Math and physics at West Point

April 25, 2009

Thomas Ricks at WaPo says close West Point and other service academies.  Says they are same as community colleges and don’t teach because profs don’t have Ph.D.’s.

“The average SAT score for the incoming class of 2010 is in the area of 1285.”

Person answering is a recruiter for West Point.

You can look at the fundamental concepts exams in math.  This is the level required before starting.  They cover some algebra, geometry and trig.

These are the physics courses:

NE300      NUCLEAR REACTOR ANALYSIS     3.0     3      33     MAJ KLING
NE350     NUCLEAR REACTOR DESIGN     3.0     2     21     LTC VIAR
NE355     ADV NUCLEAR REACTOR DESIGN     3.5     1     10     LTC SONES
NE400     NUCLEAR ENGINEERING SEMINAR     1.0     2     8     COL MUSK
NE489     ADV IND STDY NUCLEAR ENGNRG     3.0     1     1     COL MUSK
NE489A     ADV IND STUDY NUCLEAR ENGNRG     3.0     1     1     COL MUSK
NE496     ADV NUCLEAR SYSTEM DESIGN PROJ     3.0     1     9     COL VISOSKY
PH201     PHYSICS I     3.5     5     66     MAJ BLAIR
PH202     PHYSICS II     3.5     60     966     MAJ CAMPBELL
PH252     ADVANCED PHYSICS II     3.5     7     106     CPT TRIMBLE
PH366     APPLIED QUANTUM PHYSICS     3.5     2     17     MR BLANC
PH374     MEDICAL RADIATION PHYSICS     3.0     1     14     MAJ PHILLIPS
PH381     INTRMED CLASSICAL MECHANICS     3.0     2     15     LTC CROSS
PH456     SCIENCE AND POLICY     3.0     1     10     BG BLACK
PH472     SPACE AND ASTROPHYSICS     3.0     2     19     DR FEKETE
PH481     STATISTICAL PHYSICS     3.0     1     10     DR HARRELL
PH484     QUANTUM MECHANICS     3.0     1     8     COL WINKEL
PH489     ADV INDIV STUDY IN PHYSICS     3.0     1     3     LTC COLE
PH489A     ADV INDIV STUDY IN PHYSICS     3.0     1     2     LTC COLE

The qm course

“This course begins with a basic introduction to the fundamental postulates of quantum theory. These postulates are then used to develop Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Schrodinger’s equation. Solutions to Schrodinger’s equation are sought, first to relatively simple systems such as square wells and harmonic oscillators, and then to the hydrogen atom. The properties of the hydrogen atom are studied in detail. The course also covers approximation methods used for physical systems with small perturbing forces acting on them.”

“Core Mathematics at USMA consists of four primary courses, and two developmental courses. The courses are:


MA100 our developmental pre-calculus course. About 50 of our entering freshmen (fourth class cadets) take this course.

MA101 our developmental “just-in-time” Introduction to Calculus for students needing review of pre-calculus topics.

MA103 Mathematical Modeling and Introduction to Calculus, the first of our core courses for all cadets. This is the first of four courses in the USMA mathematics core curriculum. The focus of the course is to use effective problem solving and modeling techniques to find solutions to complex and often ill-defined problems.  The course lays the foundation for calculus and differential equations through difference equations.

MA104 Calculus I. This course builds upon the foundation laid in MA103, as the cadet learns about differential calculus in single and multi-variable problems.

MA153 Mathematical Modeling and Advanced Calculus I is the first of our core courses for those students who have validated single-variable calculus through AP exams and previous calculus courses.  This course combines the topics of MA103 and advanced coverage of topics in single variable calculus and differential equations.

MA205 Calculus II. This course builds upon the foundation laid in MA104, as the cadet learns about integral calculus in single and multi-variable problems.

MA255 Enhanced Multivariable Calculus. This is the second of our core courses for students who have validated single-variable calculus.  This course covers infinite series, vectors and vector valued functions, and multivariate functions.  A focus on Differential Equations continues the exploration of the calculus begun in MA153.

MA206 Probability and Statistics. In this capstone course, the cadet learns the fundamentals of probability and simple hypothesis testing. The cadet completes a taxonomy of models {stochastic/deterministic, linear/non-linear, continuous/discrete} and completes two capstone projects. ”


Elective Mathematics at USMA consists of the following courses:

Service Courses:

  • MA 364 Engineering Mathematics

  • MA 366 Vector Calculus and Introduction to Partial Differential Equations

  • MA 372 Introduction to Discrete Mathematics

Foundation Courses:

  • MA 363 Vector Calculus and Ordinary Differential Equations

  • MA 371 Linear Algebra

  • MA 376 Applied Statistics

  • MA 383 Foundations of Mathematics

  • MA 386 Introduction to Numerical Analysis

  • MA 387 Mathematical Analysis I

  • MA 391 Mathematical Modeling

  • MA 491 Research Seminar in Applied Math Projects

Applied Mathematics Stem Courses:

  • MA 385 Chaos and Fractals

  • MA 396 Numerical Methods for Solution of Differential Equations

  • MA 461    Graph Theory and Networks

  • MA 462    Combinatorics

  • MA 464    Applied Algebra with Cryptology

  • MA 466 Abstract Algebra

  • MA 484 Partial Differential Equations

  • MA 485 Applied Complex Analysis

  • MA 487 Mathematical Analysis II

  • MA 493A    Operational Calculus and Transforms

  • MA 493B    Real Variable Theory

  • MA 493C    Topics in Numerical Analysis

  • MA 493D    Introduction to Topology

  • MA 493E    Topics in Analysis

Statistics/Optimization Track Courses:

Miscellaneous Courses:

  • MA 488 Special Topics in Mathematics

  • MA 498    Senior Thesis I: Research and Proposal

  • MA 499    Senior Thesis II: Paper and Defense

Integrative Experience Courses:

  • MA 490    Applied Problems from Math, Science and Engineering

  • XX 490     Integrative Experience (from any other department)

None of the articles or comments at WaPo actually looked at the courses or the preliminary exams in math at West Point that I could see.  Turns out you can get a pretty good education in a lot of technical subjects there, math, physics, engineering, etc.  That’s the way its always been at West Point.  They graduated engineers like Robert E. Lee.


3 Responses to “Math and physics at West Point”

  1. Dr.D Says:

    “Says they are same as community colleges and don’t teach because profs don’t have Ph.D.’s.”

    This statement is a non sequitur. First of all, a Ph.D. is not really an essential element for teaching undergraduate course work which is all that is offered at the military academies. Secondly, the level of attention and class participation required and achieved far and away exceed that found at any community college. Thus the statement is absolute nonsense.

    I am not particularly a fan of the military academies, primarily because I think they put so much emphasis on the MILITARY side that the academic side suffers substantially. On the other hand, that is their charter, so it is understandable. I have never personally met a graduate of any of the military academies who was a first rate engineer, and I have known several (Robert E. Lee was just a few years before my time).

  2. oldatlantic Says:

    I agree you don’t need a Ph.D. to teach undergrad courses. Many non academy schools probably have instructors in these subjects who are not dedicated to their students learning.

  3. Dr.D Says:

    It is fairly rare at an college or university to find undergraduate courses taught by faculty with PhD degrees (not saying it does not happen, but it is not the rule). Most undergraduate classes at large state universities are taught by graduate students, and at smaller schools the regular faculty often do not have PhD degrees.

    This is changing today due to the glut of PhDs that have been cranked out in recent years, including many foreign students who want to find teaching positions. It is a myth, however, that PhDs make better teachers. The PhD is a research degree, that is supposed to show that the holder is a qualified researcher. That has little if anything to do with teaching.

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