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Physics 200: Relativity and Quanta 2011

Course Professor: Mark Van Raamsdonk   
office: Hennings 420    e-mail: mav@phas.ubc.ca

The TAs:

Fernando Nogueiranogueira@phas.ubc.ca
Charles Rabideaurabideau@phas.ubc.ca
Rocky So rockyso@phas.ubc.ca

Where is it?

Lectures:  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 9:00-10:00am in Hennings 201

Interactive Tutorial (mandatory):  Thursday 11:00-12:30 in
Hennings 201

Office Hours: MWF 10:00-2:00,
                    Tuesday 9:00-10:00, 11:00-2:30 (but I might be at the homework session)
                    Thursday 12:30-3:30
In other words, pretty much any time I'm not teaching.

Why should I take it (or why do I have to take it)?

Relativity and quantum mechanics form the basic framework upon which essentially all of our current understanding of physics is based. The "classical" physics that you learned in first year is an approximation that is useful in studying phenomena at large distance scales and small velocities. However, in order to go beyond understanding things that are big (compared with atomic scales) and slow (compared with the speed of light), we need quantum mechanics and relativity respectively.
Condensed matter physics (the physics of materials),
atomic physics, nuclear physics and particle physics all aim to understand natural phenomena based on the physics at very short distance scales, so quantum mechanics is essential. Large velocity processes are of crucial importance in astrophysics, cosmology, and particle physics, and these subjects all make essential use of the theory of relativity. Thus, a solid understanding of relativity and quantum mechanics is needed in order to learn about almost any of the advances in physics past the 19th century.

What will be covered?

In the first part of this course, we’ll see that understanding physics involving relative velocities comparable to the speed of light requires a new framework, known as Special Relativity, that significantly alters some of our basic notions of time and distance, and has some startling consequences (e.g. that a person returning from a long voyage in space at a large velocity will find herself younger than her twin who stayed on Earth). We’ll see that many of the definitions of and relationships between basic physical quantities (e.g. velocities,  momenta, energies) that you used in first-year physics are only approximations to more general formulae that hold true at large velocities. Despite their puzzling consequences, the new rules form a completely consistent framework that allows precise calculations for classical phenomena at arbitrary velocity (e.g. you will be able to calculate precisely how much younger the returning twin will be).
In the second part of this course, we’ll discuss quantum mechanics, an even more drastic modification of the basic framework of physics that must be adopted to correctly explain physics at short distance scales, such as the physics of atoms and nuclei, and some physics at much larger scales. We’ll discuss experimental evidence that light has particle properties and that particles such as electrons can exhibit wavelike phenomena. We’ll see that the correct description of both light and electrons has features of both of these classical concepts, but is fundamentally different from anything in classical physics. Some of the questions that we asked in classical mechanics do not even make sense in quantum mechanics, so we will need to understand what questions we are allowed to ask before learning how to predict the answers. We’ll explore some basic consequences of the new framework and see how these can be used to explain various important phenomena in atomic and nuclear physics.

For more detailed information, see:

The list of TOPICS, to be correlated with lecture dates as we cover them.
The STORY I plan to tell in the course (so you can see where each topic fits in to the big picture).
The LEARNING GOALS for the course (i.e. what I hope you will take away from this course).


Main Text:  Physics for Scientists and Engineers, Volume 5 by Randall D. Knight

This covers most of what we will discuss in class, in a relatively elementary way. I have chosen this for its readability rather than its completeness, since I would like you to read about the course material before it is covered in class. There are a number of places where we will go into more detail than is provided in the Knight text, but I will give out supplementary notes in these cases. Be warned that in chapter 41, what they are calling the Schrodinger equation is not what most physicists refer to as the Schrodinger equation; I will emphasise the distinction when we get to it. The text also glosses over the important fact that the wavefunction is a complex function, but again, I will provide supplementary material to explain this.

Other useful references (available in the library) with similar content but different styles:

"Modern Physics" by Bernstein, Fishbane, and Gasiorowicz
"Modern Physics" by Tipler and Llewellyn
"Modern Physics" by Krane

Additional reading

"Spacetime Physics" by Taylor and Wheeler - a classic book on special relativity with lots of discussion and examples


The Thursday tutorial is an important part of the course. Each week, I'll prepare a set of relatively simple questions designed to help you understand some of the basic concepts of the course. You will work on these in small groups, and the TAs and I will be there to answer questions and help you along. If you find these to be a breeze, there will also be one or two more challenging questions for you to puzzle over. You should hand the worksheets in at the end of the session, but you'll get full credit as long as you've made a reasonable attempt at it. 

Grading Scheme:

Reading quizzes: 2%
Clicker participation: 3%
Tutorial participation:  5%
Weekly assignments: 20%
Two midterms: 15% each
Final exam: 40%

Notes: Late assignments cannot be accepted since solutions will be posted online shortly after assignments are due. However, lowest assignment score and also lowest reading quiz score will be dropped. Clicker participation marks are awarded solely based on participation (rather than having correct answers), with full credit given if 80% of questions during the term are answered. Students may miss one tutorial and still obtain full credit for the tutorial grade. 

A note about assignments:

Students are encouraged to discuss the assignments with each other, but submitted assignments must be your own work. In other words, you should not be looking at anyone else's assignment when you are writing up your solutions, and similarly, you should not share your completed solution with any of the other students. I have been urged to emphasise that copying work is a very serious matter with serious consequences (e.g. suspension).