Physics and Astronomy Department

Programs

Major

Correlate Sequences in Physics and Astronomy

Courses

Astronomy: I. Introductory

101a. Solar System Astronomy (1)

A study of the solar system as seen from earth and space: planets, satellites, comets, meteors, and the interplanetary medium; astronautics and space exploration; life on other planets; planets around other stars; planetary system cosmogony. Mr. Chromey.

Open to all classes.

105b. Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology (1)

This course is designed to acquaint the student with our present understanding of the universe. The course discusses the formation, structure, and evolution of gas clouds, stars, and galaxies, and then places them in the larger content of clusters and superclusters of galaxies. The Big Bang, GUTS, inflation, the early stages of the universe's expansion, and its ultimate fate are explored. Ms. Elmegreen.

Open to all classes.

150b. Life in the Universe (1)

An introduction to the possibility of life beyond Earth is presented from an astronomical point of view. The course reviews stellar and planetary formation and evolution, star properties and planetary atmospheres necessary for a habitable world, possibilities for other life in our Solar system, detection of extrasolar planets, the SETI project, and the Drake equation. Ms. Elmegreen.

Prerequisites: high school physics and calculus.

Open only to freshmen; satisfies the college requirement for a Freshman Writing Seminar.

Not offered in 2014/15.

Astronomy: II. Intermediate

220b. Stellar Astrophysics (1)

The physical theory of stellar interiors, atmospheres, and energy sources. Stellar evolution. Spectral sequence and its origin. Supernovae, white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. Ms. Elmegreen.

Prerequisite: PHYS 114, or permission of the instructor.

222b. Galaxies and Galactic Structure (1)

Observations and theories of the formation and evolution of galaxies. Properties of star-forming regions; contents, structure, and kinematics of the Milky Way and spiral, elliptical, and irregular galaxies. Active galaxies, interacting galaxies, clusters, and high redshift galaxies.

230b. Planetary and Space Science (1)

Atmospheres, surface features, and interiors of the planets. Interaction of the sun with the other members of the solar system. Planetary formation and evolution. Life on other planets. Space exploration. Ms. Krusberg.

Prerequisites: PHYS 114, or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2014/15.

240a. Observational Astronomy (1)

This course introduces the student to a variety of techniques used in the detection and analysis of electromagnetic radiation from astronomical sources. All areas of the electromagnetic spectrum are discussed, with special emphasis on solid-state arrays as used in optical and infrared astronomy. Topics include measurement uncertainty, signal-to-noise estimates, the use of astronomical databases, telescope design and operation, detector design and operation, practical photometry and spectroscopy and data reduction. Students are required to perform a number of nighttime observations at the college observatory. Mr. Chromey.

Prerequisite: PHYS 113 or PHYS 114, or permission of the instructor.

290a or b. Field Work (1/2to1)

Execution and analysis of an off-campus field study in astronomy. The course requirements are to be arranged with an individual instructor. The department.

Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.

298a or b. Independent Work (1/2to1)

Intermediate-level execution of an independent observational, theoretical, or library study in astronomy. The course requirements are to be arranged with an individual instructor. The department.

Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.

Astronomy: III. Advanced

300a or b. Senior Thesis (1)

301a. Senior Thesis (1/2)

Yearlong course, 301-ASTR 302.

302b. Senior Thesis (1/2)

Yearlong course, ASTR 301-302.

320b. Astrophysics of the Interstellar Medium (1)

A study of the observations and theory related to interstellar matter, including masers, protostars, dust, atomic, molecular and ionized gas clouds. Radiative transfer, collapse and expansion processes, shocks and spiral density waves are discussed. Ms. Elmegreen.

Prerequisite: one 200-level physics course or one 200-level astronomy course, Junior or Senior status, or permission of the instructor.

322b. Galaxies and Galactic Structure (1)

Observations and theories of the formation and evolution of galaxies. Properties of star-forming regions; contents, structure, and kinematics of the Milky Way and spiral, elliptical, and irregular galaxies. Active galaxies, interacting galaxies, clusters, and high redshift galaxies. Ms. Elmegreen.

Prerequisites: PHYS 114 and either ASTR 105 or ASTR 220, or permission of the instructor; not open to freshmen.

Not offered in 2014/15.

340b. Advanced Observational Astronomy (1)

This course applies in depth the methods introduced in ASTR 240. Students are expected to pursue individual observational projects in collaboration with the instructor. The amount of time spent in the observatory and how it is scheduled depends on the nature of the project, although 1/2 Unit projects require half the total time of full unit projects. Mr. Chromey.

Prerequisites: ASTR 240 and permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2014/15.

399a or b. Senior Independent Work (1/2to1)

Physics: I. Introductory

100a or b. Physics in Motion (1)

Motion is much of what physics is about and motion can be seen all around us. Recent technological advances in digital video and computers allow many motions to be filmed, analyzed and studied. We begin by filming a variety of objects in motion and uncover the physics inside. In the second half of the semester groups focus on topics (of their choice) of interest to K-12 students. Each group produces a DVD, incorporating video, text, and other media into the project to help explain the physics behind the scenes. The DVD project is presented in local K-12 schools as a final exercise. Ms. Schwarz.

Not open to students who have taken PHYS 113, or received AP credit for PHYS 113.

Not offered in 2014/15.

105a. 20th Century Revolutions in Physics (1)

(Same as STS 105) Lord Kelvin, one of the most distinguished physicists of the 19th century, is famous for his 1900 proclamation: "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now." In the fall of that same year Max Planck provided the spark that would become the revolutionary fire from which a new physics was born. The multiple revolutions in physics that proceeded Kelvin's proclamation are the subject of this class. We examine the developments of Quantum Theory, Special and General Theories of Relativity, and Modern Cosmology studying each in its proper historical context. From both primary and secondary sources we learn the basic concepts that became the fabric of today's physics. Along the way, we are sure to unearth both the undeniable impacts these discoveries have had on society and the contingency surrounding the nature of these scientific revolutions. Mr. Perillan.

Two 75-minute periods.

110b. Science of Sound (1)

An exploration of the basic nature of sound, including the transmission and reception of sound, pitch, quality (timbre), loudness, musical intervals, musical instruments, building acoustics, and modern research in sound and acoustics. These topics are covered through a combination of lecture, group discussion, and hands-on investigation. There are no science prerequisites for this course, except a willingness to explore physics fundamentals through the lens of acoustics. Mr. Bradley.

113a. Fundamentals of Physics I (0or1)

An introduction to the basic concepts of physics with emphasis on mechanics. Recommended for potential majors in physics and other physical sciences. The department.

Corequisite: MATH 121 or equivalent.

Three 50-minute periods or two 75-minute periods; one 3-hour laboratory.

114b. Fundamentals of Physics II (0to1)

Fundamentals of electricity, magnetism, and optics. Recommended for potential majors in physics and other physical sciences. The Department.

Prerequisite: PHYS 113, AP Physics C credit, or equivalent college level course and MATH 121 or equivalent.

Three 50-minute periods or two 75-minute periods; one 3-hour laboratory.

115a. Topics in Classical Physics (1)

This course covers topics typically left out of the physics AP curriculum and reinforces the use of calculus in mechanics and electricity and magnetism. Part of the course will be devoted to current research and applications of physics. Topics may include, nanotechnology, lasers, materials science, particle and nuclear physics in medicine, biophysics, geophysics, environmental physics and astrophysics.

Not all topics are taught in a specific year. Only open to freshman and sophomores with AP B credit or AP C credit for Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism, IB credit, or special permission.

Two 75-minute periods.

150a. The Limits of the Universe and the Limits of Understanding (1)

(Same as PHIL 150) This course allows students to combine their interests in physics and in philosophy, recognizing common concerns and actively engaging in joint difficulties. The guiding questions of this course can be formulated as follows: In what ways, and to what extent, do recent developments in physics (e.g. the notion of space that is both infinite and bounded because curved) either solve or bypass traditional philosophical paradoxes concerning space and time, causality, and objectivity? In what ways, and to what extent, do traditional philosophical worries (e.g. worries about incoherence, worries about theories that cannot be falsified, or worries about concepts whose application cannot be imagined) cast doubt on the accuracy or the methodology of current physics? Readings are from physics and philosophy. Ms. Church, Ms. Schwarz.

May not count towards a physics concentration.

Not offered in 2014/15.

Two 75-minute periods.

152a. Lasers, Technology, Teleportation (1/2)

Underlying physics of modern technology and scientific research are explored. Modern gadgets are evaluated regarding physical mechanisms. In addition, modern research on present and future technologies is discussed. Hands-on experiences and demonstrations are incorporated. Ms. Magnes.

Not offered in 2014/15.

168a. A Tour of the Subatomic Zoo (1/2)

This course is designed for nonphysics majors who want to know more about the constituents of matter including quarks, gluons, and neutrinos. The particle discoveries and the implications of the discoveries are discussed in an historical context. Additional topics discussed: matter vs. antimatter, the wave, and particle nature of light. Ms. Schwarz.

May not count towards a physics concentration.

Not offered in 2014/15.

Physics: II. Intermediate

200a. Modern Physics (1)

An introduction to the two subjects at the core of contemporary physics: Einstein's theory of special relativity, and quantum mechanics. Topics include paradoxes in special relativity; the Lorentz transformation; four-vectors and invariants; relativistic dynamics; the wave-particle duality; the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and simple cases of the Schrodinger wave equation. Ms. Magnes.

Prerequisites: PHYS 114 or PHYS 115, MATH 126/MATH 127, or permission of the instructor.

202a and b. Introduction to Experimental Physics (1/2)

An introduction to the tools and techniques of modern experimental physics. Students replicate classic historical experiments. Emphasis is placed on the use of computers for capturing and analyzing data, and on effective oral and written presentation of experimental results.

Prerequisites: PHYS 200, MATH 121, MATH 126/MATH 127, or permission of the instructor. 

Must be taken in the same semester as PHYS 203.  

First 6-week course.

Two 3-hour meetings.

203a and b. Experimental Physics II (1/2)

Additional experiments in physics at the intermediate level -- topics may include modern physics, nuclear physics, optics and acoustics.

Prerequisite: PHYS 202 or permission of the instructor.

Must be taken in the same semester as PHYS 202.

Second 6-week course.

Two 3-hour meetings.

210b. Classical Mechanics (1)

A study of the motion of objects using Newtonian theory. Topics include oscillator systems, central forces, noninertial systems, and rigid bodies. An introduction to the Lagrangian formulation. Ms. Krusberg.

Prerequisite: PHYS 115 or PHYS 200, and MATH 220, or permission of the instructor.           Corequisite: MATH 228.

Freshmen must consult with the department chair prior to enrolling in this course.

240a. Electromagnetism I (1)

A study of electromagnetic forces and fields. Topics include electrostatics of conductors and dielectrics, electric currents, magnetic fields, and the classical theories and phenomena that led to Maxwell's formulation of electromagnetism. Mr. Bradley.

Prerequisites: PHYS 210 and MATH 220, or permission of the instructor.  

Recommended: MATH 221 and MATH 228.

245b. Introduction to Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics (1)

Probability distributions, statistical ensembles, thermodynamic laws, statistical calculations of thermodynamic quantities, absolute temperature, heat, entropy, equations of state, kinetic theory of dilute gases, phase equilibrium, quantum statistics of ideal gases. Ms. Krusberg.

Prerequisites: PHYS 200 and MATH 220.

Recommended: MATH 228.

260b. Contemporary Optics (1/2)

This course samples topics in modern optics research and optics applications. Study of cross-disciplinary research and applications in fields like biology, chemistry, medicine etc. is an essential part of this course. Hands-on demonstrations and laboratory exercises are included. Ms. Magnes.

Prerequisites: two units of any science at Vassar, calculus or special permission.

Not offered in 2014/15.

290b. Field Work (1/2to1)

Field Work

298a or b. Independent Work (1/2to1)

Physics: III. Advanced

300a. Independent Project or Thesis (1/2to1)

301b. Independent Project or Thesis (1/2to1)

310b. Advanced Mechanics (1)

A study of the dynamics of simple and complex mechanical systems using the variational methods of Lagrange and Hamilton. Topics include the variational calculus, the Euler-Lagrange equations, Hamilton's equations, canonical transformations, and the Hamilton-Jacobi equation.

Recommended: MATH 228.

320a. Quantum Mechanics I (1)

An introduction to the formalism of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics and its physical interpretation, with emphasis on solutions of the Schrodinger wave equation. Topics covered include the operator formalism, uncertainty relations, one-dimensional potentials, bound states, tunneling, central field problems in three dimensions, the hydrogen atom, the harmonic oscillator, and quantum statistics. Ms. Schwarz.

Prerequisites: PHYS 200, PHYS 210, MATH 220, MATH 228.

Recommended: MATH 221.

341a. Electromagnetism II (1)

A study of the electromagnetic field. Starting with Maxwell's equations, topics covered include the propagation of waves, waveguides, the radiation field, and the relativistic formulation of electromagnetic theory. Ms. Magnes.

Prerequisites: PHYS 240, MATH 220 or permission of the instructor.

Recommended: MATH 228.

Not offered in 2014/15.

375a and b. Advanced Topics in Physics (1)

Course topics vary from year to year.

May be taken more than once for different topics. Ms. Krusberg, Ms. Magnes.

Prerequisites vary depending on the topic.

Not open to freshman.

399a or b. Senior Independent Work (1/2to1)