What to expect when you’re declaring: Chemical Physics


Two common majors on campus are Physics and Chemistry. These majors are fairly popular because they commonly result in occupations in the medical or engineering fields. However, as many tend to quickly realize, the course load in attaining these degrees is not one that can be taken lightly.

Many of those that express a particular interest in the scientific realm of study are often intrigued by particular sub fields. Centre offers students the option of majoring in Chemical Physics, to take a more in depth look at overlapping subfields of chemistry and physics.

Centre College describes the particular interest discussed in chemical physics as on the “spectra and structure of atoms and molecules.”

The Princeton Review explains to potential majors the areas of interest and what those who choose this path can be expected to learn during their studies, “As a chemical physics major, you’ll learn the vocabularies and philosophies of two distinct fields—physical chemistry and atomic/molecular physics—and how to communicate effectively within and between them.

You’ll learn how chemistry and physics affect and inform each other, and how the research and developments in one field have influenced those in the other. You’ll learn how to integrate information, how to engage in effective problem solving, and how to design and participate in research projects.”

According to senior Eric Beyerle, he is currently the only Centre student pursuing this as a major.

“As evident by the name of the major, students majoring in chemical physics can expect to broaden their knowledge and intuition of both chemistry and physics,” Beyerle said. “In particular, the major requires two semesters of organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and modern physics. I would say particular foci of the major are the topics of thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics.”

These topics have a reputation for the challenges they present students with, but those passionate about these concepts will eagerly tackle them. Organic Chemistry is claimed to be one of the most rigorous of all collegiate courses offered. Yet, it is almost unavoidable since it is a degree requirement for many of the science majors.

“Students should definitely take Organic Chemistry. It has a reputation worse than what it deserves so a lot of students get out of the pre-med track since this is one of the deciding courses,” sophomore Erin Mcleod said. “Sure, it is a lot of hard work, but I don’t think people should be scared of taking it. I had [Assistant Professor of Chemistry] Dr. [Kerry] Paumi last semester and she was always willing to do extra problems to help her students out whenever we needed. You will have to work hard, but you will be alright.”

Physics course present their own sets of challenges for students. “Newtonian Physics as well as Electricity and Magnetism were both very arduous courses, but they were definitely worth taking. For me, they were slightly easier since I took very similar AP courses in high school, but they did go way more in depth,” First-year and intended Physics and Math double major Will Hellman said.

Hellman took these courses alongside calculus courses which helped him with the math application required. “If you have ever taken a physics course, it is a totally different way of thinking. Solving variables and stuff is pretty straight forward yet challenging. No part of physics is easy, but it is still vey enjoyable,” Hellman said.

Chemical Physics challenges students who may choose it as a major topic of study by building upon the foundational knowledge of the sciences to then go into further detail of the specific topic.

“I suppose the most challenging part of the chemical physics major is being able to have a fair breadth of knowledge across the physical sciences. Additional lab work above both the physics and chemistry majors are required, so the additional time spent in lab can introduce some time constraints on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” said Beyerle.

Even though he recognizes these demanding expectations, he also sees a lighter side to his studies.

“The easiest part of the major is probably that the student has a lot of flexibility built into the major in terms of selecting upper level physics and chemistry classes, so, if desired, the student can choose to avoid classes that he or she would find the most difficult,” Beyerle said.

This indicates that the major allows for students to tailor their course load to their strengths and particular interests.

Having strong knowledge in the field of chemical physics can open countless doors for students after graduation. Centre lists typical career path for Chemical Physics majors to be spectroscopist, physical chemist, metallurgist, or physicist. The flyer Centre gives to prospective majors explains that these are all careers which “deal with branches of the physical sciences involving the physical and theoretical nature of matter.”

There are many graduate level education options that can continue to expand on the knowledge gained through Centre’s program.

“I have applied and been accepted to several graduate schools, so that is how I plan to utilize the major after graduation,” Beyerle said.

“Two other Chemical Physics majors who graduated recently currently attend the University of Louisville’s medical school and the graduate school at the California Institute of Technology, so I would say the major does a good job preparing students for higher-level education. Some universities also offer doctoral programs in Chemical Physics.”

With any major declaration comes the need for contemplation and self-reflection for each student.

Through Chemical Physics your personal amount of dedication, passion, and excitement for these subfield of scientific knowledge will be determining factors in whether or not this is the right major for you.


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