PHY 3101 - Modern Physics - Fall 2015

Course Overview

Instructor Prof. Paul Avery
2029 New Physics Bldg.
phy3101 AT
Please use this email and not my work email for class related stuff.
Grader Mugeon Kim
1222 NPB
pq8556 AT
Class lecture MWF Period 4 (10:40 - 11:30am) 1002 NPB
Office hours MW Period 5 (11:45 - 12:35pm)
R (Period 4) (10:40-11:30am)

I am available to talk to students any time while I am in my office. Since I frequently am not there because of meetings and other events, I am posting these times when I can be in my office.

Main textbook: Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers, 4th edition, by Stephen Thornton & Andrew Rex. ISBN 978-1133103721.

Online reference 1: The Physics Hypertextbook. This is a basic online reference book for all basic physics, including several topics in Modern physics.

Online reference 2: Modern Physics course at UVA (Michael Fowler). This online course has a lot of historical description as well as mathematics.

I am still looking for additional material for modern physics. Much online material is too advanced or specialized for undergraduates who have just finished a year of physics. Please let me know about any other materials you discover online.

About the course

PHY 3101 is a one-semester course providing an introduction to the history, basic theoretical concepts and major experimental results from the physical theories that emerged starting in the early 20th century. We will explore theoretical ideas and measurable phenomena in Special and General Relativity, waves and particles, quantum mechanics, atoms and molecules, phenomena connected to the statistical distributions of photons and electrons, and nuclear and particle phyiscs.

As part of the course you will learn why “scientific theories” are provisional and evolving, dependent on an interplay between theoretical reasoning and experimental measurement, constrained to be consistent with other theories and required to successfully pass a wide variety of experimental tests.

Grading scale: The grading scale is shown in the table below, based on 100 points.

Grade Points
A 88
A- 83
B+ 78
B 73
B- 68
C+ 63
C 58
C- 53
D+ 48
D 43
D- 38
E <38

Grade components: Grade points are accumulated from exams, quizzes, homework and a final research project, as summarized in the table below.

Source Points
Two exams 40
Homework (inc. bonus questions) 20
Quizzes 10
Research project 30
Total 100

Exams: There are two exams, each worth 20 points (total 40 point)s.

Homework: A number of assignments will be given, with each assignment typically being due 1 week from the time it was issued, though some will be shorter. Homework is due by 4:00PM on the due date in my mailbox (note that you should not wait until the last minute since the mailroom does not always close exactly at 4PM). Deductions for late homework are as follows: 25% (1 day), 50% (2 days), 75% (3 days), 100% (4 days). Some bonus questions will also be assigned, allowing you to get extra points.

Quizzes: Quizzes will be given occasionally during the semester. The lowest two quizzes will be dropped when determining your grade.

Research project: The research project takes the place of a final exam. It is discussed at the Research Project site.

Programming tools: Computing and simulation have become accepted as the "third leg of science", augmenting theory and experiment as indispensible tools for conducting modern research. It is frankly impossible to succeed in the sciences or engineering without using computational tools. In this course I will introduce you to two programming tools that are used (and similar to others that are used) by physicists and engineers: python and sympy. The software packages for both languages are free and run on all popular operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux). You should download both software packages and install them on your home/laptop computer. If you have other tools, you are free to use those instead. Please see the programming page for more details.

e-Learning website: The lectures notes, exam grades, quiz grades and homework grades will be posted at e-Learning.

Schedule: Dates for lecture topics, exams, quizzes and homework are found on the schedule page.

Academic Honesty: The UF Honor Code applies to all aspects of this course. It is mandatory that you report any possible infractions to your instructor immediately. The Honor Code reads as follows:

We, the members of the University of Florida community, pledge to hold ourselves and our peers to the highest standards of honesty and integrity.  On all work submitted for credit by students at the University of Florida, the following pledge is either required or implied: "On my honor, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid in doing this assignment."

Students with disabilities: Students requesting classroom accommodation for disabilities must first register with the Disability Resource Center. The Dean of Students Office will provide documentation to the student who must then provide this documentation to the instructor when requesting accommodation before an exam. Please print and fill out the Accommodated Test Request (ATR) Form, and return it to the Disability Resource Center (DCR) at least one week before the first exam. The Accommodated Testing Service (ATS) at DCR will administer all exams.

Required work

  • This web site serves as the syllabus for the course. Each page on the web site has a link on the menu at left. You are required to read each of these pages. The web site is detailed and any policy questions you may have should be answered here.
  • You are responsible for ongoing course work, which is described on the web site: reading the text for the assigned material, attending lecture, doing the weekly homework, attending discussion section and taking the quizzes, and taking the exams


Firm knowledge of the following concepts from Physics 1 and 2 and proficiency in handling them is necessary for your success in this course.

  • Kinematics, force, torque, conditions for equillibrium
  • Newton's three laws of dynamics, circular motion
  • Work, kinetic energy, potential energy, relation of force to potential energy
  • Energy and momentum conservation
  • Basic electromagnetic theory, wave motion, E&M waves

In addition the material from the following mathematics topics will be used routinely.

  • Algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry
  • Calculus 1, 2 and 3 (including partial derivatives and multiple derivatives)
  • Basic differential equations (corequisite, used mostly in QM)

Effective strategies for learning physics

From interviewing students we have found that the A to B+ students have better habits and spend more time on science courses than B and C students. In particular, they rarely miss class, do all the recommended homework problems and more, read ahead and study the material for several hours a week (not just before exams). Developing good habits at the start of the semester, before things get busy and you fall behind, will help you succeed.

A large fraction of your study time should be devoted to problem solving, which is essential to learning and cannot be replaced by mere listening and reading. This is the reason we provide you a significant number of end-of-chapter questions and problems, web-based problems, quizzes and Java applets.

The following strategies will help you to do well in the course:

  • Use office hours. If you don't understand something, ask me after class and in my office. You can also talk to the grader, Mugeon Kim.
  • Keep up with the course. The best strategy for success is to stay up to date with the readings and homework. In particular, solving problems will improve your performance on exams and quizzes far better than memorizing formulas or cramming. A good rule of thumb is that you should be spending about 6-9 hours on the material outside of class.
  • Attend lectures regularly. I cannot stress enough the importance of coming to class. Although you might not understand everything presented in lecture, you are unconsciously processing information that will serve you well later. Frequent class skipping contributes strongly to poor student performance.
  • Read ahead before lecture. Even though you may not understand the chapter material, a cursory advance reading "primes" your brain to be receptive to the material when it is discussed in lecture or discussion.
  • Ask questions. Your question is not stupid and is probably widely shared. I just hope that my answer is not stupid. :-)