PHYS Course Descriptions

Physics (PHYS)

The Physics major offers the same broad scope of study as would be found at a larger research university. In addition to basic offerings in classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, relativity, and quantum physics, the curriculum includes courses in digital and analog electronics, solid state physics, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, special topics courses exploring areas of particular interest, and advanced laboratories exploring phenomena as diverse as physical optics, x-ray diffraction, spectroscopy, and radioactivity.

At the same time, Randolph-Macon's focus on undergraduate education means that students enjoy individualized attention, mentoring, and support from faculty. Research apparatus intended for and available to students for their use. The college supports an active student research program, and many students culminate their studies with a two-semester senior project in an area of particular interest.

Demand for graduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields is very high. Recent figures (2018) from the American Institute of Physics indicate that starting salaries for physics bachelors in the private sector range from $45,000 to $75,000.

The Physics (PHYS) Curriculum:

See course requirements for the major and minor.

105 – A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Physics (With Apologies to Douglas Adams) – This course is a one-semester exploration of the physical world, built around the theme of understanding objects and processes which surround us. Themes to be explored may include conservation of energy and momentum, principles of thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, the relativity of time and space, and the quantum mechanical description of nature. Students will explore these and other ideas, with student interest driving the specific topics covered. Experiment and direct observation will reinforce the conceptual understanding of topics, and allow the students to further discover the limits of their application to specific phenomena and devices. Through the preparation of written and oral reports, students will develop skills in the communication of technical themes. Six contact hours each week. This course partially fulfills the Area of Knowledge requirement as a natural science with laboratory. Offered alternate years. Four hours.

130 – Atmospheres and Weather – An introduction to planetary atmospheres and weather phenomena, with special emphasis on the Earth. More than just a meteorology study, the course will use atmospheric phenomena elsewhere in the solar system as a way of understanding similar occurrences on the Earth. Topics include general circulation, cloud formation processes, the solar energy budget and transport phenomena, global warming, and the interaction between humankind’s activities and the earth’s weather. Computer simulations and laboratory exercises will assist students in understanding the basic concepts in this course. This course partially fulfills the Area of Knowledge requirement as a natural science with laboratory. Offered alternate years. Four hours.

151-152 – Introductory Physics – A two-semester introduction to the basic principles of classical and contemporary physics. Topics include classical mechanics, waves, heat and thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, optics, and modern physics. The basic ideas and tools of calculus are presented and used as needed. Laboratory investigation, computer modeling, and context-rich problem solving are emphasized as modes of inquiry into the phenomena being presented. Six contact hours each week. Prerequisites: None for PHYS 151. PHYS 151 is prerequisite for PHYS 152. Students intending to major in physics, chemistry, or computer science, and those intending to participate in the cooperative engineering programs, should be enrolled concurrently or previously in MATH 131-132 or 141-142. Each semester of this course partially fulfills the Area of Knowledge requirement as a natural science with laboratory. Four hours each.

205 – Modern Physics – Developments in 20th century physics, including the theory of special relativity, black-body radiation, the photoelectric effect, Compton scattering, Rutherford scattering, the Bohr atom, deBroglie waves, wave particle duality, and introductory quantum physics. Students should be enrolled concurrently or previously in MATH 132 or Math 142. Prerequisite: PHYS 152. Three hours.

210 – Digital Electronics – An introduction to the study and applications of digital electronics and microprocessor interfacing. Theoretical presentations are accompanied by laboratory work emphasizing design of and experimentation with digital circuitry. This course partially fulfills the laboratory science requirement as a physical science. Due to space limitations, permission of the instructor is required for students not majoring in physics or computer science. Six contact hours per week. This course partially fulfills the Area of Knowledge requirement as a natural science with laboratory. Four hours.

215 – Analog Electronics – An introduction to analog circuits. The theoretical basis for the uses of active and passive circuit elements is presented along with applications in power supplies, measurement circuits, and amplifiers. Laboratory work providing hands-on usage of the devices discussed is a key component to the course. Two three-hour class/laboratory sessions per week. Prerequisite: PHYS 152 or 210. This course partially fulfills the Area of Knowledge requirement as a natural science with laboratory. Offered alternate years. Four hours.

250 – Mathematical Physics – An introduction to the application of mathematics to physical systems. Topics included are Taylor and Fourier series, Fourier transforms, generating approximate solutions, and complex variables. Each of these areas of mathematics will be related to applicable systems drawn from physics and chemistry. Numerical techniques on various computers will be employed. The course is designed to be of value to upper-division physics, chemistry, and mathematics majors. Prerequisites: MATH 132 or 142. This course partially fulfills the Area of Knowledge requirement as a natural science without laboratory. Three hours.

271-274 – Guided Research in Physics – A guided research course intended to provide interested students an opportunity to do research prior to PHYS 400 or a Senior Project. Students will work with a faculty member to develop and execute a research project. Permission of a faculty member is required. Students will be required to spend at least three hours per week on the research project. Prerequisites: PHYS 151-152. One hour each.

321 – Intermediate Physics Lab – An introduction to the use of experimental apparatus and modern laboratory techniques. Experiments may involve the use of lasers, optical and magnetic spectrometers, interferometers, photomultipliers, radioactive sources and detectors, and standard laboratory electronics. Student work is directed to the observation of important physical effects and often involves reproducing some of the pivotal experimental results in the development of modern physics. Upon the completion of the assigned experiment, students will be expected to demonstrate through written reports competency with the apparatus and an understanding of the physical phenomena measured. Prerequisite: PHYS 205 or permission of the instructor. One hour.

322 – Advanced Physics Lab – This course will build upon the skills developed in PHYS 321. Students will continue to work with new and familiar laboratory equipment, keep a record of their experiments in a laboratory notebook, and report their findings in a journal style technical report. Laboratory exercises will be- come less procedurally descriptive for the students in preparation for PHYS 400. Prerequisite: PHYS 321 or permission of the instructor. One hour.

330 – Intermediate Mechanics – A rigorous treatment of the formalism and methods of classical mechanics, kinematics and dynamics are treated in one, two, and three dimensions. Topics include vector algebra and coordinate system transformations, periodic motion in two and three dimensions, non-inertial reference frames, central force formalisms, coupled oscillations, and chaotic dynamics. Four hours of lecture and tutorial each week. Prerequisites: PHYS 250 or MATH 203. Four hours.

340 – Electricity and Magnetism – A rigorous treatment of classical electromagnetic theory. Beginning with a review of the calculus of vector fields, these tools are applied to the study of electric and magnetic phenomena. Static electric and magnetic fields are treated, including their interactions with matter. Dynamical effects, including radiation, are derived from the synthesis of Maxwell’s Equations. Prerequisite: PHYS 330. MATH 307 should be taken simultaneously if not taken in a prior year. Four hours of lecture and tutorial each week. Four hours.

350 – Computational Physics – This course encourages the student to think critically and creatively about research questions using computational tools. The student will learn computational methods for simulating physical systems to solve a variety of problems. Students will be introduced to object oriented programming; no prior programming experience is necessary. Topics covered will include numerical solutions to differential equations, simulation and visualization of particle motion, and Monte Carlo simulations of thermal systems. Additional topics may include planetary motion, fractals, numerical integration, and quantum systems. Prerequisites: PHYS 152 and MATH 132 or 142 or permission of instructor. Offered alternate years. Three hours.

381-382 – Special Topics in Physics – These courses focus on areas of physics not specifically covered in the general curriculum and are designed to meet the needs and interests of advanced students in physics. Three hours each.

391-392 – Independent Study – An independent exploration of a specialized area of physics under the guidance of a member of the department. Prerequisites: permission of the instructor, a cumulative GPA of 3.25 or greater, and approval of the Committee on the Curriculum. Three hours each.

400 – Physics Research – Students select a research topic in a specialized area of physics or astronomy. Projects are student-designed in consultation with a faculty member. A proposal (including a literature review and a research plan) must be submitted to the faculty member no later than the second week of the term in which the research is to be completed. The project will culminate in a formal written report by the end of that term. Prerequisite: PHYS 322 and/or permission of instructor. Three hours.

430 – Introductory Quantum Mechanics – An intermediate formulation of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics using Shroedinger’s equation. In particular, the study of finite, infinite, and periodic potential barriers and wells will lead to a description of the hydrogen atom, simple molecules, and solids, and the nucleus at a more sophisticated level than that developed in PHYS 205. Three one-hour lectures per week. Prerequisite: PHYS 330. Offered alternate years. Three hours.

435 – Optics – An intermediate course in dynamical electromagnetic systems, including geometric and physical optics. Emphasis will be placed upon the nature of electromagnetic waves and their diffraction and interference. Three one-hour lectures per week. Prerequisite: PHYS 340. Offered alternate years. Three hours.

440 – Statistical and Thermal Physics – A survey of thermal phenomena. Topics include classical thermodynamics – temperature, heat, work, energy, entropy; the thermodynamic laws; classical and quantum statistics describing systems of distinguishable and indistinguishable particles. Prerequisite: PHYS 152. Offered alternate years. Three hours.

445 – Solid State Physics – A survey of matter in the solid phase. Fundamentals of crystallography and band structure will be treated along with selections from the topics of superconductivity, ferromagnetism, photovoltaics, amorphous solids, luminescence, and defects. This course is intended primarily for physics majors, although students majoring in chemistry and computer science will find topics relevant to their fields. Prerequisite: PHYS 205 or CHEM 311, or permission of instructor. Offered alternate years. Three hours.

450 – Physics Internship – Students in this course are placed in an industrial or research facility and follow an arranged set of readings relevant to their internship experience. Students will be expected to demonstrate through a written report upon completion of the internship an understanding of the physical phenomena used and their applications. Application required; see Internship Program. Offered as needed. Three hours.

481-482 – Selected Topics in Physics – A course in seminar or tutorial format which allows the student to study – through individual readings, conferences, or laboratory work – advanced topics not covered in the normal curriculum. This course is intended for students who have demonstrated ability and a thorough understanding of physics and appropriate mathematics. Prerequisite: permission of instructor. Three hours each.

496-498 – Senior Project – Extensive work in some area of departmental research interest. Students will be required to show diligence and independence in their chosen study. A departmental faculty member must consent to supervise and review the student’s work. A formal paper and an oral examination are required. Pre- requisite: permission of department. A senior project fulfills the Cross-Area requirement as a capstone experience. Six hours.

499 – Senior Seminar in Physics – This course provides a capstone experience for senior physics majors. Students will hear presentations by faculty and other physics professionals, prepare and deliver oral presentations on their own research activities, and gain familiarity with current professional literature in physics. Reading and discussions in the history and philosophy of physics will familiarize students with the larger cultural context in which the discipline has developed. Prerequisites: PHYS 330, 340, and 400, or permission of department. This course fulfills the Cross-Area requirement as a capstone experience when combined with PHYS 400. Three hours.