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Bard College Catalogue 2023-24
Paul Cadden-Zimansky (director), John Cullinan*, Matthew Deady**, Gidon Eshel*, Hal Haggard, Antonios Kontos, Christopher LaFratta*, Beate Liepert, Simeen Sattar*, Clara Sousa-Silva, Shuo Zhang
* affiliated faculty | ** emeritus faculty
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
- “Brightening of the Bridge: Reflections of a Past Sgr A* Outburst in Galactic Center Molecular Clouds”
- “The Complex Propagation of Light Explained Visually: How to Make a Hologram”
- “An Exploration of Electric Vehicles”
- “Listening with Lasers: A Novel Interferometer Microphone”
In addition to the core required courses, electives include courses or tutorials in laboratory (Optics, Introduction to Electronics, Advanced Laboratory) or theoretical (Astrophysics, General Relativity, Condensed Matter Physics) subjects, and other advanced studies.
The following descriptions represent a sampling of courses from the past four years.
Global Warming and Climate Change
CROSS-LISTED: ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES
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.
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 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 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
The second part of this calculus-based survey course focuses on electricity and magnetism, light, electromagnetic radiation, and optics.
Introduction to Electronics
A survey of analog electronics with a brief introduction to digital electronics. Consisting of equal parts lecture and lab, the course begins with Kirchhoff’s laws, voltage dividers, and filters; proceeds to power supplies, amplifiers, oscillators, operational amplifiers, timers, and ICs; and also explores Boolean algebra and basic digital electronic functions. Corequisites: at least one physics course and one math course numbered above 140.
Climate and Energy
CROSS-LISTED: ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES
The burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heating/cooling is the largest single source (with 25 percent) of global greenhouse gas emissions according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This course addresses the CO2 problem and provides an overview of energy transitions to zero-carbon futures. Renewable energy from wind, solar, and hydro is explored in discussions and labs—in one lab, the class builds a solar cell from scratch—giving students a good idea of potential pathways that allow us to maintain a future Earth with a livable climate.
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
This is the second part of a two-part introduction to mathematical topics and techniques that are commonly encountered in the physical sciences, including complex numbers and analytic functions, Fourier series and orthogonal functions, standard types of partial differential equations, and special functions. Prerequisites: Mathematics 141 and 142, or the equivalent.
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 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 interior of the sun, star classification, the life cycle of stars, black holes, galaxies, dark matter, Big Bang theory, dark energy, and the search for alien life.
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.
CROSS-LISTED: ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES
The course introduces some of the papers that helped create the field of climate science, including the classic papers of Syukuro Manabe and James Hansen on climate sensitivity to newer work on Earth system approaches and future climates. Students take an active role by presenting papers and leading discussions.
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.
This is an upper-level physics course focused on measurements, experimental techniques, and the theory behind them. Students work on a small number of advanced experiments, e.g., in quantum optics and nuclear experimentation, in order to gain a deeper knowledge of how experiments in physics are carried out. In addition, the class explores specific techniques often encountered in the lab such as data acquisition, signal processing, and feedback controls. Lectures address the theory behind lab work. Prerequisite: Physics 241 or consent of the instructor.
This course studies the thermal behavior of physical systems, employing thermodynamics, kinetic theory, and statistical mechanics. Thermodynamical topics include equations of state, energy and entropy, and the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Both classical and quantum statistical mechanics are covered, including distribution functions, partition functions, and the quantum statistics of Fermi-Dirac and Bose-Einstein systems. Applications include atoms, molecules, gases, liquids, solids, and phase transitions. Prerequisites: Physics 141-142; Mathematics 141-142.
Quantum mechanics is our most successful scientific theory: spectacularly tested, technologically paramount, conceptually revolutionary. This course provides a comprehensive introduction to this remarkable theory, from its simplest case, the so-called qubit, to phenomena including contextuality, entanglement, and nonlocality. Applications and topics such as decoherence and quantum computation are also discussed. Prerequisite: Physics 241.