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Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses

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Physics and Astronomy

Professors Friedman (Chair), Hall †, Hunter, Jagannathan, and Loinaz ‡; Associate Professors Carter and Hanneke; Assistant Professor Follette*, Five College Education and Research Fellow Robinson.

PHYSICS

Physics is the study of the natural world emphasizing an understanding of phenomena in terms of fundamental interactions and basic laws. As such, physics underlies all of the natural sciences and pervades contemporary approaches to the study of the universe (astronomy and astrophysics), living systems (biophysics and neuroscience), chemistry (chemical physics), and earth systems (geophysics and environmental science). In addition, the relationship of physics to mathematics is deep, complex and rich. To reflect the broad range of activities pursued by people with training in physics, the department has developed a curriculum that provides a solid background in the fundamentals of physics while allowing some flexibility, particularly at the upper level, for students’ interests in astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics and neuroscience. 

The core physics program provides a course of study for those who are interested in physics as a liberal arts major, with career plans in diverse fields such as engineering, law, medicine, business and education. The department also provides a number of upper-level electives to deepen the background of those students intending to pursue careers in physics and closely related technical fields. 

Major Program. Students who wish to major in Physics are required to complete the following coursework:

A comprehensive introduction to the calculus: MATH 111, 121, and 211An introduction to the core physics concepts of mechanics (PHYS 123 or 116), electromagnetism (PHYS 124 or 117), oscillations and waves (PHYS 125), relativity and quantum mechanics (PHYS 225), and statistical mechanics (PHYS 230 or CHEM 361)One advanced course in laboratory or observational techniques (PHYS 226 or ASTR 337)Three advanced elective courses on physics, the application of physics in other disciplines, or techniques used in physics. These courses must be approved by the chair of the department in consultation with the faculty of the department. At least one must be a 300-level PHYS course. At most one may be counted towards a second major.

The Department web page has links to a handbook that contains a partial list of electives for the major. In addition to consulting the handbook, students are encouraged to discuss additional choices of electives which they may consider, and their paths through the major, with members of the faculty. Students interested in majoring in physics should take PHYS 123 and 124 early in their college career. Those who have taken PHYS 116 and 117 are also able to join the majors’ stream, but they should discuss the transition with a faculty member as early as they can. The general content of the two sequences is similar, but the mathematical levels are different. Students who have placed out of MATH 111, 121, 211 or PHYS 123 are excused from these requirements and do not need to replace them with other courses.

The comprehensive evaluation for Physics majors has two components: a satisfactory performance on an approved standardized test in general physics, and attendance at a minimum of nine public physics or astronomy lectures during the senior year. 

General Education Physics Courses. The Physics Department offers a variety of courses for students not majoring in the sciences. Typically, these courses do not assume any background beyond high-school science and mathematics. In most years, the department teaches a few of these courses. 

Departmental Honors Program. Students who wish to receive departmental Honors should enroll in PHYS 498 and 499D in addition to completing the other requirements for the major. To enter the Honors program, a student must attain an average grade of at least B- in all Physics courses taken through the end of the junior year or receive department approval. At the end of the first semester of the senior year the student’s progress on the honors project will determine the advisability of continuation in the Honors program. 

The aim of Departmental Honors work in Physics is to provide the student an opportunity to pursue, under faculty direction, in-depth research into a project in experimental and/or theoretical physics. Current experimental areas of research in the department include atomic and molecular physics, precision measurements and fundamental symmetries, Bose-Einstein condensation, ultracold collisions, the quantum-classical frontier, molecular nanomagnetism, nonlinear dynamics, optical trapping, ion trapping, cellular and molecular mechanics, and phase transitions. Theoretical work is primarily in the area of High Energy and Elementary Particle physics, but faculty members pursue studies in quantum computers, foundations of quantum mechanics, and classical gravitation theory. In addition to apparatus for projects closely related to the continuing experimental research activity of faculty members, facilities are available for experimental projects in many other areas. Subject to availability of equipment and faculty interest, Honors projects arising out of students’ particular interests are encouraged. Students must submit a written thesis on the Honors work a few weeks before the end of their final semester (in late April for spring graduation). Students give a preliminary presentation of their work during the first semester, and a final presentation at the end of the second semester. In addition, they take an oral examination devoted primarily to the thesis work. 

ASTRONOMY 

Astronomy was the first science, and it remains one of the most exciting, data-driven, and active fields of scientific research. Opportunities exist to pursue studies both at the non-technical and advanced levels. Non-technical courses are designed to be accessible to every Amherst student; their goal is to introduce students to the roles of quantitative reasoning and observational evidence in modern astronomy, and to give a general introduction to the nature of the astronomical universe. These courses are often interdisciplinary in nature, including discussion of issues pertaining to Earth Sciences and Physics. 

The Astronomy major is designed to introduce students to the computational techniques, statistical tools, instrumentation, and physical principles that underlie modern Astronomy. Computational and statistical techniques are introduced in the first course in the major sequence, ASTR 200 (Intro to Data Science with Astronomical Applications), and further honed in ASTR 228 (Introductory Astrophysics) and ASTR 352 (Advanced Astrophysics). ASTR 228 and 352 also draw on physical principles introduced in the three course required physics sequence (PHYS 123, 124 and 225). 

A joint Five College Astronomy Department offers courses beyond those offered at Amherst. All required courses are taught at Amherst, but students are also encouraged to take elective courses at the four other institutions, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts.  As a result of this five-college partnership, students can enjoy the benefits of a first-rate liberal arts education while maintaining association with a research department of international stature. Students may pursue independent theoretical and observational work in association with any member of the Five College Astronomy Department, either during the academic year or the summer. The facilities of all five institutions are available to departmental majors. 

Major Program. The Astronomy major consists of eleven required courses: MATH 111, MATH 121, PHYS 123 (or 116), PHYS 124 (or 117), PHYS 225, ASTR 200, ASTR 228, ASTR 352, and three electives (many of which are also offered at Amherst). Electives must be approved by the chair of the department in consultation with the faculty of the department. At least one elective must be in Astronomy, and at least one must be 300-level or higher.  

The Department web page has links to a handbook that contains a partial list of electives for the major. In addition to consulting the handbook, students are encouraged to discuss additional choices of electives which they may consider, and their paths through the major, with members of the faculty.  

Those who have taken PHYS 116 and 117 are also able to join the majors’ stream, but they should discuss the transition with a faculty member as early as they can. In order to fulfill the college-wide comprehensive exam requirement, all Astronomy majors must make an oral presentation describing a recently published result in the astronomy literature to department faculty in their senior year, and must attend at least nine public astronomy lectures during the senior year. 

Departmental Honors Program. Students who wish to receive departmental Honors should enroll in ASTR 498 and 499D in addition to completing the other requirements for the major. To enter the honors program, a student must attain an average grade of at least B- in all required courses taken through the end of the junior year or receive department approval. At the end of the first semester of the senior year the student’s progress on the Honors project will determine the advisability of continuation in the Honors program. 

The aim of departmental honors work in Astronomy is to provide the student an opportunity to pursue, under faculty direction, in-depth research into a project in observational and/or theoretical astronomy. Current areas of research at Amherst include direct imaging of extrasolar planetary systems, circumstellar disk imaging and computational modeling, adaptive optics instrumentation, and next generation telescope mission design. Additional opportunities within the Five College Astronomy Department include planetary science, star formation, molecular clouds, galactic structure, galaxy evolution, and cosmology. Subject to availability of resources and faculty interest, Honors projects arising out of students’ particular interests are encouraged. 

Students must submit a written thesis on the Honors work a few weeks before the end of their final semester (in late April for spring graduation). Students give a preliminary presentation of their work during the first semester, and a final presentation at the end of the second semester. In addition, they take an oral examination devoted primarily to the thesis work. The departmental recommendation for the various levels of Honors will be based on the student’s record, departmental honors work, comprehensive examination, and oral examination on the thesis.

General Education Astronomy Courses. The Astronomy Department also offers courses for students not majoring in Astronomy. These include ASTR 111 and 112 at Amherst. Students may search for Astronomy courses through the Five College online catalog. 

* On leave 2021-22.

† On leave fall semester 2021-22. ‡ On leave spring semester 2021-22.

Physics

102 Geometry and Relativity

(Offered as PHYS 102 and MATH 102) On January 27th, 1921, Albert Einstein gave a lecture titled “Geometry and Experience" at the Prussian Academy of Science. In this lecture he reflects on the interdependence of geometry and physics. To commemorate the centenary of such an inspiring event, this course will explore the natural connections between geometry (axioms, the notions of space and time, dimension and curvature) and relativity (the relativity principle, simultaneity, thought experiments). No background in physics or mathematics (besides basic high school algebra and trigonometry) will be assumed. The course is designed for students who do not intend to major in mathematics or physics.  Omitted 2022-23. Professor Jagannathan.    

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2021

108 Science and Music

(See MUSI 108)

109 Energy

We will develop the concept of energy from a Physics perspective. We will introduce the various forms that energy can take and discuss the mechanisms by which it can be generated, transmitted, and transformed. The law of conservation of energy will be introduced both as a useful tool, and as an example of a fundamental physical law. The environmental and financial costs and benefits of various methods of energy generation and consumption will be discussed. Demonstrations and hands-on laboratory experiences will be an integral part of the course. The course is intended for non-science majors and not for students who have either completed or intend to complete the equivalent of PHYS 117 or CHEM 110.

The course is designed as an in-person course with active lab work.

Requisite: A working knowledge of high-school algebra, geometry and trigonometry. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Hunter.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2023

112 Electronics

The aim of the course is to foster an understanding of and intuition for the modern-day electronic devices and circuits that are central to many aspects of our research, work, and play. A practical hands-on approach serves this aim well. After investigating the electrical characteristics of electronic components, including discrete semiconductor devices and integrated circuits (ICs), we go on to build and analyze both analog and digital circuits in order to gain insight into electronic control devices, data acquisition systems, and computers. Brief introductory lecture/discussion periods will be followed by experiments to help students understand new concepts. While the course is elementary, experienced students will be able to explore more complex circuitry and will be encouraged to apply some of their newly developed electronics knowledge and creativity to ongoing research projects in other fields. Two eighty-minute meetings per week of Lecture/Discussion/Laboratory.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Carter.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018

113 Spacetime, Particles, and the Universe

We live in a moment of great advances in astronomy and fundamental physics that are changing our understanding of the physical world, from the microscopic realm of elementary particles to the large-scale structure of the universe. This course will explore the ideas of quantum theory and relativity that underpin our models of the universe. It will emphasize our present understanding of these models, the experimental and observational basis for them, and the many open questions under active investigation. Quantitative reasoning in the course will focus on proportional reasoning, interpreting graphical data, and reasonableness of answers rather than lengthy calculations. This course is designed for students who do not intend to major in physics or astronomy, as well as prospective majors who have not yet taken PHYS-116 or PHYS-123. Students do not need any background in physics, astronomy, or college-level mathematics.

Spring Semester. Professor Hanneke. 

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

116 Introductory Physics I: Mechanics

This course will begin with a description of the motion of particles and introduce Newton’s dynamical laws and a number of important force laws. We will apply these laws to a wide range of problems to gain a better understanding of the laws and to demonstrate the generality of the framework. The important concepts of work, mechanical energy, and linear and angular momentum will be introduced and the unifying idea of conservation laws will be discussed. Additional topics may include, the study of mechanical waves, fluid mechanics and rotational dynamics. Three hours of lecture and one hour of discussion and  three-hour laboratory per week.

Requisite: MATH 111. Fall and Spring semester: Professor Jagannathan and Dr. Moyer.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

116L Mechanics Lab

Lab Section for PHYS 116

This course will begin with a description of the motion of particles and introduce Newton’s dynamical laws and a number of important force laws. We will apply these laws to a wide range of problems to gain a better understanding of the laws and to demonstrate the generality of the framework. The important concepts of work, mechanical energy, and linear and angular momentum will be introduced and the unifying idea of conservation laws will be discussed. Additional topics may include, the study of mechanical waves, fluid mechanics and rotational dynamics. Three hours of lecture and one hour of discussion and  three-hour laboratory per week.

Requisite: MATH 111. Fall and Spring semester: Professor Jagannathan and Dr. Moyer.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

117 Introductory Physics II: Electromagnetism and Optics

Most of the physical phenomena we encounter in everyday life are due to the electromagnetic force. This course will begin with Coulomb’s law for the force between two charges at rest and introduce the electric field in this context. We will then discuss moving charges and the magnetic interaction between electric currents. The mathematical formulation of the basic laws in terms of the electric and magnetic fields will allow us to work towards the unified formulation originally given by Maxwell. His achievement has, as a gratifying outcome, the description of light as an electromagnetic wave. Laboratory exercises will emphasize electrical circuits and electronic measuring instruments. Three hours of lecture and discussion and one three-hour laboratory per week.

Requisite: PHYS 116 or 123. Limited to 48 students. Fall semester: Professor Carter and Instructor Moyer. Spring semester: Professor Hall and Instructor Moyer.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

117L Eletromagnetism Lab

Most of the physical phenomena we encounter in everyday life are due to the electromagnetic force. This course will begin with Coulomb’s law for the force between two charges at rest and introduce the electric field in this context. We will then discuss moving charges and the magnetic interaction between electric currents. The mathematical formulation of the basic laws in terms of the electric and magnetic fields will allow us to work towards the unified formulation originally given by Maxwell. His achievement has, as a gratifying outcome, the description of light as an electromagnetic wave. Laboratory exercises will emphasize electrical circuits and electronic measuring instruments. Three hours of lecture and discussion and one three-hour laboratory per week.

Requisite: PHYS 116 or 123. Limited to 48 students.Fall semester: Professor Carter and Instructor Moyer. Spring semester: Professor Hall and Instructor Moyer.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

123 The Newtonian Synthesis: Dynamics of Particles and Systems

The idea that the same simple physical laws apply equally well in the terrestrial and celestial realms, called the Newtonian Synthesis, is a major intellectual development of the seventeenth century. It continues to be of vital importance in contemporary physics. In this course, we will explore the implications of this synthesis by combining Newton’s dynamical laws with his Law of Universal Gravitation. We will solve a wide range of problems of motion by introducing a small number of additional forces. The concepts of work, kinetic energy, and potential energy will then be introduced. Conservation laws of momentum, energy, and angular momentum will be discussed, both as results following from the dynamical laws under restricted conditions and as general principles that go well beyond the original context of their deduction. Four hours of lecture and discussion and one three-hour laboratory per week.

Requisite: MATH 111. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 24 students. 2022-2023 Fall semester. Professor Hall.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

123L Newtonian Synthesis Lab

Lab Section for PHYS 123.

The idea that the same simple physical laws apply equally well in the terrestrial and celestial realms, called the Newtonian Synthesis, is a major intellectual development of the seventeenth century. It continues to be of vital importance in contemporary physics. In this course, we will explore the implications of this synthesis by combining Newton’s dynamical laws with his Law of Universal Gravitation. We will solve a wide range of problems of motion by introducing a small number of additional forces. The concepts of work, kinetic energy, and potential energy will then be introduced. Conservation laws of momentum, energy, and angular momentum will be discussed, both as results following from the dynamical laws under restricted conditions and as general principles that go well beyond the original context of their deduction. Four hours of lecture and discussion and one three-hour laboratory per week.

Requisite: MATH 111. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 24 students. 2022-2023 Fall semester. Professor Hall.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

124 The Maxwellian Synthesis: Dynamics of Charges and Fields

In the mid-nineteenth century, completing nearly a century of work by others, Maxwell developed an elegant set of equations describing the dynamical behavior of electromagnetic fields. A remarkable consequence of Maxwell’s equations is that the wave theory of light is subsumed under electrodynamics. Moreover, we know from subsequent developments that the electromagnetic interaction largely determines the structure and properties of ordinary matter. This course will begin with Coulomb’s Law but will quickly introduce the concept of the electric field. Students will explore moving charges and their connection with the magnetic field, study currents and electrical circuits, and discuss Faraday’s introduction of the dynamics of the magnetic field and Maxwell’s generalization. Laboratory exercises will concentrate on circuits and electronic measuring instruments. Four hours of lecture and discussion and one three-hour laboratory per week.

Requisite: MATH 121 and PHYS 116 or 123. Limited to 24 students. Spring semester;  Professor Loinaz

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2023

124L Maxwellian Synthesis Lab

Lab Section for PHYS 124

In the mid-nineteenth century, completing nearly a century of work by others, Maxwell developed an elegant set of equations describing the dynamical behavior of electromagnetic fields. A remarkable consequence of Maxwell’s equations is that the wave theory of light is subsumed under electrodynamics. Moreover, we know from subsequent developments that the electromagnetic interaction largely determines the structure and properties of ordinary matter. This course will begin with Coulomb’s Law but will quickly introduce the concept of the electric field. Students will explore moving charges and their connection with the magnetic field, study currents and electrical circuits, and discuss Faraday’s introduction of the dynamics of the magnetic field and Maxwell’s generalization. Laboratory exercises will concentrate on circuits and electronic measuring instruments. Four hours of lecture and discussion and one three-hour laboratory per week.

Requisite: MATH 121 and PHYS 116 or 123. Limited to 24 students. Spring semester;  Professor Loinaz.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

125 Oscillations and Waves

Phenomena that repeat over regular intervals of time and space play a fundamental role in physics and its applications. This course explores oscillations and waves in contexts from a simple mass on a spring to mechanical waves in solids, liquids, and gasses as well as electromagnetic waves. It emphasizes broadly applicable phenomena including superposition, boundary effects, interference, diffraction, coherence, normal modes, and the decomposition of arbitrary wave amplitudes into normal modes, as with Fourier analysis. The laboratory experiments on oscillations, mechanical waves and optics provide hands-on experience of the concepts discussed in the rest of the course. Two hours of lecture and discussion and one three-hour laboratory per week.

Requisite: PHYS 116/123 and MATH 121 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 24 students. Fall semester. Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

125L Oscillations and Waves Lab

Phenomena that repeat over regular intervals of time and space play a fundamental role in physics and its applications. This course explores oscillations and waves in contexts from a simple mass on a spring to mechanical waves in solids, liquids, and gasses as well as electromagnetic waves. It emphasizes broadly applicable phenomena including superposition, boundary effects, interference, diffraction, coherence, normal modes, and the decomposition of arbitrary wave amplitudes into normal modes, as with Fourier analysis. The laboratory experiments on oscillations, mechanical waves and optics provide hands-on experience of the concepts discussed in the rest of the course. Two hours of lecture and discussion and one three-hour laboratory per week.

Requisite: PHYS 116/123 and MATH 121 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 24 students. Fall semester. Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

225 Modern Physics

The theories of relativity (special and general) and the quantum theory constituted the revolutionary transformation of physics in the early twentieth century. Certain crucial experiments precipitated crises in our classical understanding to which these theories offered responses; in other instances, the theories implied strange and/or counterintuitive phenomena that were then investigated by crucial experiments. After an examination of the basics of Special Relativity, the quantum theory, and the important early experiments, we will consider their implications for model systems such as a particle in a box, the harmonic oscillator, and a simple version of the hydrogen atom. We will also explore the properties of nuclei and elementary particles, and study other topics such as lasers, photonics, and recent experiments of interest in contemporary physics. Three class hours per week.

Requisites: MATH 121 and PHYS 117 or 124 or equivalent or consent of the instructor. 2022-2023 Fall semester. Professor Friedman.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

226 Signals and Noise Laboratory

How do we gather information to refine our models of the physical world? This course is all about data: acquiring data, separating signals from noise, analyzing and interpreting data, and communicating results. Much – indeed nearly all – data spend some time as an electrical signal, so we will study analog electronics. In addition, students will become familiar with contemporary experimental techniques, instrumentation, and/or computational methods. Throughout, students will develop skills in scientific communication, especially in the written form. Six hours of laboratory work per week.

Requisite: PHYS 225 or consent of the instructor. Spring semester:  Professor Hunter. 

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2023

230 Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics

The basic laws of physics governing the behavior of microscopic particles are in certain respects simple. They give rise both to complex behavior of macroscopic aggregates of these particles, and more remarkably, to a new kind of simplicity. Thermodynamics focuses on the simplicity at the macroscopic level directly, and formulates its laws in terms of a few observable parameters like temperature and pressure. Statistical Mechanics, on the other hand, seeks to build a bridge between mechanics and thermodynamics, providing in the process, a basis for the latter, and pointing out the limits to its range of applicability. Statistical Mechanics also allows one to investigate, in principle, physical systems outside the range of validity of Thermodynamics. After an introduction to thermodynamic laws, we will consider a microscopic view of entropy, formulate the kinetic theory, and study several pertinent probability distributions including the classical Boltzmann distribution. Relying on a quantum picture of microscopic laws, we will study photon and phonon gases, chemical potential, classical and degenerate quantum ideal gases, and chemical and phase equilibria. Three class hours per week.

Requisite: PHYS 225 or CHEM 161/CHEM165 and PHYS 117/PHYS 124 and MATH 121. Recommended: MATH 211. Spring semester: Professor Carter. 

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

255 Physics and Astronomy in Sociocultural Context

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

347 Electromagnetic Theory I

A development of Maxwell’s electromagnetic field equations and some of their consequences using vector calculus. Topics covered include: electrostatics, steady currents and static magnetic fields, time-dependent electric and magnetic fields, and the complete Maxwell theory, energy in the electromagnetic field, Poynting’s theorem, electromagnetic waves, and radiation from time-dependent charge and current distributions. Three class hours per week.

Requisite: PHYS 117/124, PHYS 125, MATH 211 or consent of the instructor. 2022-2023 Fall semester. Professor Loinaz.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

348 Quantum Mechanics I

Wave-particle duality and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Basic postulates of Quantum Mechanics, wave functions, solutions of the Schroedinger equation for one-dimensional systems and for the hydrogen atom. Three class hours per week.

Requisite: MATH 211 and PHYS 225 or consent of the instructor. Spring semester:  Professor Hanneke. 

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

350 Particle Physics

Since the ancient Greeks, scientists have wondered how nature looks at the smallest length scales. In this course, we will study the early discoveries in particle physics and how these developments revealed a plethora of elementary particles, together with the new interactions that contribute to our understanding of the world at the subnuclear level. We will then explore the role played by symmetries of these new interactions, as well as the so-called Feynman calculus that is used to compute the probabilities for processes involving subnuclear particles. We will study the quantum electrodynamics and chromodynamics of quarks and leptons and the theory of weak interactions for beta decays. In addition, we will review the open problems in the field and the main avenues for new physics discoveries. Finally, we will study how elementary particles are detected through their interaction with matter, as well as the main particle detector facilities.

Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Vasquez Carmona.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

373 Quantum Information and Quantum Computing

Quantum Mechanics is well known for its counterintuitive and seemingly paradoxical predictions.  Despite its failure to give us a clear, intuitive picture of the world, the theory is remarkably successful at predicting the outcomes of experiments, although those predictions are probabilistic rather than deterministic.  Because of its unparalleled success, the thorny issues about the theory’s foundations were often ignored during its first fifty years.  Recent advances in both theory and experiment have again brought these issues to the fore.  This course will review some of the most interesting and intriguing facets of quantum mechanics and its potential applications to information and computing.  Topics to be covered will include the Schrödinger cat paradox and the quantum measurement problem; Bell’s inequalities, entanglement, and related phenomena that establish the “weirdness” of quantum mechanics; secure communication using quantum cryptography; and how quantum computers (if built) can solve certain problems much more efficiently than classical ones.  We will also explore recent experiments in which quantum phenomena appear on the macroscopic scale, as well as technological progress towards building a large-scale, general-purpose quantum computer. 

Requisite: Physics 225. 2022-2023 Fall Semester. Professor Friedman.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

400 Molecular and Cellular Biophysics

(Offered as PHYS 400, BIOL 400, BCBP 400, and CHEM 400) How do the physical laws that dominate our lives change at the small length and energy scales of individual molecules? What design principles break down at the sub-cellular level and what new chemistry and physics becomes important? We will answer these questions by looking at bio-molecules, cellular substructures, and control mechanisms that work effectively in the microscopic world. How can we understand both the static and dynamic shape of proteins using the laws of thermodynamics and kinetics? How has the basic understanding of the smallest molecular motor in the world, ATP synthase, changed our understanding of friction and torque? We will explore new technologies, such as atomic force and single molecule microscopy that have allowed research into these areas. This course will address topics in each of the three major divisions of Biophysics: bio-molecular structure, biophysical techniques, and biological mechanisms.

Requisite: CHEM 161/165, PHYS 116/123, PHYS 117/124, BIOL 191 or evidence of equivalent coverage in pre-collegiate courses. Spring semester. Professor Carter. 

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

460 General Relativity

The course is an elementary introduction to Einstein's theory of gravity and modern cosmology. After a brief review of the special theory of relativity, we will investigate vector and tensor fields in terms of their properties under changes of coordinates. We will study geometric ideas such as geodesics, parallel transport, and covariant differentiation, and present the Principle of Equivalence as the central physical principle behind Einstein's theory of gravity. After introducing the stress tensor, we will state the field equations and obtain the simplest solutions to them, and derive the physical implications of the theory for the motion of planets and light in the vicinity of massive stars. We will then discuss modern cosmology, including an introduction to the particle physics needed to describe the thermal history of the universe just after the Big Bang.

Requisite: PHYS 225 and MATH 211; or consent of the instructor. Fall Semester. Professor Loinaz.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2022, Fall 2023

490 Special Topics

Independent reading course.

 2022-2023 Fall and spring semester.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023

498, 499, 499D Senior Departmental Honors

Same description as PHYS 498.

Requisite: PHYS 498. Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023