Physics Curriculum

Students majoring in our Physics AOC are required to take a two-semester Introductory Physics sequence with labs, Classical Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Modern Physics with lab, Optics, Quantum Mechanics and Statistical Mechanics. In addition to these core courses, electives are offered in Advanced Quantum Mechanics, Advanced Physics Lab, Essential Electronics, Mathematical Methods for Physicists and Solid State Physics, as well as a wide variety of tutorials and independent study projects arranged with your faculty advisor. As with all disciplines at New College, an essential part of our Physics program is undergraduate research leading to the completion of a senior thesis. Our faculty in Physics is well equipped to offer theses in a wide range of areas. See our list of student theses for examples of recent topics covered.

Some students also choose to take physics as part of a joint area of concentration, or slash AOC as we call it. Slash AOCs combine two disciplines (e.g., Physics/Mathematics) with study in each but not quite enough for a full major in either. For a slash AOC in Physics, we require the two semester Introductory Physics sequence with labs, Classical Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, and Modern Physics with lab.

In addition to coursework at New College, our Physics students routinely do paid summer research at universities and government laboratories around the country as part of the NSF funded REU program. Faculty can assist students in applying for these opportunities.

For more detailed requirements within our Physics AOC, check out our General Catalog and the Physics Academic Learning Compact.

Here’s a list of recent course offerings in Physics:

Seeing the Light
This course will be valuable to the nonscientist – the humanity major, the social scientist, or any other of the myriad of students who, while perhaps not mathematically sophisticated, have the curiosity and intelligence of all college students. The field of optics seemed to offer an ideal chance to expose the students to the realm of physics and physical sciences in general. A huge wealth of light and color phenomena from “the real world” will be discussed and the logical relationships that exist between these phenomena will be pointed out. The course will follow closely the book written by D. Falk, D. Brill and D. Stork with the same title “Seeing the Light”. The following topics will be covered: Fundamental properties of light; Principles of geometrical optics (shadows, reflection, refraction, dispersion); Mirrors and lenses; The camera and photography; The human eye and vision (producing the image, processing the image, binocular image and perception of depth); Optical instruments (microscopes, telescopes); Color theory and color perception mechanism; Wave optics (interference and diffraction); Scattering and polarization; Holography. The evaluation will be based on class attendance, weekly homework assignments, two midterm exams and one final comprehensive exam.

Structure of Nature
During the term we will investigate 20th century developments in two main areas of fundamental physics research, particle physics and cosmology, exploring the limits of human knowledge regarding these subjects. The development will be largely nonmathematical and concept oriented with no required prerequisites. The focus will be on the logical development of the currently accepted models of nature through examination of various particle accelerator experiments and astronomical observations over the last century. We will see how building larger and larger accelerators has uncovered a remarkably unified view of the rich structure we observe around us. The current picture appears incomplete at the present time. We will examine some of the reasons why scientists believe this to be so and will discuss some current ideas for completing the picture. Finally, our knowledge about nature at the extreme microscopic level can tell us about what might have happened in the very early universe, a remarkable connection between the very big and the very small. The evaluation is based on exams, assignments, attendance, and possible term papers. Prerequisites: None, other than an interest in science.

Descriptive Astronomy
This course, which has absolutely no prerequisites other than a curiosity about the heavens and a willingness to work hard, is directed at students who are not necessarily concentrating in the sciences. Little mathematics will be used. We will start with a discussion of the history of astronomy and how the present notions of the sun-centered solar system developed. From there we will move into a discussion of the moon and the planets. Throughout, we will include the most recent scientific findings. We will discuss stars, supernovas, black holes, gas clouds, and galaxies. The course will conclude with the present picture of the structure of the universe. Part of the course will be naked eye and telescopic observations of the moon, the planets, double stars, and nebulae. The evaluation will be based on solutions to homework assignments, a mid-term exam, a comprehensive final exam, an optional paper, and attendance and participation in classes, workshop and observation sessions.

Selected Physics Topics for the Life Sciences
The course will attempt to make the relevance of advances in Physics to Biology and Medicine more obvious. The recent discoveries in physics and their wide applications to other fields mean that today biologist; doctors and biomedical scientists work with highly sophisticated apparatus and are compelled to be familiar with quite advanced physical concepts. Various topics like fluid properties and life on earth, physics of the human circulatory system, bioelectricity, physics of hearing, physics of vision, microscopy principles, fiber optics in medical diagnosis, lasers and photonics application in the medical field, radiation and nuclear medicine will be discussed. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework, two exams, and class attendance. Co-requisites: Physics I and II.

Physics I
This is the first semester of the introductory calculus-based physics sequence. The main target audience is physics, chemistry and biology majors, and premeds. However, anyone else interested in introductory physics is welcome to join. Topics covered include kinematics in one and two dimensions, Newton=s laws of motion, work and energy, systems of particles and the center of mass, momentum conservation, gravitation, oscillations and rotational motion. Criteria for evaluation are weekly homework, exams, including a final comprehension exam, and class attendance and participation. Co-requisite: You must have had or be taking Introductory Calculus.

Honors Physics I
This course is the first semester of introductory physics (mechanics and thermodynamics) presented at a pace faster than Physics I, and with higher expectations for satisfactory completion. It fits what many students are looking for: “honors” courses moving at a faster pace, having in the class “stronger” classmates, and looking better on the transcript. The course stresses problem solving to a greater degree than Physics I. This emphasis, and the faster pace, comes at the expense of time spent on basic concepts. In recent years, Physics educators have moved in the direction of emphasizing concepts more, an area where students are perceived to be weak. The argument goes: how can Physics education be succeeding if students have not mastered all of the fundamental concepts prior to applying them? If you feel like this, then maybe Physics I is the course for you! Honors Physics moves in the other direction. The philosophy is that you learn by doing, and “doing” at this level is solving Physics problems. The argument goes that this is the best way to prepare for Physics at a higher level, with a firm grasp of the concepts following the application. If this is your philosophy, then Honors Physics is the course for you. Corequisite: Calculus I.

Physics I Laboratory
Physics I Laboratory will focus on experiments involving fundamental principles and key applications of classical mechanics. It is intended to cover many of the topics introduced in Physics I. The lab will provide hands on exposure to many physical systems involving basic mechanics. For example, we will conduct experiments measuring position, velocity, and acceleration of moving objects as well as rotational inertia and other properties of rotating systems. Many of the experiments will use state of the art computer interfacing and automated data acquisition systems in the new dedicated introductory physics laboratory in the Heiser Natural Sciences Complex. The course meets one afternoon per week and is evaluated using a combination of exams and weekly lab reports. Co-requisite: Enrollment in Physics I. Lab Fee Required.

Physics II
This is the continuation of the introductory physics sequence. Topics this semester include the electric field of stationary charges, Gauss’ Law, work and energy, the electrostatic potential, capacitance, electric current, magnetic fields, Faraday’s law, Maxwell’s equations, reflection and refraction, geometrical optics, and interference and diffraction. The criteria of evaluation are the same as in Physics I. Pre-requisites: Calculus I and Physics I. Co – Requisite: Calculus II.

Honors Physics II
This course is the natural continuation of Honors Physics I. Topics covered will include all of the material conventionally covered in Physics II as well as additional material on waves, optics, special relativity, and other special topics such as basic quantum mechanical concepts. Material will be covered at an accelerated pace relative to Physics II and the mathematical sophistication involved will be considerably deeper.

Physics II Laboratory
Physics II Laboratory continues Physics Laboratory I. The lab will feature the material being covered in the lecture course Physics II; basic electrostatics, DC and AC electronics, magnetic fields, optics, and basic spectroscopy. Many of the experiments will continue to use the computer interfacing developed in the first semester of the course. The course meets one afternoon per week and is evaluated using a combination of exams and weekly lab reports. Prerequisites: Physics I and Lab and co-enrollment in Physics II. Lab fee required.

Modern Physics
In this course we will study the major breakthroughs that occurred in physics during the early 20th century. We will begin with Einstein’s special theory of relativity and continue on to study the various physical phenomena that led to the development of quantum mechanics; such as blackbody radiation, Compton scattering, the photoelectric effect, and the discrete spectrum of Hydrogen. We will examine Schrödinger’s wave equation that governs the evolution of quantum systems and solve it for some simple cases. Criteria for evaluation are weekly homework, exams, including a final comprehension exam, and class attendance and participation. Prerequisite: Physics I and II.

Modern Physics Laboratory
In this lab we will repeat some of the modern physics’ classic experiments. Included will be photoelectric effect, the Millikan oil drop experiment, spectroscopy, the Michelson interfero-meter, diffraction grating, the measurement of e/m for electrons, electron diffraction, the Frank-Hertz experiment, and X-ray diffraction. In addition to experimental technique, we will emphasize the place of these experiments in the history of science. In the past, this course has drawn both physics majors and non-majors. The course will be evaluated on the basis of the completion of the experiments in the course, and the submission of a clear lab notebook. Prerequisites: Physics I and II. Lab fee required.

Classical Mechanics
This course begins by covering many of the subjects introduced in Physics I at a greater level of mathematical sophistication. First, we will study Newton’s equations of motion for a variety of systems and their solution using several types of coordinate systems. Following this, we will investigate the more powerful lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations of classical mechanics using calculus of variations. This more general approach allows equations of motion to be formulated in terms of generalized coordinates and provides the most direct connection to quantum mechanics and modern fundamental theories of physics. Evaluation is based on exams, weekly homework assignments, attendance, and class participation. Prerequisites: Physics I and Physics II.

Statistical Mechanics
Statistical mechanics makes the connection between the microscopic and the macroscopic thermodynamic behavior of systems. It is the foundation of the behavior of all gasses, liquids, and solids. This includes phase transitions and critical points. We will begin by developing the Boltzmann-Gibbs equation. From this, we will derive the rules of thermodynamics. A previous knowledge of thermodynamics, while helpful, is not essential. Prerequisites: Physics I and II.

Quantum Mechanics
Quantum Mechanics follows Modern Physics in the development of the theoretical framework that radically changed classical physics at the turn of the century. This theory was motivated by numerous conflicts between classical concepts and experimental results in atomic systems. Quantum mechanics has numerous ramifications for both chemistry and physics where small-scale physical systems are relevant. The class will focus on techniques for solving Schrödinger’s wave equation in a variety of physical situations. The class will begin with several one-dimensional examples that exhibit the crucial properties inherent in all quantum systems. We will then see how quantum theory fits naturally into the framework of linear algebra where operators acting on a vector space of particle states replace classical observable quantities such as energy and momentum. Next, we will solve for the three-dimensional Hydrogen atom states, which serves as a model for more complex atomic and molecular quantum systems. Special topics will include Bell’s theorem on hidden variables and the Einstein-
Podolsky-Rosen paradox regarding locality of wave function collapse. Recent experiments have been conducted that rule out any underlying deterministic local theory of nature and support the quantum mechanical picture. The course will be evaluated by in-class exams, weekly homework as well as class participation and attendance. Prerequisite: Modern Physics.

Electricity and Magnetism
This course is intended primarily for students concentrating in physics or mathematics. It begins with vector calculus then moves into electrostatics. Thereafter follow the fundamentals of current and resistance, capacitance and dielectrics, magnetic fields, and Faraday's Law. Emphasized throughout will be the mathematical techniques essential not only in this course, but in a wide variety of settings in physics. These techniques include infinite series, uniqueness theorems, and the solution of boundary value partial differential equations. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework and exams, including a final exam Pre-requisites: Physics I and II. Not required, but most helpful would be the upper level course Mathematical Methods in Physics.

Optics constitutes one of the most important areas of physics. Indeed, advances in Optics have led the way in a revolution in the communications and computer industries. The course starts with geometrical optics, including plane surfaces and prisms, spherical surfaces, lenses and mirrors. Then it proceeds with vibrations and waves, superposition of waves, interference of two beams of light, interference involving multiple reflections, Fraunhofer, and Fresnel diffraction. There will be a section discussing the electromagnetic nature of light, dispersion, polarization, reflection and double refraction. This course will consist of both lectures and labs. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework and exams, including a final exam, and weekly lab reports. Prerequisites: Physics I and II and labs. Not required, but most helpful are Electricity and Magnetism and upper level mathematics such as Calculus III. Lab fee required.

Computer Simulation Methods
This course teaches solving scientific problems with a computer. Being able to do this is an essential skill not just in Physics, but also in other disciplines. In this class, we will stress seven elements of computer programing: 1) programming language, 2) programming style, 3) computational algorithms, 4) appropriate data structures, 5) graphical representation, 6) use of other people’s code, and 7) computational speed. A number of example problems and simulations will be done this semester depending somewhat on student interest, but weighted towards Physics and related disciplines. The computer language will be Java. Prior knowledge of this language, or another computer language, might be helpful, but is not required. We will use the most modern paradigms of computers, including Object-Oriented Programming. But, through workshops and instruction, we will certainly help students perhaps new to computer programming. Prerequisites are Physics I and II, and Calculus I and II, or consent of the instructor.

Advanced Electricity and Magnetism
This course is a second semester follow-up to Electricity and Magnetism. It will begin with an overview of the Maxwell equations both in vacuum and in the presence of matter. A detailed study of electromagnetic waves will follow. The potential formulation will then be covered in which the physical fields are derived from scalar and vector potentials. This approach will then be applied to a study of radiation properties of accelerated charges. The final section of the course will involve a study of the relativistic nature of Electromagnetism and the covariant formulation of the Maxwell equations in the context of special relativity.

Advanced Physics Laboratory
The advanced Physics Lab provides third and fourth year physics and chemistry students with an opportunity to develop their technical and analytical skills and to explore new physical phenomena. Students are expected to use both their hands and their heads. The lab is intended to bridge the gap between the conventional undergraduate lab and a research lab. Thus the experiments are considerably more complex and much more comprehensive. Four experiments will be completed. The evaluation will be based on lab notebook and lab reports. Pre-requisites: Modern Physics Lab.

Analog Electronics
Advances in electronic devices have been the key to many recent scientific discoveries. They also lie at the heart of the high tech revolution which is sweeping the world. This course is designed as an introduction to building electronic circuits from the ground up. Emphasized will be solid state devices, such as transistors and operational amplifiers. This course will consist of both lecture and labs. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework and exams, including a final comprehension exam, and weekly lab reports. Pre-requisite: Physics I and II and Introductory Physics Laboratories. Lab fee required.

Mathematical Methods for Physicists
This course is intended to provide a brief introduction to some mathematical concepts which appear repeatedly in physics. These topics include vector manipulation, the theory of coordinate systems, vector calculus, the series representation of functions, linear algebra, differential equations, and complex numbers. Used in the course is the computer language Mathematica, which will be introduced. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework assignments, class attendance and participation, a midterm and final exam. Prerequisites: Introductory Physics and Calculus.

Solid State Physics
Solid state physics is the largest research area in physics, and deals with the subject of materials. This subject matter is essential for an understanding of many areas of research in both physics and chemistry. This course will cover the following topics: waves in crystals and the reciprocal lattice, thermal vibrations of the crystal lattice, free electrons in crystals, electrical conductivity and band theory, semiconductors, amorphous materials and superconductivity. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework and exams, including a final exam. Pre-requisite: Physics I and II are required; Modern Physics is suggested.

Quantum Mechanics II
This course continues Quantum Mechanics I, looking at several additional topics. These topics include particle statistics (Fermions and Bosons), atoms and the periodic table, approximation schemes such as perturbation theory and variation principles, the WKB approximation, scattering theory, and Bell’s theorem. The evaluation is based on weekly homework assignments, a midterm exam, a comprehensive final exam, and class attendance and participation. Prerequisite: Quantum Mechanics I.

For a complete list of courses, click here.

[Did you know?]

New College students work on major scientific research and outreach projects funded by the National Science Foundation, the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the U.S. Army, AT&T Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities and diverse cultural organizations.

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