Reed College Catalog

Daniel Borrero

Nonlinear dynamics, fluid mechanics, complex systems.

Alison Crocker


John Essick

Solid state physics.

Joel Franklin

Mathematical and computational methods, general relativity.

Lucas Illing

Nonlinear dynamics; atomic, molecular, and optical physics.

Mary B. James

Accelerator physics, classical electrodynamics, physics outreach.

John W. Powell

Neural biophysics, astrophysics, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. On sabbatical 2015–16.

Darrell F. Schroeter

Condensed matter theory.

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 101 and 102 in the first year and Physics 201 and 202 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, Elementary Particles, Scientific Computation, and General Relativity, 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

Requirements for the Major

  1. Physics 101, 102, 201, 202, 311, 321, 331, 332, 342, and 470.
  2. Mathematics 111, 112, 211, and 212.

Strongly recommended for all students: Physics 322, 351. For those contemplating graduate school, also: Physics 367, 411 or 414, 442, and additional upper-level coursework in mathematics.

Physics 101 - General Physics I

Full course for one semester. Calculus-based introduction to the classical mechanics of particles and systems—kinematics, laws of motion, conservation principles, rotational dynamics, oscillators. Corequisite: Mathematics 111 or equivalent. Lecture-conference-laboratory.

Physics 102 - General Physics II

Full course for one semester. Calculus-based introduction to electricity and magnetism, optics, and other topics at the discretion of the instructor. Prerequisite: Physics 101 and Mathematics 111 or equivalent. Lecture-conference-laboratory.

Physics 201 - Oscillations and Waves

Full course for one semester. Damped and driven vibrations, coupled oscillators, and 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. Prerequisite: Physics 101 and 102 and Mathematics 111 (or equivalent) and 112. Lecture- laboratory.

Physics 202 - Modern Physics

Full course for one semester. Introduction to thermal physics, special relativity, and quantum mechanics, with applications to atomic, nuclear, condensed matter, and particle physics as time permits. Weekly laboratories include an introduction to computational physics, 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. Prerequisite: Physics 201. Lecture- laboratory.

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 201 and 202 and Mathematics 211 and 212. Lecture.

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 201 and 202 and Mathematics 211 and 212. Lecture.

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. This course examines theories of light and laser physics. Topics include ray propagation through optical components, interference, diffraction, polarization, Gaussian beam propagation, optical resonators, and atom-light interactions. In laboratory, students construct He-Ne lasers and utilize them to investigate laser physics. Prerequisites: Physics 201, 202, and Mathematics 211, 212. Lecture-laboratory.

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 201 and 202. Lecture-laboratory.

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 201 and 202 and Mathematics 211 and 212. Lecture.

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 201 and 202 and Mathematics 211 and 212. Lecture.

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 201 and 202 and Mathematics 211 and 212. Lecture.

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 201 and 202 and Mathematics 211 and 212. Lecture.

Not offered 2015—16.

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 201 and 202 and Mathematics 211 and 212. Lecture.

Not offered 2015—16.

Physics 367 - Computational Methods

Full course for one semester. This course focuses on diverse physical problems and computational techniques that can be applied to them, with an emphasis on the mathematical motivation behind the methods. Problems are drawn from electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, classical mechanics, and special and general relativity. The course develops methods for solving ODEs and PDEs and integrating arbitrary functions in multiple dimensions. Numerical linear algebra is covered in both full and iterative form. Additional topics include nonlinear minimization, Galerkin methods, neural network models, and chaotic dynamics. A minimal amount of programming technique will be introduced, so programming facility is not required (although experience with some programming language is desirable). Lecture-conference.

Not offered 2015—16.

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.

Not offered 2015—16.

Physics 414 - Introduction to General Relativity

Full course for one semester. Students in this course will build enough geometric machinery to understand the mathematical formulation and physical significance of general relativity. Focus will be on field equations and particle motion associated with gravity. Predictions studied will be: perihelion precession, bending of light, gravitational redshift (among others), as well as current experimental tests. Exact solutions to Einstein’s equation and the strong field predictions for particle motion outside of static, rotating, and charged black holes will be considered. A good command of classical mechanics, linear algebra, and the theory of differential equations is assumed. Lecture.

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. Lecture.

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 discussed.

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.