Matthew Deady (director), Paul Cadden-Zimansky, Hal Haggard, Antonios Kontos, Simeen Sattar
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 college-wide distribution and First-Year Seminar 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 Physics 241, Modern Physics. Majors are required to complete the courses listed above plus Physics 221 and 222, Mathematical Methods of Physics I and II; Physics 303, Mechanics; Physics 312, Electricity and Magnetism; Physics 314, Thermal Physics; Physics 321, Quantum Mechanics; and the Senior Project.
Recent Senior Projects in Physics
- “Competing Theories of Pitch Perception: Frequency and Time Domain Analysis”
- “Complex Semiclassics: Classical Models for Tunneling Using Complex Trajectories”
- “Plasma Striations in Vacuum Chambers”
- “Two Topics in Astrophysics: Exoplanetary Gravitational Microlensing and Radio Interferometry”
In addition to the core required courses, electives include courses or tutorials in laboratory (Optics, Introduction to Electronics) or theoretical (General Relativity, Condensed Matter Physics) subjects, and other advanced studies.
The following descriptions represent a sampling of courses from the past four years.
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.
A laboratory-based course designed to introduce nonscience majors to different types of energy (mechanical, thermal, electromagnetic, chemical, nuclear); the methods by which modern societies produce, transmit, and convert between these types; how different demand sectors (electricity, heating, transportation) shape our energy production infrastructure; the promises of future energy technology and the insurmountable physical constraints on them; and the environmental and economic costs associated with different types of energy production.
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.
Introduction to Physics I
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
This is the second part of a calculus-based survey course, continuing with electricity and magnetism, light, and basic atomic and modern physics.
Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wondered what you were seeing? Astronomy, one of the oldest of the natural sciences, studies planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole, from its earliest time to the present day. Topics discussed in this course include the solar system, history of astronomy, telescopes, the sun, galaxies, and cosmology. Prerequisite: passing score on Part I of the Mathematics Diagnostic.
Introduction to Electronics
This course explores analog electronics and concludes with a brief introduction to digital electronics. Beginning with Kirchhoff’s Laws, voltage dividers, and filters, the class proceeds to power supplies, amplifiers, oscillators, operational amplifiers, timers, and ICs. Students employ semiconductor diodes, bipolar and field-effect transistors, and ICs. 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
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
Topics include vector calculus, complex numbers and functions, Fourier series, and orthogonal functions.
The class addresses computational techniques that can be used to solve problems in the sciences, generally in physics and engineering. Students program specific physical problems and learn the theory behind the phenomena being modeled. They are also introduced to the Python programming language and its visual capabilities through VPython, as well as Structured Query Language (SQL) and MATLAB. Topics include Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and astronomy. Prerequisites: Mathematics 141 and 142.
From observing the cosmos to single cells, understanding optics is what has allowed us to visualize the unseen world. This laboratory course provides an overview of the theoretical techniques and experimental tools used to analyze light and its properties. Through the manipulation of light using lenses, polarizers, and single-photon detectors, students learn the physics that underlies microscopes, spectrometers, lasers, modern telecommunication, and human vision. Prerequisite: Physics 142 or permission of the instructor.
An extension of introductory physics that concentrates on developments stemming from the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics. While a major focus is on understanding classical and quantum waves, discussions also include particle physics, nuclear physics, optical and molecular physics, condensed matter physics, astronomy, and cosmology. Prerequisites: Physics 141 and 142; Mathematics 141 and 142.
An introduction to modern astrophysics, from the solar system to the basic ideas of cosmology. Starting from methods of measuring astronomical distances and the laws of planetary motion, the class studies the cosmos using classical mechanics, special relativity, and basic quantum mechanics. Topics may include the life cycle of stars, star classification, black holes, galaxies, dark matter, the search for alien life, the Big Bang theory, and dark energy. Prerequisite: Physics 241.
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
Topics covered include 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.
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 is our most successful scientific theory: spectacularly tested, technologically paramount, and conceptually revolutionary. The course first establishes the structure of quantum mechanics in the context of its simplest case, the so-called qubit, and refreshes the mathematical apparatus required to formulate quantum mechanics. Also explored: phenomena such as contextuality, entanglement, and nonlocality; systems of qubits; applications of quantum mechanics; and the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics. Prerequisites: Physics 241, Mathematics 213.
An introduction to Einstein’s theory of gravity. Beginning with a discussion of special relativity, this course teaches the mathematics of differential geometry in order to describe the formulation of gravity as the curvature of space and time. Experimental verifications of the theory, such as the variability of the rate of the flow of time with height and the bending of starlight, are also discussed. Applications covered may include calibration of the Global Positioning System (GPS), black holes, cosmology, and gravitational waves. Prerequsite: Physics 241, Physics 303, or Mathematics 241, or permission of the instructor.
Condensed Matter Physics
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.