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Modern Physics

The third course in the standard Physics major sequence, Modern Physics serves as a fundamental link from the introductory coursework of the Freshman year to the more demanding work of the Junior and Senior years. As such, students must employ all the concepts of the first year in a more mathematically challenging setting.

The reward is great: we finally encounter some of the great revolutions in 20th century science. Starting with a review of electromagnetism, we discover the existence of wave solutions and that these waves are actually light! But in solving these equations we find they can only move at one velocity independent of the speed of the observer, which leads to Einstein's special theory of relativity. After studying geometric optics (diffraction and interference) we are lead to consider the consequences of atomic spectra, which lead us inexorably to quantum theory.

Mathematica is quite useful in this class for plotting Minkowski space diagrams, calculating Fourier transforms, and animating wavepackets. The hope is that this course will motivate students for the next few years of study.