Physics: Biological Science, BA

Physics and astronomy are fundamental sciences aimed at discovering the basic principles that govern our universe. Physicists study the interplay between space, time, matter, and energy. Complex behavior in nature is explained in terms of elementary relations between constituent elements and the forces that bind them, over distances ranging from subatomic to cosmic scale. Astronomy encompasses the entire physical universe beyond the earth: the solar system, stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters and superclusters, quasars, and the large-scale structure of the universe. The basic tools in physics and astronomy are mathematics and experimental investigation and observation of the world around us.

At Penn, the curriculum for undergraduate Physics majors, which includes extensive laboratory experience, is based on faculty strengths in Condensed Matter Physics, Elementary Particle Physics, and Astrophysics. Undergraduate teaching is linked to faculty research efforts in these areas, and participation by undergraduates in research is strongly encouraged. This concentration reflects increasing contributions of physicists (including members of our Faculty) to implications of Physics to Biological Sciences. Undergraduate students choosing this concentration will prepare themselves for careers in scientific research or professional Medical Physics programs that have been instituted at Penn and other Universities, among other possibilities.

The proposed concentration is distinct from the existing Biophysics Major, although the two share several required courses. The Biophysics Major requires much more chemistry, making it appropriate for students interested in protein science and other topics within the well-established field of Biophysics The Physics major with a Concentration in Biological Science targets students with interests in the emerging field of Biological Physics, where researchers directly apply physical concepts and techniques to investigate biological systems; the emphasis is on developing new insights regarding biological systems from a perspective strongly rooted in Physics.

The minimum total course units for graduation in this major is 36. Double majors may entail more course units.

For information about the General Education requirements, please visit the College of Arts & Sciences Curriculum page.

College General Education Requirements and Free Electives
Foundational Approaches + Sectors1 + Free Electives16.5
Major Requirements
Core Requirements
MATH 104Calculus, Part I1
MATH 114Calculus, Part II1
MATH 240Calculus, Part III1
MATH 241Calculus, Part IV1
PHYS 230Principles of Physics III: Thermal Physics and Waves1
PHYS 240Principles of Physics IV: Modern Physics (without laboratory) 21
PHYS 361Electromagnetism I: Electricity and Potential Theory1
PHYS 362Electromagnetism II: Magnetism, Maxwell's Equations, and Electromagnetic Waves1
PHYS 411Introduction to Quantum Mechanics I1
PHYS 150Principles of Physics I: Mechanics and Wave Motion1.5
or PHYS 170 Honors Physics I: Mechanics and Wave Motion
PHYS 151Principles of Physics II: Electromagnetism and Radiation1.5
or PHYS 171 Honors Physics II: Electromagnetism and Radiation
Concentration Requirements
BIOL 121Introduction to Biology - The Molecular Biology of Life1
BIOL 123Introductory Molecular Biology Laboratory0.5
BIOL 204Biochemistry1
or BIOL 205 Cell Biology
BIOL 221Molecular Biology and Genetics1
PHYS 280Physical Models of Biological Systems1
or PHYS 580 Biological Physics
PHYS 401Thermodynamics and the Introduction to Statistical Mechanics and Kinetic Theory1
Select 2 courses units of Approved Electives2
Total Course Units36

You may count no more than one course toward both a Major and a Sector requirement. For Exceptions, check the Policy Statement.


PHYS 250 Principles of Physics IV: Modern Physics recommended.


Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.3 in Major-related courses.

PHYS 499Senior Honor Thesis (Semester 1)1
PHYS 499Senior Honor Thesis (Semester 2)1
Thesis Accepted

The degree and major requirements displayed are intended as a guide for students entering in the Fall of 2017 and later. Students should consult with their academic program regarding final certifications and requirements for graduation.