Introduction to Modern Physics (PH 253)
Fall 2008

Instructor: Andreas Piepke (202A Gallalee; 348-6066)
Time and place: Tuesday and Thursday 11:00 am to 12:15 pm in room 200 (Gallalee Hall).
Office hours: 10:00 am to 12:00 am Wednesday. I have an open door policy. You may see me whenever I am in.
Text used: Jeremy I. Pfeffer, Shlomo Nir, Modern Physics
Prerequisite: MATH 126
PH 102
PH 106
Credit: 3 hours
PH253 Web site:

Learning Objectives:

Physics 253 is a calculus based introduction to modern physics. The physics concepts covered in this class were all discovered within the last 100 years, hence the name 'Modern Physics'. The two cornerstones of this subject are relativity and quantum mechanics. These two subjects will be covered in some detail. Many of the subjects covered in this class will challenge your intuition and math skills. They are, however, important to develop a deeper understanding of the world we are living in.

The class will cover special relativity (1), foundations of quantum physics, the Schrödinger equation (2), quantum mechanical description of the hydrogen atom (3), interaction of radiation with matter (4), nuclear physics (5), and some selected applications. The numbers given in brackets denote the relevant
textbook chapters. During the course of this class the students should develop a qualitative (understand the conceptual ideas) and quantitative (be able to work the mathematical equations and solve problems) understanding of the class subjects. Because of the breadth of the class, some topics will be covered more in-depth than others.
Physics is a quantitative science, describing nature by using observational facts (data) and Mathematics as its language (theory) to relate the observations to each other. This allows physicists to identify patterns in the data and ultimately formulate a few fundamental laws that summarize the data in form of few more or less simple equations. Math skills, as covered in MATH 126, are thus essential. You will need to be familiar with algebra, trigonometric functions, exponentials, logarithms, differentiation and integration. Some subjects involve differential equations. However, for homeworks or exams you will not need to solve any differential equations. A mathematical approach will be emphasized in the homeworks and exams. Click here to get a preliminary class schedule. The schedule is password protected. You will get the password in class.

Class Format:

The class consists of lectures and in-class problems. The lectures will be presented in form of PowerPoint presentations. Electronic lecture notes will be linked to the class schedule, on the web as the class goes on. You will need PowerPoint or PowerPoint Viewer to view the lecture notes. PowerPoint Viewer can be downloaded from the web free of charge. The lecture notes will not cover some class room examples, which will be presented on the white board. It is a good idea to keep notes as some of the in-class examples will be similar to the exam problems. This should encourage class attendance.
It is expected that the students read the appropriate textbook sections before class. This is essential for being able to follow the class and for achieving a good grade. The lectures will not cover all the class material. The students should use the class time to clarify questions regarding the reading material. This can happen through discussion with their peers or the instructor.


Problems are assigned weekly (usually on Tuesday) and are due the following Tuesday in class. Late work will not be accepted. The homework problems, in pdf format, will be linked to the class schedule. Every set of homework problems will count 1 point. The homework problems will be posted on the web, worked out solutions will have to be submitted on paper. A teaching assistant will grade the work.

It has been observed that some students were able to obtain solutions for homework problems on-line. This will, of course, improve the homework grades. However, it has also been observed that these students perform very poorly in the exams as they have not really learned how to solve problems. Such a homework strategy will thus lead to failure and is strongly discouraged. The homework is there help you learn the class subjects. You can only do so by confronting your problems. In case of trouble with the homework feel free to see me in my office. I am available for homework help.

Attendance and Makeup Policy:

Students are expected to attend the classes. Regular attendance is a crucial element in being able to pass the exams. Studies have shown a clear and direct correlation of attendance with grades. Short quizzes will be administered on a regular basis. The quiz grade will count towards the class grade. A correct answer will count 1 point, a wrong answer 0.5 points. If you are not handing in an answer sheet you will receive 0 points.

No makeup of in-class work or exams will be given. If you have a legitimate reason for missing a major exam, then you must inform the instructor as soon as possible. If the reason is acceptable, then the final exam will count proportionately more. The two lowest quiz grades and homeworks will be dropped. This will allow a limited number of missed classes regardless of the reason.


A mid-term exam will be administered: Thursday, October 2 (11:00 am to 12:15 pm). The comprehensive final exam is scheduled for Monday, December 8 (8:00 am to 10:30 am). All work must be done in pen in an exam book that will be provided. Any work in pencil made not in the exam book will be discarded. The exam results will be published in the glass box in the 2nd floor hallway of Gallalee Hall.
In both exams you will be allowed to use one (letter sized) equation sheet and a pocket calculator. The use of the textbook or the lecture notes will not be permitted. Cell phones have to be turned off during the exams.


Homework problems will be submitted each Tuesday in class. Short (10 min) quizzes will be given based on in-class work done during the week and the most recently submitted problem assignment. Thus, class attendance is very important. There will be no makeup of missed class work. Each exam problem will be assigned a point value. The exams will usually contain extra-credit problems. This will allow you to drop some exam problems without penalty. There will be no grade scaling.

Grading Policy

Letter Grade
Numerical Grade

(Min. percentage points)




Superior ability or attainment significantly beyond all minimum expectations (93%)






Good ability or attainment which meets and exceeds many minimum expectations (83%)






Ability or attainment which is acceptable and meets all minimum (required) expectations (73%)






Ability or attainment which does not meet all minimum (required) expectations (63%)




Attainment of some but not a number of important minimum expectations and is, thus, not appropriate for a minimum professional level of performance (0-59%).

Academic Misconduct

Students are expected to follow the Code of Student Conduct, as laid down by The University of Alabama. All acts of dishonesty in any work constitute academic misconduct. In particular each student is expected to do his/her own work on quizzes and exams. Suspected violators of this policy will be referred to the Dean's Office in the College of Arts and Sciences. Students are encouraged to work together when studying and preparing for homework.

Disability Accommodations

To request disability accommodations, please contact Disability Services (348-4285). After initial arrangements are made with that office, contact Dr. Piepke.