Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2009-2010 (archived)


Department: Physics


Type Open Level 1 Credits 40 Availability Available in 2009/10 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • A-Level Physics and A-Level Mathematics.


  • (Single Mathematics A (MATH1561) and Single Mathematics B (MATH1571)) or Core Mathematics A (MATH1012) or Maths for Engineers and Scientists (MATH1551).

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Science degree programmes.
  • It provides the minimum core physics required for progression to Level 2 physics modules and should be taken by all students intending to study physics beyond Level 1.
  • It provides courses in classical aspects of wave phenomena and electromagnetism, and introduces basic concepts in Newtonian mechanics, quantum mechanics, special relativity, phases of matter, optics, atomic, nuclear and particle physics.
  • The module provides students with practice in the informal discussion of scientific ideas within a small group.


  • The course content is fundamentally defined by the content of the course textbook (which may change from time to time). However the course will contain the following fundamental topics.
  • Classical Mechanics: Velocity, acceleration, motion in three dimensions, forces and Newton's Laws, conservation of momentum and energy, friction, motion of a rigid body, centre of mass, rotation, moment of inertia, angular momentum and torques, Newton's Law of Gravity, Kepler's Laws.
  • Oscillations & Waves: Simple harmonic motion. Damped harmonic motion. Forced harmonic motion. Resonance. Transverse and longitudinal waves. Analysis of the wave equation.
  • Thermodynamics: temperature and heat, laws of thermodynamics.
  • Electricity and Magnetism: Definitions of basic electrical quantities. Electric charge, Coulomb's law, Gauss’s Law, electric potential, electrostatic energy, electric current, capacitors, dielectrics, AC circuits. Magnetism. Faraday’s Law, Biot-Savart Law. Maxwell's equations.
  • Optics: Geometric optics. Lenses and mirrors. Optical instruments. Interference, diffraction, and polarization.
  • Modern Physics: Introduction to Special Relativity: Motion as seen by different observers. Setting up inertial frames of reference. The Michelson-Morley experiment. Lorentz Transformations. Energy and mass relation, Quantum Mechanics: Black body radiation, photoelectric effect, stability of atoms. Discovery of Planck's constant. Quantization of energy. Particle nature of radiation. Compton effect. Rutherford model of the atom. Bohr model of the hydrogen atom. Particle-wave dualism. Double slit experiment. quantum mechanical interpretation. Wave nature of matter. Uncertainty principle. Schrödinger's non-relativistic wave equation. Bound state and potential well problems: square wells of infinite and finite depth. Simple harmonic oscillator. Reflection and transmission of particle beams by potential steps and barriers. Quantum tunnelling and applications: Atoms, Nuclei and Particles. Periodic Table, Pauli Exclusion Principle. Radioactivity.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will have gained an introductory knowledge of Newtonian mechanics and applications to basic physical problems familiar from the everyday world, such as movement under constant acceleration, rotating wheels and pulleys and the motion of the planets.
  • They will understand the concepts of inertial frames of reference and the universality of the speed of light, and will have a basic understanding of relativistic effects and Lorentz invariants.
  • They will have knowledge of the physics of vibrations and waves in many different linear systems and of optical wave phenomena including light propagation, diffraction and interference.
  • They will have a firm grounding in the classical aspects of electromagnetism, including the central ideas of electrostatics, magnetostatics and time variations.
  • They will understand the fundamental importance of quantum mechanics to modern physics and will be able to perform simple quantum mechanical calculations.
  • They will have an understanding of the structure of an atom in terms of a nucleus and electrons and of a nucleus in terms of protons and neutrons.
  • They will have knowledge of the parameters used to describe atoms and nuclei, an ability to explain their properties in terms of simple physical models, and an appreciation of the applications of nuclear physics.
  • They will be familiar with the fundamental laws of thermodynamics.
  • They will have knowledge of the principles that describe the propagation of light in free space, dielectric materials, and lens/mirror systems, will be familiar with the concepts of polarisation and interference, and will have the ability to carry out calculations to determine the properties of simple optical systems.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the acquisition of subject knowledge, students will have developed problem-solving skills requiring the application of the basic principles of physics.
  • They will know how to produce a well-structured solution, with clearly-explained reasoning and appropriate presentation.
Key Skills:

    Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

    • Teaching will be lectures, supported by tutorials.
    • The lectures will provide the means to give a concise, focused presentation of the subject matter of the module.
    • The lecture material will be explicitly linked to the contents of a single recommended textbook for the module, thus making clear where students can begin their private study.
    • When appropriate, the lectures will also be supported by the distribution of written material, or by information and relevant links on DUO.
    • Students will be able to obtain further help in their studies by approaching their lecturers, either after lectures or at other mutually convenient times (the Department has a policy of encouraging such enquiries).
    • Regular problem exercises will give students the chance to develop their theoretical understanding and problem-solving abilities.
    • These problem exercises will form the basis for discussions in tutorial groups of typically six to eight students.
    • The tutorials will also provide an informal environment for students to raise issues of interest or difficulty.
    • Student performance will be summatively assessed through written examinations and problem exercises.
    • The written examinations and problem exercises will provide the means for students to demonstrate their acquisition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem-solving skills.
    • The problem exercises will also provide opportunities for feedback, for students to gauge their progress, and for staff to monitor progress throughout the duration of the module.

    Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

    Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
    Lectures 103 5 per week 1 hour 103
    Tutorials 20 1 per week 1 hour 20
    Preparation and Reading 277
    Total 400

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Written examinations Component Weighting: 85%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Written examination 1 three-hour 50%
    Written examination 2 three-hour 50%
    Component: Problem exercises Component Weighting: 15%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Problem exercises 100% Extended set of problem exercises

    Formative Assessment:

    One 3-hour Collection Examination.

    Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University