Quantum optics and laser physics. On sabbatical 2023–24.
Condensed matter theory.
Mathematical and computational methods, general relativity.
Nonlinear dynamics; atomic, molecular, and optical physics.
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 PHYS 101 and 102 in the first year and PHYS 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 I (PHYS 311), Quantum Mechanics I (PHYS 342), Electrodynamics (PHYS 321 and 322), and Advanced Laboratory (PHYS 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 reed.edu/physics.
Students must complete all of the following requirements to graduate with a bachelor of arts in this program. Some courses may apply toward multiple requirements.
Students are required to complete all standard college requirements.
Total major units: 13
Students may need to satisfy prerequisites before enrolling in courses required for the major.
- Physics courses:
- PHYS 201 and 202
- PHYS 311
- PHYS 321
- PHYS 331 and 332
- PHYS 342
- Mathematics courses:
- MATH 111 and 112
- MATH 201 and 202
- Junior qualifying exam
- PHYS 470
Students contemplating graduate school should take PHYS 322, 351, and 442.
Physics 101 - General Physics I
One-unit semester course. Calculus-based introduction to the classical mechanics of particles and systems—kinematics, laws of motion, conservation principles, rotational dynamics, oscillators. Corequisite: MATH 111 or equivalent. Lecture-conference-laboratory.
Physics 102 - General Physics II
One-unit semester course. Calculus-based introduction to electricity and magnetism, optics, and other topics at the discretion of the instructor. Prerequisite: PHYS 101 and MATH 111 or equivalent. Lecture-conference-laboratory.
Physics 152 - Energy and Sustainability
One-unit semester course. This course will focus on the fundamental concept of energy, and its role in human society. Topics include the use of energy in daily life—transportation, heating, food, and electricity; sources and storage of energy—batteries, fuels, wind, solar, and nuclear energy; environmental impacts—air, water, and climate; and assessment of sustainability. The physics underlying each of these topics will be emphasized, and students will learn to quantitatively analyze and clearly communicate scientific information. Lecture.
Not offered 2023–24.
Physics 164 - Stars and Stellar Systems
One-unit semester course. This course provides an introduction to the physics and astronomy of stars and stellar systems from an observational perspective. Topics covered will include stellar structure and energy sources, stellar evolution, binary star systems, and exoplanetary systems. Labs will consist of both evening telescope observation to collect data and computer labs to analyze these data and other publicly available data sets. Lecture-laboratory.
Not offered 2023–24.
Physics 201 - Oscillations and Waves
One-unit semester course. 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: PHYS 101 and 102 and MATH 111 (or equivalent) and 112. Lecture-laboratory.
Physics 202 - Modern Physics
One-unit semester course. 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: PHYS 201. Lecture-laboratory.
Physics 311 - Classical Mechanics I
One-unit semester course. 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: PHYS 201 and 202 and MATH 201 and 202. Lecture.
Physics 321 - Electrodynamics I
One-unit semester course. 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: PHYS 201 and 202 and MATH 201 and 202. Lecture.
Physics 322 - Electrodynamics II
One-unit semester course. A continuation of PHYS 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: PHYS 321. Lecture.
Physics 323 - Topics in Optics
One-unit semester course. Variable topics. Prerequisites: MATH 201 and 202 and PHYS 201 and 202. Lecture-laboratory. May be repeated for credit.
One-unit semester course. 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: MATH 201 and 202 and PHYS 201 and 202. Lecture-laboratory. May be repeated for credit. Not offered 2023–24.
Quantum Optics and Quantum Information.
One-unit semester course. This course begins by applying quantum mechanics to simple optical systems consisting of small numbers of photons. It then uses these concepts to explore topics in quantum information science. An emphasis is placed on how quantum systems differ from their classical counterparts. Laboratory experiments include single-photon interference and tests of local realism. Prerequisites: PHYS 201 and 202 and MATH 201 and 202. Lecture-laboratory. May be repeated for credit. Not offered 2023–24.
Physics 331 - Advanced Laboratory I
One-unit semester course. 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: PHYS 201 and 202. Lecture-laboratory.
Physics 332 - Advanced Laboratory II
One-unit semester course. Guided and independent experimental investigations of physical phenomena using research-style measurement techniques. Prerequisite: PHYS 331. Lecture-laboratory.
Physics 342 - Quantum Mechanics I
One-unit semester course. 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: PHYS 201 and 202 and MATH 201 and 202. Lecture.
Physics 351 - Thermal Physics
One-unit semester course. 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: PHYS 201 and 202 and MATH 201 and 202. Lecture.
Physics 362 - Solid-State Physics
One-unit semester course. 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: PHYS 201 and 202 and MATH 201 and 202. Lecture.
Physics 364 - Selected Topics of Astrophysical Interest
One-unit semester course. 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: PHYS 201 and 202 and MATH 201 and 202. Lecture.
Physics 366 - Elementary Particles
One-unit semester course. 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: PHYS 201 and 202 and MATH 201 and 202. Lecture.
Not offered 2023–24.
Physics 367 - Computational Methods
One-unit semester course. Variable topics. Prerequisites: MATH 201 and 202 and PHYS 201 and 202. Lecture. May be repeated for credit.
One-unit semester course. 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. Prerequisites: MATH 201 and 202 and PHYS 201 and 202. Conference. Not offered 2023–24.
Physics 411 - Classical Mechanics II
One-unit semester course. A continuation of PHYS 311; specific content varies from year to year. Prerequisite: PHYS 311. Lecture.
Not offered 2023–24.
Physics 414 - Introduction to General Relativity
One-unit semester course. 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. Prerequisite: PHYS 311 and 321. Lecture.
Physics 442 - Quantum Mechanics II
One-unit semester course. A continuation of PHYS 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: PHYS 342. Lecture.
Physics 470 - Thesis and Physics Seminar
Two-unit yearlong course; one unit per semester. 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
Variable (one-half or one)-unit semester course. 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.