PH 253 Section 001: Intro Modern Physics

Spring, 2011
3 Credit Hours
Primary Instructor: Andreas Piepke
Core Designation: Natural Science

Office Hours

Wednesdays 10:00 am to 12:00 am

Gallalee Hall, room 202 


From the Student Records System

No prerequisites found.

Prerequisits for this class: PH 101, PH 105, or PH 125 AND PH 102, PH 106, or PH 126, and  MATH 126 or MATH 146 as defined in the undergraduate course catalog.

Course Description

 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

  1. special relativity ,
  2. foundations of quantum physics, the  Schroedinger equation,
  3. quantum mechanical description of the hydrogen atom,
  4. quantum statistics,
  5. selected applications.

Jeremy I. Pfeffer, Shlomo Nir, "Modern Physics" serves as  textbook. 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 Date Subject Textbook chapter
1 1/13 Introduction 1.0
2 1/18 Special relativity:
Galilean transformations
1.2, 1.3.1 to 1.3.3
3 1/20 Michelson-Morley experiment, constancy of the speed of light, relativity of time 1.3.4 and 1.3.5
4 1/25 Maximum speed, Lorentz transformations in space-time and velocity 1.3.6. and 1.3.7
5 1/27 Momentum, energy and the inertia of energy, the relativistic energy-momentum relation 1.3.7 and 1.3.8
6 2/1 Four vector calculus  
7 2/3 Quantum physics:
Photoelectric effect, black body radiation and Planck's radiation law
2.1 and 2.2
8 2/8 Black body radiation and cosmology, Compton scattering 2.3 and 2.4
9 2/10 x-rays, wave properties of particles, de Broglie relation, electron diffraction 2.4
10 2/15 De Broglie relation, electron microscopes, wave package, phase and group velocities, uncertainty principle 2.4
11 2/17 Uncertainty principle, statistical interpretation of matter waves 2.4.4 to 2.4.5
12 2/22 The Schrödinger equation 2.4.6
13 2/24 Midterm exam  
14 3/1 Solutions of the Schrödinger equation: free particle, infinite potential well 2.4.5 to 2.4.7
15 3/3 Solutions of the Schrödinger equation: finite potential well, tunneling 2.4.7
16 3/8 Solutions of the Schrödinger equation: Gamow's model of alpha decay, 2-dim potential well, harmonic oscillator, historic models of the atom 2.4.8
17 3/10 Rutherford scattering, early models of the atom 3.1 and 3.2
  3/15 No class, spring break  
  3/17 No class, spring break  
18 3/22 The Bohr and quantum mechanical models of the hydrogen atom 3.2 and 3.3
19 3/24 Location of the electron in the hydrogen atom, angular momentum in quantum mechanics 3.3
20 3/29 The physical interpretation of the hydrogen qunatum numbers, Zeeman effect, selection rules in radiative transitions 3.2
21 3/31 Stern-Gerlach experiment, electron spin 3.4.1 to 3.4.2
22 4/5 Many electron atoms, Thomas-Fermi model, the Hartree method, Pauli principle, Hund's rule 3.4.3 to 3.4.7
23 4/7 x-rays, Mosley's law, statistical distributions 3.2.3
24 4/12 Quantum statistics  
25 4/14 Molecules 4.2
26 4/19 Lasers 6.1
27 4/21 The Mössbauer effect 6.2
28 4/26 Conduction of electricity through solids 6.4
29 4/28 Open  
30 5/3 Final exam  


  • Recognizing physics concepts that involve developing mathematical models of ordinary phenomena, such as weights and measures, moving objects and forces. [knowledge, evaluation, analysis]
  • Knowing the scientific method and the process of critically evaluating scientific information. [knowledge, comprehension, evaluation]
  • Understanding of the principles of special relativity and demonstrated ability to apply them to nuclear physics, elementary particle physics, and astrophysics.
  • Understanding of the principles of non-relativistic quantum mechanics and demonstrated ability to apply them to simple physical systems.
  • Familiarity with the experimental foundation of quantum mechanics and broad acquaintance with manifestations of quantum behavior in the physical world.
  • Understanding of the scientific method.
  • Development of skill in using advanced mathematical tools to analyze natural phenomena.
  • Ability to communicate key concepts in relativity and quantum physics to the educated layman.

Outline of Topics

 A detailed outline of the subjects covered in class can be found on-line. Click here to get the class schedule.

Exams and Assignments

 There will be two exams a midterm and a comprehensive final exam.

  1. Midterm exam: Thursday 2/24/2011 during regular class time
  2. Final exam: Tuesday 5/3/2011 8:00 am - 10:30 am

For the exams you will be allowed to bring one equation sheet and a pocket calculator. No cells phones are allowed during the exam, all cell phones have to be turned off. Books or notes (other than the exam sheet) are not allowed during the exam.

Homework problems will be assigned weekly (usually on Thursday) and are due, day in class, the following Thursday. 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. In order to receive full credit your homework needs to be legible. Homework needs to be submitted on clean paper, written in pen. In case several pages are submitted the pages need to be stapled together. You need to put you name on every page. Forming of homework groups is encouraged.

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.

Grading Policy

Homework problems will be submitted each Thursday 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.

  • Homework: 30%
  • Quizzes: 10%
  • Mid term exam: 20%
  • Final exam: 40%

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.


Letter grade Numerical grade


(min. percentage points)

A+ 4.33 (100%)
A 4.00

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

A- 3.67 (90%)
B+ 3.33 (86%)
B 3.00

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

B- 2.67 (80%)
C+ 2.33 (76%)
C 2.00

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

C- 1.67 (70%)
D+ 1.33 (66%)
D 1.00

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

D- 0.67 (60%)
F 0.00

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%).


Policy on Missed Exams & Coursework

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 two quiz grades and homeworks will be dropped. This will allow a limited number of missed classes regardless of the reason.


Attendance 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.

Required Texts

UA Supply Store Textbook Information


Other Course Materials

Classes are given in form of PowerPoint lectures. I will post lecture notes in form of the PowerPoint files as class goes on. These will be linked to the class schedule which is a living document. The lecture notes are the intellectual property of the professor, they are for your use only and not to be distributed outside class. The schedule and the lectrure notes are password protected.

Extra Credit Opportunities

 I will assign 1% (each) extra credit for every student submitting a pre and post test.

The Department of Physics and Astonomy is participating in the Major Field Test in Physics. This test is administered by many universities nationwide. Participation in this test allows the department to evaluate the effectiveness of its teaching methods in comparison to others. The date of the test will be given later. PH253 students are encouraged to participate in this test. The testing expense will be covered by the department. As an incentive you will receive extra credit for your participation. This extra credit will be tied to your performance in the test: you will receive 5% times your percentile ranking divided by 100.

Disability Statement

If you are registered with the Office of Disability Services, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss any course accommodations that may be necessary. If you have a disability, but have not contacted the Office of Disability Services, please call 348-4285 or visit 133-B Martha Parham Hall East to register for services. Students who may need course adaptations because of a disability are welcome to make an appointment to see me during office hours. Students with disabilities must be registered with the Office of Disability Services, 133-B Martha Parham Hall East, before receiving academic adjustments.

Policy on Academic Misconduct

All students in attendance at the University of Alabama are expected to be honorable and to observe standards of conduct appropriate to a community of scholars. The University expects from its students a higher standard of conduct than the minimum required to avoid discipline. Academic misconduct includes all acts of dishonesty in any academically related matter and any knowing or intentional help or attempt to help, or conspiracy to help, another student.

The Academic Misconduct Disciplinary Policy will be followed in the event of academic misconduct.

Severe Weather Protocol

In the case of a tornado warning (tornado has been sighted or detected by radar; sirens activated), all university activities are automatically suspended, including all classes and laboratories. If you are in a building, please move immediately to the lowest level and toward the center of the building away from windows (interior classrooms, offices, or corridors) and remain there until the tornado warning has expired. Classes in session when the tornado warning is issued can resume immediately after the warning has expired at the discretion of the instructor. Classes that have not yet begun will resume 30 minutes after the tornado warning has expired provided at least half of the class period remains.

UA is a residential campus with many students living on or near campus. In general classes will remain in session until the National Weather Service issues safety warnings for the city of Tuscaloosa. Clearly, some students and faculty commute from adjacent counties. These counties may experience weather related problems not encountered in Tuscaloosa. Individuals should follow the advice of the National Weather Service for that area taking the necessary precautions to ensure personal safety. Whenever the National Weather Service and the Emergency Management Agency issue a warning, people in the path of the storm (tornado or severe thunderstorm) should take immediate life saving actions.

When West Alabama is under a severe weather advisory, conditions can change rapidly. It is imperative to get to where you can receive information from the National Weather Service and to follow the instructions provided. Personal safety should dictate the actions that faculty, staff and students take. The Office of Public Relations will disseminate the latest information regarding conditions on campus in the following ways:

  • Weather advisory posted on the UA homepage
  • Weather advisory sent out through Connect-ED--faculty, staff and students (sign up at myBama)
  • Weather advisory broadcast over WVUA at 90.7 FM
  • Weather advisory broadcast over Alabama Public Radio (WUAL) at 91.5 FM
  • Weather advisory broadcast over WVUA 7. WVUA 7 Storm Watch provides a free service you can subscribe to that allows you to receive weather warnings for Tuscaloosa via e-mail, pager or cell phone. Check for details.