new department can often be overwhelming, confusing, exciting, and unpredictable. We have provided some information that will answer some questions and, hopefully, help you feel more prepared as you enter your first year in our department.
First Semester in Physics
As a first-year student, you'll likely be enrolling in one of our introductory courses. The Physics Department offers three introductory course sequences. All sequences are calculus-based and consist of two semesters of lectures with labs. As such, we recommend that students have completed MATH 115 (Calculus I) or equivalent for the 100-level intro courses. The courses are designed to be taken one at a time (enrolling in the lecture and lab) as they build on each other. While they can be mixed (i.e. students can take PHYSICS 150/151 followed by PHYSICS 240/241), it is recommended that they are pursued in a single sequence.
WHERE TO START
PHYSICS 140/141: General Physics I: This is recommended for students planning to major in the physical sciences or engineering.
Topics that are covered include vectors, linear motion, projectiles, relative velocity and acceleration, circular motion, Newton's laws, particle dynamics, work and energy, linear momentum, torque, angular momentum, gravitation, planetary motion, fluid statics and dynamics, simple harmonic motion, waves, and sound.
*PHYSICS 140 is offered in two formats: a traditional lecture and a studio-style class that involves a team-based learning format.
PHYSICS 150/151: Fundamental Physics for the Life Sciences I: This is recommended for students who plan to pursue a major in the life sciences, medicine, kinesiology, or health sciences.
Topics that are covered include mechanics of life such as gravity and forces, energy, and fluids.
PHYSICS 160/161: Honors Physics I: This is a more intensive class that is recommended for students with a background in physics. Students who took AP physics in high school and scored well on the AP test may want to consider this path.
Topics covered include principles of mechanics and how they can be applied in systems ranging from binary stars to nuclear collisions.
Students who feel that they would like a stronger math foundation, particularly those who do not have a calculus background, may want to consider PHYSICS 115: Principles of Physics. This two-credit mini-course is offered in the second half of the semester (Fall and Winter) and helps students become more familiar with concepts and math skills that will be used in the introductory courses.
I have AP credit. Do I get to skip a class?
Second Semester in Physics
We recommend that students have completed MATH 116 (Calculus II) for the 200-level intro courses. You should continue the sequence that you began in your previous semester.
WHERE TO GO NEXT
PHYSICS 240/241: General Physics II: This is recommended for students planning to major in the physical sciences or engineering.
Topics that are covered include charge, Coulomb's law, electric fields, Gauss' law, electric potential, capacitors and dielectrics, current and resistance, EMF and circuits, magnetic fields, Biot-Savart law, Amperes law, Faraday's Law of Induction, simple AC circuits, and electromagnetic waves.
*PHYSICS 240 is offered in two formats: a traditional lecture and a studio-style class that involves a team-based learning format.
PHYSICS 250/251: Fundamental Physics for the Life Sciences II: This is recommended for students who plan to pursue a major in the life sciences, medicine, kinesiology, or health sciences.
Topics that are covered include electricity and magnetism, waves and imaging, and nuclear physics and astrophysics.
PHYSICS 260/261: Honors Physics II: This is a more intensive class that is recommended for students with a strong background in physics or for those who did very well in their first semester physics course and are interested in challenging themselves.
Topics that are covered include an in-depth look at electrcity and magnetism along with computer-aided problem solving, and contemporary applications.
Advice from Previous Students
Tips for a Successful Intro Course Experience
Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
I Wish I'd Known...
Physics is a challenging subject. While the departmet does not keep a running list of private tutors, below you'll find some links to resources that can be helpful if you find yourself in search of some additional help with the material.
Other Helpful Resources
Beyond Your First Year
If you are interested in pursuing your physics education beyond the introductory courses, more information can be found on our Major and Minor Programs page.
Additional campus resources can be found here.