Best Lab Science for Physics Majors: Programming, Chemistry, or Astronomy?

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In summary, the conversation is about a student seeking advice on which lab science course to take outside of their major in physics. They have narrowed it down to three options: programming for scientists/engineers, chemistry, and astronomy. They are leaning towards the programming class but want to know the expert's opinion. After discussing the options, the expert recommends programming as it will have the most utility for the student. They also mention the potential usefulness of having some knowledge in chemistry for their future career. However, they agree with the expert's recommendation that programming should be the priority.
  • #1
While I'm not so indecisive as to completely let others pick my class for me, I would like your 2 cents on the matter of what I should take. So I have to take one lab science outside of my major (physics), and I have narrowed it down to three: programming for scientists/engineers, chemistry (the basic science student one), and astronomy. I'm leaning toward the programming class, since I took one in high school, and enjoyed it. But what would you recommend the most for a physics major? Here they are (and their descriptions):


Diurnal motion, motion of solar system objects on the background of stars, light rays and spectra, the planets, Kepler's laws, space travel, coordinates and time, the moon and eclipses, meteors, comets and the sun, stars, stellar distances and stellar evolution, galactic structure, galaxies, quasars, and the big bang universe.

The lab accompanying it:

Lab to accompany AST 180. Astronomical observations and experiments. Use of telescope is stressed. 3 hrs. evening lab. Letter grade only. Course fee required. Prerequisite or Corequisite: AST 180 or AST 180H LAB


Fundamental chemistry principles presented at a level appropriate for preprofessional, science, and engineering majors, including students proceeding to CHM 235 and 238. Prerequisites: high school chemistry or CHM 100 plus intermediate algebra; recommended: CHM 151L. Letter grade only.

The lab accompanying it:

Introduces important lab practices, stoichiometry, and the analysis of chemical unknowns. 2 hrs. lab including lecture time when appropriate. Letter grade only. Course fee required. Prerequisite or Corequisite: CHM 130 or CHM 151 LAB


Introduces computer programming for engineers, scientists, and math majors. Emphasizes problem solving, algorithms, and structured programming. Letter grade only. Course fee required.

The lab accompanying it:

Provides guided practical experience with applied engineering and science-oriented programming problems.

What do you think?
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  • #2
What's useful: programming.

What's more interesting (to me): astronomy.

Take your pick.
  • #3
I agree with Newtime that programming will serve you well.

However, once you're out of school, it's amazing how much people will rely on you (once they learn you majored in physics) to be their general science source of information. A bit of chemistry knowledge will come in handy for those times. Probably not too important, though...just my $0.02.
  • #4
In all fairness, unless you plan on studying astronomy later on, the programming course will have the most utility. Chemistry is a decent subject to learn, interesting in and of itself and may be of use to you if you plan on specializing in AMO or nuclear physics later on.

I guess it all depends on what you plan on studying in the future, but in general, programming will be best.
  • #5
In the physics major at my school, both general chemistry and a programming class (LabVIEW programming, specifically) are required parts of the major, not electives, so I'd take one of those if I were you.
  • #6
I suppose it's programming for me! If I can somehow make time for it I'll try to fit the Chemistry and Astronomy courses in, but the programming class will take priority. Thanks!
  • #7

1. What is the best lab science for physics majors?

The best lab science for physics majors depends on your personal interests and career goals. Programming, chemistry, and astronomy all have valuable applications in the field of physics, so it is important to choose the one that aligns with your interests and future plans.

2. How does programming relate to physics?

Programming is a crucial skill in modern physics, as it allows for data analysis, simulations, and modeling. Many physicists use programming languages such as Python and MATLAB to analyze and visualize large sets of data, and to create simulations of complex physical systems.

3. Is chemistry important for a physics major?

Chemistry is an important foundation for understanding the fundamental principles of physics, as many physical processes involve chemical reactions. Additionally, knowledge of chemistry is essential for understanding materials science and condensed matter physics, which have many practical applications.

4. How does astronomy tie in with physics?

Astronomy is a branch of physics that focuses on studying celestial objects and the universe as a whole. Many principles and techniques used in astronomy, such as spectroscopy and gravitational lensing, have applications in other areas of physics.

5. Can I specialize in more than one of these lab sciences as a physics major?

Yes, as a physics major, you can choose to specialize in more than one of these lab sciences. Many physics programs offer concentrations or tracks that allow students to focus on a specific area of interest, such as astrophysics or computational physics. It is also common for physics majors to take courses in multiple lab sciences to gain a well-rounded understanding of the field.

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