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Physics

Physics Courses

PHYS 107 (F)Newton, Einstein, and Beyond

Not offered this year

This course follows a quest to understand the nature of space, time, matter, and energy. We will focus on two scientific theories that revolutionized our understanding of the physical world, Newtonian mechanics (developed in the late 17th century) and Einstein's special relativity (developed in the early 20th century). As we explore these theories, we will pay special attention to the very different stories they tell about space and time. We will conclude the semester by touching upon recent developments in cosmology, where observations have led to dramatic surprises about the make-up of our universe, and particle physics, where the Large Hadron Collider experiment is poised to extend our understanding of nature to higher energies and shorter distances. This course is intended for students whose primary interests lie outside of the natural sciences and mathematics. The mathematics used will be algebra and trigonometry. [ more ]

PHYS 108 (S)Energy Science and Technology

Energy use has skyrocketed in the United States and elsewhere in the world, causing significant economic and political shifts, as well as concerns for the environment. This course will address the physics and technology of energy generation, consumption, and conservation. It will cover a wide range of energy sources, including fossil fuels, hydropower, solar energy, wind energy, and nuclear energy. We will discuss energy use in transportation, manufacturing, building heating, and building lighting. Students will learn to compare the efficiencies and environmental impacts of various energy sources and uses. [ more ]

PHYS 109 (S)Sound, Light, and Perception

Light and sound allow us to perceive the world around us, from appreciating music and art to learning the details of atomic structure. Because of their importance in human experience, light and sound have long been the subject of scientific inquiry. How are sound and light related? How do physiology and neural processing allow us to hear and see the world around us? What are the origins of color and musical pitch? This course introduces the science and technology of light and sound to students not majoring in physics. We will start with the origins of sound and light as wave phenomena, and go on to topics including color, the optics of vision, the meaning of musical pitch and tone, and the physical basis of hearing. We will also discuss some recent technological applications of light, such as lasers and optical communications. The class will meet for two 75-minute periods each week for a variable mixture of lecture, discussion, and hands-on, interactive experiments. [ more ]

PHYS 131 (F)Introduction to Mechanics

We focus first on the Newtonian mechanics of point particles: the relationship between velocity, acceleration, and position; the puzzle of circular motion; forces; Newton's laws; energy and momentum; and gravitation. The physics of rotations and vibrations will also be discussed. We finally turn to the basic properties of waves, such as interference and refraction, as exemplified with sound and light waves. We also study optics of lenses and mirrors. This course is intended for students who have not studied physics before, or who have had some physics, but are not comfortable solving "word problems" that require calculus. [ more ]

PHYS 132 (S)Electromagnetism and the Physics of Matter

This course is intended as the second half of a one-year survey of physics. In the first part of the semester we will focus on electromagnetic phenomena. We will introduce the concept of electric and magnetic fields, and study in detail the way in which electrical circuits and circuit elements work. The deep connection between electric and magnetic phenomena is highlighted in a discussion of Faraday's Law of Induction. In the second part of the semester, we introduce several of the most central topics in twentieth-century physics. We will discuss Einstein's theory of special relativity as well as aspects of quantum theory. We will end with a treatment of nuclear physics, radioactivity, and uses of radiation. [ more ]

Taught by: Charlie Doret

Catalog details

PHYS 141 (F)Mechanics and Waves

This course covers the same topics as PHYS 131, but with a higher level of mathematical sophistication. It is intended for students with solid backgrounds in the sciences, either from high school or college, who feel comfortable solving "word problems" that require calculus. [ more ]

PHYS 142 (S)Foundations of Modern Physics

Newtonian Mechanics, spectacular as it is in describing planetary motion and a wide range of other phenomena, only hints at the richness of behaviors seen in the universe. Special relativity has extended physics into the realm of high speeds and high energies and requires us to rethink our basic notions of space and time. Quantum mechanics successfully describes atoms, molecules, and solids while at the same time calling into question our notions of what can be predicted by a physical theory. Statistical physics reveals new behaviors that emerge when many particles are present in a system. This course will survey some of these important ideas, and can serve either as a terminal course for those seeking to complete a year of physics or can serve as the basis for more advanced study of these topics. [ more ]

PHYS 151 (F)Seminar in Modern Physics

Newtonian Mechanics, spectacular as it is in describing planetary motion and a wide range of other phenomena, only hints at the richness of behaviors seen in the universe. Special relativity has extended physics into the realm of high speeds and high energies and requires us to rethink our basic notions of space and time. Quantum mechanics successfully describes atoms, molecules, and solids while at the same time calling into question our notions of what can be predicted by a physical theory. Statistical physics reveals new behaviors that emerge when many particles are present in a system. This course covers the same basic material as PHYS 142 but in a small seminar format for students with strong prior preparation in physics. [ more ]

PHYS 201 (F)Electricity and Magnetism

In this course, we study electromagnetic phenomena and their mathematical description. Topics include electrostatics, magnetic fields, and electromagnetic induction, DC and AC circuits, and the electromagnetic properties of matter. We also introduce Maxwell's equations, which express the essence of the theory in remarkably succinct form. [ more ]

PHYS 202 (S)Vibrations, Waves and Optics

Waves and oscillations characterize many different physical systems, including vibrating strings, springs, water waves, sound waves, electromagnetic waves, and gravitational waves. Quantum mechanics even describes particles with wave functions. Despite these diverse settings waves exhibit several common characteristics, so that the understanding of a few simple systems can provide insight into a wide array of phenomena. In this course we begin with the study of oscillations of simple systems with only a few degrees of freedom. We then move on to study transverse and longitudinal waves in continuous media in order to gain a general description of wave behavior. The rest of the course focuses on electromagnetic waves and in particular on optical examples of wave phenomena. In addition to well known optical effects such as interference and diffraction, we will study a number of modern applications of optics such as short pulse lasers and optical communications. Throughout the course mathematical methods useful for higher-level physics will be introduced. [ more ]

PHYS 210 (S)Mathematical Methods for Scientists

This course covers a variety of mathematical methods used in the sciences, focusing particularly on the solution of ordinary and partial differential equations. In addition to calling attention to certain special equations that arise frequently in the study of waves and diffusion, we develop general techniques such as looking for series solutions and, in the case of nonlinear equations, using phase portraits and linearizing around fixed points. We study some simple numerical techniques for solving differential equations. A series of optional sessions in Mathematica will be offered for students who are not already familiar with this computational tool. [ more ]

PHYS 231 T (F)Facts of Life

Not offered this year

The cancer death rate scales like (age)6 so it was thought that a proliferating cancer cell must have acquired 6 mutations. The probability of having had N sexual partners scales like N2.4. Body Mass Index = Mass / Length2. The heart rate is proportional to the organism's mass0.75. The number of policemen scales like population1.15. Power-law relationships often describe emergent phenomena of self-organizing systems. In this course we will learn how to obtain data and plot it in an informative way, including estimates of the errors of fits. We will learn how to describe phenomena with differential equations and to find analytic and numerical solutions. With those tools we will study the human experience: births, body size, sex, death rates (by cause, by age, by gender), metrics of cities, distributions of common names, population growth rates, per capita use of energy, the spread of disease, etc. Projects will involve applying the methods to new phenomena. [ more ]

PHYS 301 (F)Quantum Physics

This course serves as a one-semester introduction to the history, formalism, and phenomenology of quantum mechanics. We begin with a discussion of the historical origins of the quantum theory, and the Schroedinger wave equation. The concepts of matter waves and wave-packets are introduced. Solutions to one-dimensional problems will be treated prior to introducing the system which serves as a hallmark of the success of quantum theory, the three-dimensional hydrogen atom. In the second half of the course, we will develop the important connection between the underlying mathematical formalism and the physical predictions of the quantum theory and introduce the Heisenberg formalism. We then go on to apply this knowledge to several important problems within the realm of atomic and nuclear physics concentrating on applications involving angular momentum and spins. [ more ]

PHYS 302 (S)Stat Mechanics & Thermodynamics

Properties like temperature, pressure, magnetization, heat capacity, conductivity, etc describe the material world. Macroscopic objects are made up of huge numbers of fundamental particles interacting in simple ways--obeying the Schr?dinger equation, Newton's and Coulomb's Laws. In this course we will develop the tools of statistical physics, which will allow us to predict the cooperative phenomena that emerge in large ensembles of interacting particles. We will apply those tools to a wide variety of physical questions, including the behavior of gasses, polymers, heat engines, magnets, and electrons in solids. [ more ]

PHYS 308 (S)Energy Science and Technology, Advanced Section

Not offered this year

Energy use has skyrocketed in the United States and elsewhere in the world, causing significant economic and political shifts, as well as concerns for the environment. This course will address the physics and technology of energy generation, consumption, and conservation. It will cover a wide range of energy sources, including fossil fuels, hydropower, solar energy, wind energy, and nuclear energy. We will discuss energy use in transportation, manufacturing, building heating, and building lighting. Students will learn to compare the efficiencies and environmental impacts of various energy sources and uses. PHYS 308 is an advanced section of PHYS 108 "Energy Science and Technology" and is intended for students who have substantial background in college-level physics. It will include all of the material in PHYS 108, supplemented with more advanced readings and more challenging assignments. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

PHYS 312 (S)Philosophical Implications of Modern Physics

Some of the discoveries made by physicists over the last century seem to show that our common sense views are deeply at odds with our most sophisticated and best confirmed scientific theories. The course will present the essential ideas of relativity theory and quantum theory and explore their implications for philosophy. We will ask, for example, what these theories tell us about the nature of space, time, probability and causality. [ more ]

PHYS 314 T (S)Controlling Quanta: Atoms, Electrons, and Photons

Not offered this year

This course will explore modern developments in the control of individual quantum systems. Topics covered will include basic physical theories of atoms coupled to photons, underlying mathematical tools (including Lie algebras and groups), and computational methods to simulate and analyze quantum systems. Applications to quantum computing, teleportation, and experimental metaphysics (Bell's inequality) will also be discussed. [ more ]

PHYS 315 T (F)Computational Biology

This course will provide an overview of Computational Biology, the application of computational, mathematical, statistical, and physical problem-solving techniques to interpret the rapidly expanding amount of biological data. Topics covered will include database searching, DNA sequence alignment, clustering, RNA structure prediction, protein structural alignment, methods of analyzing gene expression, networks, and genome assembly using techniques such as string matching, dynamic programming, hidden Markov models, and expectation-maximization. [ more ]

PHYS 316 (S)Protecting Information: Applications of Abstract Algebra and Quantum Physics

Living in the information age, we find ourselves depending more and more on codes that protect messages against either noise or eavesdropping. This course examines some of the most important codes currently being used to protect information, including linear codes, which in addition to being mathematically elegant are the most practical codes for error correction, and the RSA public key cryptographic scheme, popular nowadays for internet applications. We also study the standard AES system as well as an increasingly popular cryptographic strategy based on elliptic curves. Looking ahead by a decade or more, we show how a quantum computer could crack the RSA scheme in short order, and how quantum cryptographic devices will achieve security through the inherent unpredictability of quantum events. [ more ]

PHYS 319 (F)Integrative Bioinformatics, Genomics, and Proteomics Lab

What can computational biology teach us about cancer? In this capstone experience for the Genomics, Proteomics, and Bioinformatics program, computational analysis and wet-lab investigations will inform each other, as students majoring in biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics/statistics, and physics contribute their own expertise to explore how ever-growing gene and protein data-sets can provide key insights into human disease. In this course, we will take advantage of one well-studied system, the highly conserved Ras-related family of proteins, which play a central role in numerous fundamental processes within the cell. The course will integrate bioinformatics and molecular biology, using database searching, alignments and pattern matching, phylogenetics, and recombinant DNA techniques to reconstruct the evolution of gene families by focusing on the gene duplication events and gene rearrangements that have occurred over the course of eukaryotic speciation. By utilizing high through-put approaches to investigate genes involved in the MAPK signal transduction pathway in human colon cancer cell lines, students will uncover regulatory mechanisms that are aberrantly altered by siRNA knockdown of putative regulatory components. This functional genomic strategy will be coupled with independent projects using phosphorylation-state specific antisera to test our hypotheses. Proteomic analysis will introduce the students to de novo structural prediction and threading algorithms, as well as data-mining approaches and Bayesian modeling of protein network dynamics in single cells. Flow cytometry and mass spectrometry will be used to study networks of interacting proteins in colon tumor cells. [ more ]

PHYS 321 (F)Introduction to Particle Physics

Not offered this year

The Standard Model of particle physics incorporates special relativity, quantum mechanics, and almost all that we know about elementary particles and their interactions. This course introduces some of the main ideas and phenomena associated with the Standard Model. After a review of relativistic kinematics, we will learn about symmetries in particle physics, Feynman diagrams, and selected applications of quantum electrodynamics, the weak interactions, and quantum chromodynamics. We will conclude with a discussion of spontaneous symmetry breaking and the Higgs mechanism. [ more ]

PHYS 402 T (S)Applications of Quantum Mechanics

This course will explore a number of important topics in the application of quantum mechanics to physical systems, including perturbation theory, the variational principle and the semiclassical interaction of atoms and radiation. The course will finish up with three weeks on quantum optics including an experimental project on non-classical interference phenomena. Applications and examples will be taken mostly from atomic physics with some discussion of solid state systems. [ more ]

PHYS 405 T (F)Electromagnetic Theory

Not offered this year

We will review Maxwell's equations and use them to study a range of topics--electric fields and matter, magnetic materials, light, radiation--exploring phenomena and seeking to gain an intuitive understanding. We will also learn some useful approximation techniques and some beautiful mathematical tools. The class will meet as a whole once per week for an hour lecture on new material and to discuss questions on the readings. Each week a second tutorial meeting with the instructor will be scheduled; here, students will take turns working problems on the chalkboard. Written solutions to problems will be due a few days after the tutorial meeting. [ more ]

PHYS 411 T (F)Classical Mechanics

The course will explore advanced topics in classical mechanics, including the calculus of variations, the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations of mechanics, phase space, non-linear dynamics and chaos, central-force motion, non-inertial reference frames (including implications for physics on a rotating Earth), and rigid-body rotations. Numerical and perturbative techniques will be developed and used extensively. We will also examine the ways in which classical mechanics informs other fields of physics. The class as a whole will meet once per week for an introductory lecture/discussion; a second tutorial meeting between the instructor and a pair of students will be scheduled later in the week. Students will take turns working and discussing problems at the chalkboard. Written solutions will be due later in the week. [ more ]

Taught by: Charlie Doret

Catalog details

PHYS 418 (S)Gravity

Not offered this year

This course is an introduction to the currently accepted theory of gravity, Einstein's general relativity. We begin with a review of special relativity, emphasizing geometrical aspects of Minkowski spacetime. Working from the equivalence principle, we then motivate gravity as spacetime curvature, and study in detail the Schwarzschild geometry around a spherically symmetric mass. After this application, we use tensors to develop Einstein's equation, which describes how energy density curves spacetime. With this equation in hand we study the Friedmann-Robertson-Walker geometries for an expanding universe, and finally, we linearize Einstein's equation to develop the theory of gravitational waves. [ more ]

PHYS 493 (F)Senior Research: Physics

An original experimental or theoretical investigation is carried out under the direction of a faculty member in Physics, as discussed above under the heading of The Degree with Honors in Physics. [ more ]

PHYS 494 (S)Senior Research: Physics

An original experimental or theoretical investigation is carried out under the direction of a faculty member in Physics, as discussed above under the heading of The Degree with Honors in Physics. [ more ]

PHYS 499 (F, S)Physics and Astronomy Colloquium

Physics and Astronomy researchers from around the country come to explain their research. Students of Physics and Astronomy at any level are welcome. This is not a for-credit course. Registration is not necessary to attend. [ more ]