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Physics Curriculum

Richmond’s physics faculty knows that students learn best when they are challenged to uncover the secrets of nature in an independent, hands-on way. The department has built a research-rich environment that embraces all courses from introductory ones to senior research.

Introductory physics is taught in workshop format, emphasizing active learning rather than the more passive approach of lecture courses. In a given class meeting, activities will range from laboratory work, lecture, discussion, problem solving and demonstration. The goal is for students to discover the laws of nature for themselves instead of simply learning them from a professor or text. For example, to understand Newton's Laws, students use special sensors to measure the forces on different objects when they collide. Next, they apply this knowledge in a 'theory lab' where they build a mathematical model of a gas and establish the links between the pressure exerted by the gas and the collisions of the molecules that create this pressure.

Many upper-level physics classes require both individual and team projects. Students identify a project of their own (often outside the normal 'skill set' of the professor), locate the necessary equipment and resources and pursue the scientific question. In the past, students have built wind tunnels to study flight, simulated the path of a curve ball and measured the flux of cosmic rays on the Earth.

The department requires a capstone experience of all seniors.  Seniors identify a question to study, present a research proposal to the faculty and other physics majors and perform the experimental and theoretical work needed to answer the question. At the conclusion of the experience, they present a final report to their faculty and peers.

Courses
PHYS 121 Astrophysics
Units: 1
Fulfills General Education Requirement (FSNP)
Description
Celestial motions, stellar structure, cosmology, and related problems including appropriate concepts of elementary physics. Not among the recommended options for science or math majors. Includes laboratory.

PHYS 125 Elements of Physics
Units: 1
Fulfills General Education Requirement (FSNP)
Description
Principles and applications of physics. Topics selected from mechanics, sound, light, electricity, magnetism, heat, and modern physics. Not among the recommended options for science or math majors. Includes laboratory.

PHYS 127 General Physics 1
Units: 1
Fulfills General Education Requirement (FSNP)
Description
First of a two semester sequence in general physics. Topics from mechanics, heat, sound, magnetism, electricity, light, and modern physics are covered in the two-semester sequence. Includes laboratory. NOTE: Physics 127 is not a prerequisite to 128. A student may not receive credit for both Physics 131 and 127. Physics 127 and 128 are offered very rarely; students should generally plan to take 131 and 132 instead.
Prerequisites
Algebra and trigonometry.

PHYS 128 General Physics 2
Units: 1
Fulfills General Education Requirement (FSNP)
Description
Second semester of a sequence in general physics. Mechanics, heat, sound, magnetism, electricity, light and modern physics are covered in the two-semester sequence. Includes laboratory. NOTE: A student may receive credit for only one of the following courses: 128, 132, 133, 134. Physics 127 and 128 are offered very rarely; students should generally plan to take 131 and 132 instead.
Prerequisites
Algebra and trigonometry.

PHYS 131 General Physics with Calculus 1
Units: 1
Fulfills General Education Requirement (FSNP)
Description
First semester of a calculus-based introductory sequence. Mechanics, heat, sound, magnetism, electricity, and light are covered in the two-semester sequence. Includes laboratory. NOTE: A student may not receive credit for both Physics 127 and 131.
Prerequisites
MATH 190 or 211 (may be taken concurrently).

PHYS 132 General Physics with Calculus 2
Units: 1
Fulfills General Education Requirement (FSNP)
Description
Second semester of a calculus-based introductory sequence. Mechanics, heat, sound, magnetism, electricity, and light are covered in the two-semester sequence. Includes laboratory. NOTE: A student may receive credit for only one of the following courses: 128, 132, 133, 134.
Prerequisites
MATH 212 (may be taken concurrently) and PHYS 127 or 131 or 191 or permission of instructor.

PHYS 191 Integrated Science/Math/Computer Science 4 with Laboratory
Units: 1
Description
One of two courses taught spring semester as part of Integrated Quantitative Science program. Each semester of the course will be organized around a guiding principle that integrates several concepts. Along with co-requisite, will include ten hours for lecture and lab combination.
Prerequisites
High school calculus. BIOL 190 and MATH 190. Co-requisite: CHEM 191. Acceptance to Integrated Quantitative Science course required.

PHYS 201 Einstein's Relativity
Units: .5
Description
Focuses primarily on special relativity as it relates to time, space, velocity, momentum, and energy. This course is identical to the first half of PHYS 205, and meets concurrently with it for the first 7 weeks of the semester. Students may not earn credit for both PHYS 201 and PHYS 205.
Prerequisites
PHYS 132, PHYS 133, PHYS 134, or PHYS 191

PHYS 202 Particle/Wave Duality and the Quantum Revolution
Units: .5
Description
Introduces ideas of particle/wave duality that are central to understanding quantum mechanics, a major revolution in early 20th century physics. This course is identical to the second half of PHYS 205, and meets concurrently with it for the second 7 weeks of the semester. Students may not earn credit for both PHYS 202 and PHYS 205. Students are strongly encouraged to take either PHYS 202 or PHYS 205 before taking PHYS 309.
Prerequisites
PHYS 132, PHYS 133, PHYS 134, or PHYS 191

PHYS 203 Systems Biology
Units: 1
Description
Introduction to the fundamentals of systems biology, an emerging field that focuses on complex interactions in biological systems. Topics chosen come from the perspective of the design of biological circuits. For students in the biological sciences, physics, chemistry, and mathematics interested in quantitative biology and the interface between the biological and physical sciences. No laboratory.
Prerequisites
PHYS 131 and BIOL 199 and MATH 211, and CMSC 150 or 155; Or PHYS 191 and CHEM 191.

PHYS 205 Introduction to Modern Physics
Units: 1
Description
Introduction to topics in 20th-century physics including special relativity, quantum mechanics, and statistical physics. The first half of this course is identical to, and meets concurrently with, PHYS 201. The second half of this course is exactly identical to, and meets concurrently with, PHYS 202. Students may not earn credit for both PHYS 205 and either PHYS 201 or PHYS 202. Students are strongly encouraged to take either PHYS 202 or PHYS 205 before taking PHYS 309.
Prerequisites
PHYS 132 or 133 or 134 or 191

PHYS 215 Computational Methods in Physics
Units: 1
Description
Project-oriented: applying computers to solution of problems in physical sciences.
Prerequisites
PHYS 132 or 133 or 134 or 191 and some familiarity with at least one higher-level computer language.

PHYS 216 Electronics
Units: 1
Description
Laboratory course in basic electronics and instrumentation for science majors. Study of dc and ac circuits, diodes, rectifiers, transistors, operational amplifiers, binary logic, Boolean algebra, digital circuits, analog-digital conversion, transducers, and computer interfacing.
Prerequisites
PHYS 127-128 or 132 or 191.

PHYS 221 Intermediate Laboratory
Units: 1
Description
Experiments in classical and modern physics emphasizing independent work. Six laboratory hours per week.
Prerequisites
(PHYS 127 and 128) or (PHYS 132 or 191).

PHYS 231 Experimental Physics
Units: 1
Description
Focuses on optics. Includes the study of (1) ray optics: lenses, system of lenses, lens aberrations (2) scalar wave optics: diffraction, interference (3) polarization of light: states of polarization, polarizers, wave retarders. Emphasizes the relation between experiment and theory through hands-on experience. Data analysis and its theoretical interpretation is a central part of the course. Upper level laboratory course for science majors, emphasizing independent work. Consists of six laboratory hours per week. Students, working in pairs, will spend approximatley 2 weeks on each of 6-7 experimental projects.
Prerequisites
PHYS 132.

PHYS 301 Mathematical Methods in Physics
Units: 1
Description
Selected mathematical topics needed for upper-level work in physics. Topics taken from vector calculus, matrices, calculus of variations, orthogonal functions, and complex analysis.
Prerequisites
PHYS 132 or 133 or 134 or 191

PHYS 303 Mechanics
Units: 1
Description
Mathematical analysis of physical laws pertaining to dynamics of particles and rigid bodies. Introduction to moving coordinate systems and Lagrange's and Hamilton's methods.
Prerequisites
PHYS 301 or permission of department.

PHYS 305 Electricity and Magnetism I
Units: 1
Description
Electrostatic fields and potentials, dielectrics, magnetic fields, and potentials. Maxwell's equations, electromagnetic waves.
Prerequisites
PHYS 301 or permission of department.

PHYS 306 Electricity and Magnetism II
Units: 1
Description
Electrostatic fields and potentials, dielectrics, magnetic fields, and potentials. Maxwell's equations, electromagnetic waves.
Prerequisites
PHYS 305.

PHYS 308 Statistical Mechanics
Units: 1
Description
Statistical methods applied to description of physical systems. Statistical calculation of thermodynamic quantities, laws of thermodynamics, statistical distributions, and classical and quantum statistics of ideal gases. (Same as Chemistry 308.)
Prerequisites
PHYS 301 or permission of department.

PHYS 309 Quantum Mechanics I
Units: 1
Description
Wave mechanics and quantization; Schroedinger equation for variety of potentials; hydrogen atom in detail; perturbation methods. (Same as Chemistry 401.)
Prerequisites
CHEM 310 or PHYS 301 or permission of department.

PHYS 310 Quantum Mechanics II
Units: 1
Description
Wave mechanics and quantization; Schroedinger equation for variety of potentials; hydrogen atom in detail; perturbation methods. (Same as Chemistry 402.)
Prerequisites
PHYS 309.

PHYS 381 Research
Units: 0, .25, or .5
Description
Laboratory or independent study.0.5 units requires six hours per week. PHYS 381 may be taken a maximum of four times. Both available for 0, .25, or .5 units.
Prerequisites
Permission of department.

PHYS 397 Junior Seminar
Units: 0
Description
Required of all third-year physics majors. Does not count in units required for minor.

PHYS 398 Junior Seminar
Units: .5
Description
Required of all third-year physics majors. Does not count in units required for minor.

PHYS 404 Theoretical Physics
Units: 1
Description
Application of mathematics to selected topics in physics.
Prerequisites
PHYS 301 or permission of department.

PHYS 406 Summer Undergraduate Research
Units: 0
Description
Documentation of the work of students who receive summer fellowships to conduct research [or produce a creative arts project] in the summer. The work must take place over a minimum of 8 weeks, the student must engage in the project full-time (at least 40 hours per week) during this period, and the student must be the recipient of a fellowship through the university. Graded S/U.
Prerequisites
Approval for summer Arts and Sciences fellowship by faculty mentor

PHYS 479 Special Topics
Units: .5-1
Description
Topics include particle and nuclear physics, solid state, modern optics, relativity, field theory.
Prerequisites
Permission of department.

PHYS 497 Senior Seminar
Units: 0
Description
Required of all senior physics majors. Does not count in units required for minor.

PHYS 498 Senior Seminar
Units: .5 (498)
Description
Required of all senior physics majors. Does not count in units required for minor.