Bard College Catalogue

The Bard College Catalogue contains detailed descriptions of the College's undergraduate programs and courses, curriculum, admission and financial aid procedures, student activities and services, history, campus facilities, affiliated institutions including graduate programs, and faculty and administration.

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Bard College Catalogue 2013-14

Bard College Catalogue 2013-14



Matthew Deady (director), Christian Bracher, Paul Cadden-Zimansky, Simeen Sattar, Peter D. Skiff


The Physics Program provides a firm foundation for work in a variety of areas, including graduate work in physics and allied fields. A student usually takes the core courses listed below, although in some cases the student and faculty may decide that not all the courses are appropriate because of advanced preparation or the particular focus of the student’s work. The student also chooses a number of electives according to personal interests. Students are expected to follow the standard divisional procedure for Moderation and to fulfill the collegewide distribution and First-Year Seminar: The Common Course requirements.


Prior to Moderation, a student has usually completed Physics 141 and 142, Introduction to Physics I and II; Mathematics 141 and 142, Calculus I and II; and at least one 300-level course in physics. Physics majors are required to complete the courses listed above plus Physics 241, Modern Physics; Physics 303, Mechanics; Physics 312, Electricity and Magnetism; Physics 314, Thermal Physics; at least one 400-level physics course; Mathematics 213, Linear Algebra with Ordinary Differential Equations; Mathematics 241, Vector Calculus; and the Senior Project.

Recent Senior Projects in Physics 

  • “Eddy Current Forces and Torques Experienced by a Moving Magnet”
  • “Electron Scattering in Crossed Electric and Magnetic Fields: A Semiclassical Study”
  • “An Experimental Investigation of the Directivity of Violin Sound Radiation”
  • “Supersymmetric Gauge Theory”


In addition to the core required courses, electives include mathematical courses (e.g., Physics 221 and 222, Mathematical Methods of Physics I and II) and advanced laboratory and theoretical courses, including Physics 210, Introduction to Electronics, and Physics 323, Quantum Mechanics. Additionally, other tutorials or courses are offered for advanced study on such topics as general relativity, nuclear and particle physics, and condensed matter physics, as well as advanced studies in acoustics, optics, quantum mechanics, and electromagnetism

Physics 116
This laboratory course provides an introduction to the phenomena of acoustics, particularly aspects that are important in the production and perception of music. The physics of sound is covered in depth, and characteristics of acoustic and electronic instruments are discussed. Mathematical and laboratory techniques are introduced as needed.  

Light and Color
Physics 118
An introduction to light, optical phenomena, and related devices, including some historical perspective; classical and modern models of light; light and color in nature and vision; the geometrical optics of lenses, mirrors, and related devices; the physical optics of interference and diffraction; spectroscopy and polarization; color science, lasers, and holography. The class develops models and explores them in weekly labs. Prerequisites: high school algebra and trigonometry.

The Physics of Stuff: The Structure and Properties of Matter
Physics 119
This course explores the physical principles underlying the organization of matter into increasingly complex structures and the resulting properties. Topics may include particles, nuclei, radioactivity, the concept of energy, atoms and molecules, the electric force, fundamentals of quantum mechanics, gases, crystals, basic laws of thermodynamics, polymers, and biological matter, with selected applications. Laboratory sessions are devoted to the study of the physical properties of materials. A working knowledge of elementary algebra is required.

Climate Change
Physics 124
This lab course explores the physical principles underlying climate and anthropogenic climate change. It surveys the most compelling lines of evidence for climate change and studies current observations in the broader context of past climates. Policy mitigation efforts and obstacles to their implementation are also discussed. While not technical per se, the course requires that students have the ability to solve linear algebraic equations and perform basic manipulation of data.

The Quantum World
Physics 137
For centuries it was supposed that the motion of objects, ranging in size from planets to those visible only through a microscope, was governed by the same laws. In the 20th century this assumption was found to be false for molecules, atoms, and electrons. This course examines the surprising behavior of these very small objects, as revealed by their interaction with light. Basic calculus skills are essential. Prerequisites: high school physics or chemistry, and Calculus I or the equivalent.

Introduction to Physics I
Physics 141
A calculus-based survey of physics. The first semester covers topics in mechanics, heat and thermodynamics, and wave motion. The course stresses ideas—the unifying principles and characteristic models of physics. Labs develop the critical ability to elicit understanding of the physical world. Corequisite: Mathematics 141.

Introduction to Physics II
Physics 142
This is the second part of a calculus-based survey course, continuing with electricity and magnetism, light, and basic atomic and modern physics.

Introduction to Electronics
Physics 210
A survey of analog electronics, beginning with Kirchhoff’s laws, voltage dividers, and filters, and proceeding to power supplies, amplifiers, oscillators, operational amplifiers, timers, and integrated circuits (ICs). Semi­conductor diodes, bipolar and field-effect transistors, and ICs are employed. The semester ends with a brief introduction to digital electronics. The course consists of equal parts lecture and lab. Corequisites: at least one physics course and one mathematics course numbered above 140.

Mathematical Methods of Physics I
Physics 221
This course presents methods of mathematics that are useful in the physical sciences. While some proofs and demonstrations are given, the emphasis is on the applications. Topics include: power series, probability and statistics, multivariable differentiation and integration, and curvilinear coordinate systems. Prerequisites: Mathematics 141 and 142, or the equivalent.

Mathematical Methods of Physics II
Physics 222
Topics include vector calculus, complex numbers and functions, Fourier series, and orthogonal functions.

Computational Physics
Physics 225
Students apply computational techniques to solve problems in sciences generally and in physics and engineering particularly. They program specific physical problems and learn the theoretical base of the techniques used. This course introduces computational tools and teaches their application. This is an applied course, designed on the basis of the theme “Learn via Applications.” No prior experience with computer programming is required. Prerequisites: Mathematics 141 and 142.

The Atmosphere and the Ocean in Motion

Physics 234
What would climate change look like? To a large extent, it depends on fluid motions. Would Europe wither in deep chill? That depends on the response of the Gulf Stream System to greenhouse forcing. Would polar bears go extinct? That depends on circulation changes in the Arctic Ocean. This is a semitechnical course designed to help interested students acquire the tools needed to answer questions like those above. Prerequisite: Physics 141 or the equivalent.

Modern Physics
Physics 241
A topical course in the development of modern physics from the theory of relativity to quantum mechanics. Relativity, photoelectric effect, X‑ray production and scattering, nuclear transmutation, alpha and beta radiation processes, particles and quasiparticles. Prerequisites: Physics 141 and 142; Mathematics 141 and 142.


Physics 303
This course in particle kinematics and dynamics in one, two, and three dimensions covers conservation laws, coordinate transformations, and problem-solving techniques in differential equations, vector calculus, and linear algebra. Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations are also studied. Prerequisites: Physics 141 and 142; Mathematics 141 and 142.

Electricity and Magnetism
Physics 312
This course covers electrostatics, conductors, and dielectrics; Laplace’s equation and characteristic fields; magnetostatics, magnetodynamics, and the magnetic properties of matter; flow of charge and circuit theory; and Maxwell’s equa­tions and the energy-momentum transfer of electromagnetic radiation. Prerequisites: Physics 141 and 142 and Mathematics 213.

Thermal Physics
Physics 314
An introduction to the elements of thermodynamics, kinetic theory, and statistical mechanics; equations of state; first and second laws; distribution functions; the partition function; and quantum statistics. Prerequisites: Physics 141 and 142 and Mathematics 142.

Quantum Mechanics
Physics 403
An introduction to elements of Schrödinger and Heisenberg formulations of quantum mechanics, including potential wells, hydrogen atoms, scattering, harmonic oscillators, per­turbation theory, and angular momentum.  Prerequisite: Physics 241.

Condensed Matter Physics
Physics 418
An overview of the physics of the solid and liquid states of matter. Possible topics include crystalline structure of solids; X-ray scattering; lattice vibrations; elasticity; band structure; electrical and optical properties of metals, semiconductors, and insulators; magnetism and Hall effect; superfluidity and superconductivity; polymers; and “soft matter.” Prerequisites: Physics 141, 142, and 241.

General Relativity
Physics 444
A course on Einstein’s “General Theory of Relativity and Gravity.” Elements of tensor analysis and differential geometry are developed to explore metrics on a pseudo-Riemannian manifold. The Schwarzschild metric is then employed for applications to dynamics near massive objects, including black holes. The Robertson-Walker metric is applied to cosmic evolution, noting current problems of cosmic acceleration. Historical topics include the Einstein-Grossmann “Entwurf,” retrodiction of Mercury’s orbit, the 1919 eclipse and subsequent gravitational lensing, and Gravity Probe B, among others. Prerequisites: Physics 241 and 303; Mathematics 212.