Go to navigation (press enter key)

Courses

The following information is from the 2018-19 Vassar College Catalogue.

Physics: I. Introductory

100 Physics in Motion 1

Motion is much of what physics is about and motion can be seen all around us. Recent technological advances in digital video and computers allow many motions to be filmed, analyzed and studied. We begin by filming a variety of objects in motion and uncover the physics inside. In the second half of the semester groups focus on topics (of their choice) of interest to K-12 students. Each group produces a DVD, incorporating video, text, and other media into the project to help explain the physics behind the scenes. The DVD project is presented in local K-12 schools as a final exercise. Cindy Schwarz.

Not open to students who have taken PHYS 113, or received AP credit for PHYS 113.

Not offered in 2018/19.

105 20th Century Revolutions in Physics 1

(Same as STS 105) Lord Kelvin, one of the most distinguished physicists of the 19th century, is famous for his 1900 proclamation: "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now." In the fall of that same year Max Planck provided the spark that would become the revolutionary fire from which a new physics was born. The multiple revolutions in physics that proceeded Kelvin's proclamation are the subject of this class. We examine the developments of Quantum Theory, Special and General Theories of Relativity, and Modern Cosmology studying each in its proper historical context. From both primary and secondary sources we learn the basic concepts that became the fabric of today's physics. Along the way, we are sure to unearth both the undeniable impacts these discoveries have had on society and the contingency surrounding the nature of these scientific revolutions. José Perillán.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

110 Science of Sound 1

An exploration of the basic nature of sound, including the transmission and reception of sound, pitch, quality (timbre), loudness, musical intervals, musical instruments, building acoustics, and modern research in sound and acoustics. These topics are covered through a combination of lecture, group discussion, and hands-on investigation. There are no science prerequisites for this course, except a willingness to explore physics fundamentals through the lens of acoustics. 

Not offered in 2018/19.

113 Fundamentals of Physics I 0 or 1Semester Offered: Fall

An introduction to the basic concepts of physics with emphasis on mechanics. Recommended for potential majors in physics and other physical sciences. The department.

Corequisite: MATH 121 or equivalent.

Three 50-minute periods or two 75-minute periods; one 3-hour laboratory.

114 Fundamentals of Physics II 0 to 1Semester Offered: Spring

Fundamentals of electricity, magnetism, and optics. Recommended for potential majors in physics and other physical sciences. The Department.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 113, AP Physics C credit, or equivalent college level course and MATH 121 or equivalent.

Three 50-minute periods or two 75-minute periods; one 3-hour laboratory.

115 Topics in Classical Physics 1

This course covers topics typically left out of the physics AP curriculum and reinforces the use of calculus in mechanics and electricity and magnetism. Part of the course will be devoted to current research and applications of physics. Topics may include, nanotechnology, lasers, materials science, particle and nuclear physics in medicine, biophysics, geophysics, environmental physics and astrophysics.

Not all topics are taught in a specific year. Only open to first-year students and sophomores with AP B credit or AP C credit for Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism, IB credit, or special permission.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

125 The Sound of Space: Intersecting Acoustics, Architecture and Music 1

(Same as ART 125 and MUSI 125) The disciplines of acoustics, architecture, and music are often treated in isolation, resulting in the loss of many synergistic connections. This course will bring these three different but intersecting disciplines together in an exciting new way through a collaborative team-teaching process. The course will explore the physical nature of music in the built environment, focusing on the generation, transmission, and reception of music in a variety of spaces across campus. An introduction will first be given for each discipline, then the intersections of these seemingly disparate, yet closely related fields will be studied through a combination of lecture, group discussion, and hands-on investigation. Student teams will adopt a key acoustical space on campus, which they will present during a processional performance by a Vassar choral group open to the public at the end of the semester. 

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

150 The Limits of the Universe and the Limits of Understanding 1

(Same as PHIL 150   ) This course allows students to combine their interests in physics and in philosophy, recognizing common concerns and actively engaging in joint difficulties. The guiding questions of this course can be formulated as follows: In what ways, and to what extent, do recent developments in physics (e.g. the notion of space that is both infinite and bounded because curved) either solve or bypass traditional philosophical paradoxes concerning space and time, causality, and objectivity? In what ways, and to what extent, do traditional philosophical worries (e.g. worries about incoherence, worries about theories that cannot be falsified, or worries about concepts whose application cannot be imagined) cast doubt on the accuracy or the methodology of current physics? Readings are from physics and philosophy. Jennifer Church, Cindy Schwarz.

May not count towards a physics concentration.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

152 Lasers, Technology, Teleportation 0.5

Underlying physics of modern technology and scientific research are explored. Modern gadgets are evaluated regarding physical mechanisms. In addition, modern research on present and future technologies is discussed. Hands-on experiences and demonstrations are incorporated. Jenny Magnes.

Not offered in 2018/19.

160 Relatively Uncertain: A History of Physics, Religion and Popular Culture 1

(Same as RELI 160 and STS 160) This course examines the cultural history of key ideas and experiments in physics, looking in particular at how non-scientists understood key concepts such as entropy, relativity, quantum mechanics and the idea of higher or new dimensions. It begins with an assumption that's widely accepted among historians -- namely, that the sciences are a part of culture and are influenced by cultural trends, contemporary concerns and even urgent personal ethical or religious dilemmas. In this course we are attuned to the ways that physicists drew key insights from popular culture and how non-scientists, including religious or spiritual seekers, appropriated (and misappropriated) scientific insights about the origin and nature of the world, its underlying laws and energetic forces, and its ultimate meaning and purpose. Brian Daly and Christopher White.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

168 A Tour of the Subatomic Zoo 0.5Semester Offered: Spring

This course is designed for nonphysics majors who want to know more about the constituents of matter including quarks, gluons, and neutrinos. The particle discoveries and the implications of the discoveries are discussed in an historical context. Additional topics discussed: matter vs. antimatter, the wave, and particle nature of light. Cindy Schwarz.

May not count towards a physics concentration.

Physics: II. Intermediate

200 Modern Physics 1Semester Offered: Fall

An introduction to the two subjects at the core of contemporary physics: Einstein's theory of special relativity, and quantum mechanics. Topics include paradoxes in special relativity; the Lorentz transformation; four-vectors and invariants; relativistic dynamics; the wave-particle duality; the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and simple cases of the Schrodinger wave equation. Jenny Magnes.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 114 or PHYS 115, MATH 126/MATH 127, or permission of the instructor.

202 Introduction to Experimental Physics 0.5Semester Offered: Spring

An introduction to the tools and techniques of modern experimental physics. Students replicate classic historical experiments. Emphasis is placed on the use of computers for capturing and analyzing data, and on effective oral and written presentation of experimental results. Brian Daly. 

Prerequisite(s):  PHYS 200, MATH 121, MATH 126/MATH 127, or permission of the instructor. 

Must be taken in the same semester as PHYS 203.

First 6-week course.

Two 3-hour meetings.

203 Experimental Physics II 0.5Semester Offered: Spring

Additional experiments in physics at the intermediate level -- topics may include modern physics, nuclear physics, optics and acoustics. Brian Daly.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 202 or permission of the instructor.

Must be taken in the same semester as PHYS 202.

Second 6-week course.

Two 3-hour meetings.

210 Classical Mechanics 1Semester Offered: Spring

A study of the motion of objects using Newtonian theory. Topics include oscillator systems, central forces, noninertial systems, and rigid bodies. An introduction to the Lagrangian formulation. Cindy Schwarz.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 115 or PHYS 200, and MATH 220, or permission of the instructor. Corequisite: MATH 228.

First-year students must consult with the department chair prior to enrolling in this course.

240 Electromagnetism I 1Semester Offered: Fall

A study of electromagnetic forces and fields. Topics include electrostatics of conductors and dielectrics, electric currents, magnetic fields, and the classical theories and phenomena that led to Maxwell's formulation of electromagnetism. Keith Hall.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 210 and MATH 220, or permission of the instructor.  

245 Introduction to Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics 1Semester Offered: Fall

Probability distributions, statistical ensembles, thermodynamic laws, statistical calculations of thermodynamic quantities, absolute temperature, heat, entropy, equations of state, kinetic theory of dilute gases, phase equilibrium, quantum statistics of ideal gases. Brian Daly.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 200 and MATH 220.

260 Contemporary Optics 0.5

This course samples topics in modern optics research and optics applications. Study of cross-disciplinary research and applications in fields like biology, chemistry, medicine etc. is an essential part of this course. Hands-on demonstrations and laboratory exercises are included. Jenny Magnes.

Prerequisite(s): two units of any science at Vassar, calculus or special permission.

Not offered in 2018/19.

290 Field Work 0.5 to 1

Execution and analysis of an off-campus field study in physics. The course requirements are to be arranged with an individual instructor. The department.

 

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.

298 Independent Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

Intermediate-level execution of an experimental, theoretical, or library study in physics. The course requirements are to be arranged with an individual instructor. The department.

 

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.

Physics: III. Advanced

300 Independent Project or Thesis 0.5Semester Offered: Fall

Investigation and critical analysis of a topic in experimental or theoretical physics. Experimental research may include building or experimenting with a non-trivial hardware or software system. A written thesis and oral presentation of results to the department are required for the course. A student electing this course must first gain the support of at least one member of the Physics department faculty. The Senior Thesis is a 1-unit course with 1/2 unit graded provisionally in the Fall and 1/2 unit graded in the Spring. The final grade, awarded in the Spring, shall replace the provisional grade in the Fall. The department.

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor.

301 Senior Thesis 0.5Semester Offered: Spring

A continuation of 300. The Senior Thesis is a 1-unit course with 1/2 unit graded provisionally in the Fall and 1/2 unit graded in the Spring. The final grade, awarded in the Spring, shall replace the provisional grade in the Fall. The department.

 

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor.

302 Senior Thesis 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

Students may elect a 1-unit thesis only in exceptional circumstances. Usually, students will adopt 300-301. The department.

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor.

320 Quantum Mechanics I 1Semester Offered: Fall

An introduction to the formalism of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics and its physical interpretation, with emphasis on solutions of the Schrodinger wave equation. Topics covered include the operator formalism, uncertainty relations, one-dimensional potentials, bound states, tunneling, central field problems in three dimensions, the hydrogen atom, the harmonic oscillator, and quantum statistics. Jenny Magnes.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 200, PHYS 210, MATH 220, MATH 228.

341 Electromagnetism II 1

A study of the electromagnetic field. Starting with Maxwell's equations, topics covered include the propagation of waves, waveguides, the radiation field, and the relativistic formulation of electromagnetic theory. Keith Hall.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 240, MATH 220 or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2018/19.

375 Advanced Topics in Physics 1Semester Offered: Fall and Spring

Course topics vary from year to year. May be taken more than once for different topics.

Topic for 2018/19a: Solid State Physics. Brian Daly.

Topic for 2018/19a: Computational Physics. Jenny Magnes.

Topic for 2018/19b: Biophysics. Janet Sheung.

Prerequisite(s): Prerequisites vary depending on the topic.

Not open to first-year students.

399 Senior Independent Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

High-level execution of an experimental, theoretical, or library study in physics. An oral presentation of results to the department is required for the course. Additional course requirements are to be arranged with an individual instructor. The department.

Astronomy: I. Introductory

101 Solar System Astronomy 1Semester Offered: Fall

A study of the solar system as seen from earth and space: planets, satellites, comets, meteors, and the interplanetary medium; astronautics and space exploration; life on other planets; planets around other stars; planetary system cosmogony. Colette Salyk.

Open to all classes.

105 Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology 1Semester Offered: Spring

This course is designed to acquaint the student with our present understanding of the universe. The course discusses the formation, structure, and evolution of gas clouds, stars, and galaxies, and then places them in the larger content of clusters and superclusters of galaxies. The Big Bang, GUTS, inflation, the early stages of the universe's expansion, and its ultimate fate are explored. Debra Elmegreen.

Open to all classes.

150 Life in the Universe 1

An introduction to the possibility of life beyond Earth is presented from an astronomical point of view. The course reviews stellar and planetary formation and evolution, star properties and planetary atmospheres necessary for a habitable world, possibilities for other life in our Solar system, detection of extrasolar planets, the SETI project, and the Drake equation. Debra Elmegreen.

Prerequisite(s): high school Physics and Calculus.

Open only to first-year students; satisfies the college requirement for a First-Year Writing Seminar.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Astronomy: II. Intermediate

220 Stellar Astrophysics 1Semester Offered: Fall

The physical theory of stellar interiors, atmospheres, and energy sources. Stellar evolution. Spectral sequence and its origin. Supernovae, white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. Debra Elmegreen.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 114, or permission of the instructor.

230 Planetary and Space Science 1Semester Offered: Spring

Atmospheres, surface features, and interiors of the planets. Interaction of the sun with the other members of the solar system. Planetary formation and evolution. Life on other planets. Space exploration. Colette Salyk.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 114, or permission of the instructor.

240 Observational Astronomy 1Semester Offered: Spring

This course introduces the student to a variety of techniques used in the detection and analysis of electromagnetic radiation from astronomical sources. All areas of the electromagnetic spectrum are discussed, with special emphasis on solid-state arrays as used in optical and infrared astronomy. Topics include measurement uncertainty, signal-to-noise estimates, the use of astronomical databases, telescope design and operation, detector design and operation, practical photometry and spectroscopy and data reduction. Students are required to perform a number of nighttime observations at the college observatory. Colette Salyk.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 113 or PHYS 114, or permission of the instructor.

290 Field Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

Execution and analysis of an off-campus field study in astronomy. The course requirements are to be arranged with an individual instructor. The department.

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.

298 Independent Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

Intermediate-level execution of an independent observational, theoretical, or library study in astronomy. The course requirements are to be arranged with an individual instructor. The department.

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor.

Astronomy: III. Advanced

300 Senior Thesis 0.5Semester Offered: Fall

Investigation and critical analysis of a topic in observational or theoretical astronomy. Observational research may include building or experimenting with a non-trivial hardware or software system. A written thesis and oral presentation of results to the department are required for the course. A student electing this course must first gain the support of at least one member of the Astronomy department faculty, who will determine the format of final deliverables for the course. The Senior Thesis is a 1-unit course with 1/2 unit graded provisionally in the Fall and 1/2 unit graded in the Spring. The final grade, awarded in the Spring, shall replace the provisional grade in the Fall.

Yearlong course, ASTR 300-301 .

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor.

301 Senior Thesis 0.5Semester Offered: Spring

Continuation of 300. The Senior Thesis is a 1-unit course with 1/2 unit graded provisionally in the Fall and 1/2 unit graded in the Spring. The final grade, awarded in the Spring, shall replace the provisional grade in the Fall. The department.

 

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.

Yearlong course, ASTR 300-301.

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor.

302 Senior Thesis 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

Students may elect a 1-unit thesis only in exceptional circumstances. Usually, students will adopt 300-301. The department.

 

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.

One 2-hour period and individual conferences with the instructor.

320 Astrophysics of the Interstellar Medium 1Semester Offered: Spring

A study of the observations and theory related to interstellar matter, including masers, protostars, dust, atomic, molecular and ionized gas clouds. Radiative transfer, collapse and expansion processes, shocks and spiral density waves are discussed. Debra Elmegreen.

Prerequisite(s): one 200-level physics course or one 200-level astronomy course, Junior or Senior status, or permission of the instructor.

322 Galaxies and Galactic Structure 1

Observations and theories of the formation and evolution of galaxies. Properties of star-forming regions; contents, structure, and kinematics of the Milky Way and spiral, elliptical, and irregular galaxies. Active galaxies, interacting galaxies, clusters, and high redshift galaxies. Debra Elmegreen.

Prerequisite(s): PHYS 114 and either ASTR 105 or ASTR 220, or permission of the instructor; not open to first-year students.

Not offered in 2018/19.

330 Extrasolar planets and planet formation 1Semester Offered: Fall

A study of current research on extrasolar planets and planet formation, and connections between the two. Course involves close reading and presentation of field-specific articles. Research topics include observational techniques such as adaptive optics imaging, interferometry and spectroscopy, as well as theoretical investigations of the physics of protoplanetary disk evolution and planet formation. Colette Salyk.

Prerequisite(s): ASTR 230, junior or senior status, or permission of the instructor.

Two 75-minute periods.

340 Advanced Observational Astronomy 1

This course applies in depth the methods introduced in ASTR 240. Students are expected to pursue individual observational projects in collaboration with the instructor. The amount of time spent in the observatory and how it is scheduled depends on the nature of the project, although 1/2 Unit projects require half the total time of full unit projects. Colette Salyk.

Prerequisite(s): ASTR 240 and permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2018/19.

399 Senior Independent Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

High-level execution of an experimental, theoretical, or library study in Astronomy. An oral presentation of results to the department is required for the course. Additional course requirements are to be arranged with an individual instructor. The department.

 

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.