Physics is the most mature of the sciences and provides much of the conceptual apparatus and instrumentation for chemistry, biology, astronomy, and engineering. It has inspired the creative work of mathematicians, philosophers, and social scientists and has repeatedly transformed the framework of civilization. The physics curriculum at Reed College is designed to provide rigorous preparation for those who plan careers in the field while at the same time serving the needs of interested liberal arts students.
The typical physics major takes Physics 100 in the first year and Physics 200 as a sophomore; these courses survey the field from a broad perspective and lay the groundwork for more concentrated study in the last two years. Juniors ordinarily take Classical Mechanics (311), Quantum Mechanics (342), Electrodynamics (321 and 322), and Advanced Laboratory (331 and 332); these courses provide a thorough background for a wide range of possible thesis projects in the senior year. Optional courses include Optics, Thermal Physics, Solid State Physics, Astrophysics, Molecular Biophysics, Elementary Particles, Scientific Computation, and Classical Field Theory, as well as Advanced Classical Mechanics and Advanced Quantum Mechanics. Individual or group seminar courses in more specialized topics can usually be arranged at the student’s request.
The physics department’s web page is at http://academic.reed.edu/physics.
Requirements for the Major
For the student planning a career in physics:
- Physics 100, 200, 311, 321, 322, 331, 332, 342, and 470.
- Mathematics 111, 112, 211, and 212 and one upper-division mathematics course approved by the student’s adviser.
- Strongly recommended, but not required: Physics 351, 411, and 442, and a foreign language.
For the student contemplating medical school, secondary school teaching, or engineering:
- Physics 100, 200, 311, 321, 331, 332, 342, and 470.
- Mathematics 111, 112, 211, and 212.
Physics 100 - General Physics I
Full course for one year. Fall semester: calculus-based introduction to
the classical mechanics of particles and systems—kinematics, laws of
motion, conservation principles, rotational dynamics, oscillators, and
gravitation. Spring semester: electricity and magnetism, optics, and
other topics at the discretion of the instructor. Corequisite:
Mathematics 111 or equivalent. Lecture-conference-laboratory.
Physics 200 - General Physics II
Full course for one year. Fall semester: AC circuits, damped and driven
vibrations, coupled oscillators, waves. Related mathematical methods
are introduced: complex numbers, ordinary differential equations,
linear algebra, and Fourier analysis. Weekly laboratories provide an
introduction to basic electronics, from filters and voltage dividers to
transistors and operational amplifiers. Spring semester: thermal physics, modern
physics—introduction to special relativity and quantum mechanics, with
applications to atomic, nuclear, and particle physics, and condensed
matter, as time permits. Weekly laboratories include an introduction to
Mathematica, the Millikan oil drop experiment, measurement of the speed
of light, determination of Planck’s constant, the charge-to-mass ratio
of the electron, and blackbody radiation.
Prerequisites: Physics 100; Mathematics 111 (or equivalent) and 112;
Mathematics 211/212 should be taken concurrently. First-year students
who have successfully completed the equivalent of Physics 100 at the
college level may petition the physics department to take Physics 200
in their first year. The petition must offer evidence of proficiency in
calculus-based electricity and magnetism. Lecture-lab.
Physics 311 - Classical Mechanics I
Full course for one semester. Careful examination of the foundations
and limitations of Newtonian mechanics leads to development of the
Lagrangian formulation, variational principles, and Hamiltonian mechanics. Applications to the motion
of rigid bodies, systems of coupled oscillators, and celestial
mechanics are treated as time permits. Prerequisite: Physics 200.
Physics 321 - Electrodynamics I
Full course for one semester. Electrostatics and magnetostatics in
vacuum and in matter, electromagnetic induction, force and energy in
electrodynamics, Maxwell’s equations. Mathematical methods introduced
include multivariable calculus and the solution of partial differential
equations by separation of variables. Prerequisite: Physics 200.
Physics 322 - Electrodynamics II
Full course for one semester. A continuation of Physics 321, this
course emphasizes time-varying electric and magnetic fields. Topics
include radiation from point charges and dipoles; propagation of
electromagnetic plane waves in vacuum and in matter; reflection,
refraction, and dispersion; and the relativistic formulation of
electrodynamics. Prerequisite: Physics 321. Lecture.
Physics 323 - Optics
Full course for one semester. Theories of light, from the 17th century
to the present. Electromagnetic theory and the modern photon picture.
Applications of geometrical optics, including lenses, prisms,
polarizers, wave plates; reflection and refraction. Huygens’
Principle, Fermat’s Principle, diffraction and holography, introduction
to quantum optics. Prerequisite: Physics 200. Lecture-laboratory. Not offered 2010–11.
Physics 331 - Advanced Laboratory I
Full course for one semester. A study of advanced electronics and
computer-assisted data acquisition and analysis intended to provide the
student with a basis for understanding and designing laboratory systems
used in contemporary experimental physics. Topics include operational
amplifiers, filters, oscillators, logic circuits, and computer
interfacing and analysis using a LabVIEW system. Prerequisite: Physics
Physics 332 - Advanced Laboratory II
Full course for one semester. Guided and independent experimental
investigations of physical phenomena using research-style measurement
techniques. Prerequisite: Physics 331. Lecture-laboratory.
Physics 342 - Quantum Mechanics I
Full course for one semester. An introduction to quantum theory,
beginning with the Schrödinger equation and the statistical
interpretation of the wave function. One-dimensional applications,
including the infinite square-well, the harmonic oscillator, and
scattering; in three dimensions, the theory of angular momentum,
central potentials, and the hydrogen atom; time-independent
perturbation theory, spin, identical particles, and the Pauli exclusion
principle. In general, this course concentrates on exact solutions to
artificial problems, in contrast to Quantum Mechanics II, which
develops approximate solutions to real problems. Prerequisite: Physics
Physics 351 - Thermal Physics
Full course for one semester. Examines the essentials of probability
and statistics, the kinetic theory of gases, statistical mechanics,
temperature, equations of state, heat, internal energy, entropy,
reversibility, and distribution functions. Prerequisite: Physics 200.
Physics 362 - Solid State Physics
Full course for one semester. Crystalline lattice structures,
vibrational modes, and electronic band theory are explored and used to
explain the observed electrical, thermal, optical, and magnetic
properties of solids. Prerequisite: Physics 200. Lecture. Not offered 2010–11.
Physics 363 - Molecular Biophysics
Full course for one semester. The course will cover the physics
of measurement techniques for studying the most significant
intermolecular interactions of synaptic transmission. An introduction to
the biology of neurons will be provided. Measurement techniques such as
evanescent wave microscopy, confocal microscopy, X-ray diffraction,
fluorescence resonance energy transfer, and Raman and infrared
spectroscopy will be explained in terms of the physics of the experiment
and its implementation. A clear idea of how these measurements inform
the models of cellular processes such as exocytosis as well as the
atomic-level models of neuromolecular structure and function will
be presented. The course will include demonstrations of
selected measurement techniques such as total internal reflection
microscopy, infrared absorption, and crystallography. Prerequisites:
Physics 100, Physics 200, Mathematics 211 and 212. Lecture. Not offered 2010–11.
Physics 364 - Selected Topics of Astrophysical Interest
Full course for one semester. Specific topics vary from year to year,
drawn principally from the following areas: internal constitution,
evolution, and death of stars; structure of galaxies; interstellar
medium; radiative processes and cosmology. Prerequisite:
Physics 200. Lecture.
Physics 366 - Elementary Particles
Full course for one semester. Introduction to the theory and
phenomenology of elementary particle physics. The course includes a
semihistorical overview, followed by relativistic kinematics, the Dirac
equation, evaluation of simple Feynman diagrams, and a survey of the
strong, electromagnetic, and weak interactions from the perspective of
gauge theory. Prerequisite: Physics 200. Lecture-conference. Not offered 2010–11.
Physics 367 - Scientific Computation
Full course for one semester. This course covers numerical and
laboratory methods for students of science. The primary focus will be
on topics in physics, chemistry, and biology. The course begins with
the history of scientific computation, moves on
to methodology and specific algorithms, and closes with individual
elective projects to be approved by the instructor. Basic programming
will not be taught; the course will concentrate on scientific, not
programmatic, aspects, so students must be able to write programs
largely on their own. Specific topics include differential equations,
matrix methods, signal and image processing, quantum-theoretic models,
astrophysical models, and nonlinear and chaotic systems. Prerequisites:
a sophomore-level course in one of the sciences and experience with a
sufficiently strong computer language, such as Pascal or C.
Lecture-conference-laboratory. Cross-listed as Biology 367.
Physics 411 - Classical Mechanics II
Full course for one semester. A continuation of Physics 311; specific
content varies from year to year. Prerequisite: Physics 311.
Lecture-conference. Not offered 2010–11.
Physics 414 - Classical Field Theory
Full course for one semester. A modern account of the classical
dynamics of systems with infinitely many degrees of freedom. Treats
both general principles and more specialized techniques appropriate to
the analysis of topics of exceptional current interest (solitons, gauge
fields). Although primarily for physicists, the course contains much
material of interest to mathematicians. A good command of classical
mechanics, linear algebra, and the theory of differential equations is
Physics 442 - Quantum Mechanics II
Full course for one semester. A continuation of Physics 342, specific
content varies from year to year. The emphasis is on approximation
techniques (time-independent and time-dependent perturbation theory,
WKB approximation, variational principles, Born approximation), with
applications to atoms, molecules, and solids, the quantum theory of
radiation, and formal scattering theory. Prerequisite: Physics 342.
Physics 470 - Thesis and Physics Seminar
Full course for one year. The thesis is independent work on an original
problem and is intended as an introduction to research. In addition to
the thesis project itself, all seniors are expected to participate in a
weekly seminar in which various topics from the current literature are
Physics 481 - Special Topics in Physics
One-half or full course for one semester. Readings and
laboratory work of an advanced character. Students will choose a field
in which they are interested; they are expected to become familiar with
the special instruments and methods of that discipline. Open only to
juniors and seniors, by consent of the instructor. Lecture-conference.