Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2013-2014 (archived)


Department: Physics


Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2013/14 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Foundations of Physics 2A (PHYS2581) AND Foundations of Physics 2B (PHYS2591) AND (Mathematical Methods in Physics (PHYS2611) OR Analysis in Many Variables (MATH2031)).


  • Foundations of Physics 3A (PHYS3621) AND Foundations of Physics 3B (PHYS3631).

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It illustrates the relevant physics utilised in state-of-the art atomic clocks, explores the interaction of light with solids and introduces students to the topic of soft condensed matter physics.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Modern Atomic and Optical Physics: Revision of fine structure: adding atomic angular momenta; term symbols; hyperfine structure; the F quantum number; atomic transitions and selection rules. The hyperfine structure of hydrogen and alkali-metal atom ground states. Electric and magnetic dipole interactions. The electron distribution of a superposition of states. Spontaneous emission. The Einstein A coefficient. Interaction of a 2-level atom with a resonant field. The Rabi solution. Stimulated emission. The Ramsey technique. Transit-time broadening. The Zeeman effect. The Breit-Rabi diagram for hydrogen and the alkali-metal atoms. Light forces. Photon momentum. Laser cooling. The atomic fountain clock. Frontiers of metrology.
  • Optical Properties of Solids: Optical coefficients, complex refractive index, dielectric constant, classification of optical materials; Optics in the solid state: crystal symmetry, electronic bands, vibronic bands, density of states; Propagation of light in an optical medium: atomic, vibrational and free electron oscillators; The dipole oscillator model: Lorentz oscillator, Kramers-Kronig equations; Dispersion, anisotropy, birefringence; Interband absorption: transition rates, joint density of states, electric field (Franz-Keldysh) and magnetic field effects, indirect band absorption; Exciton states: binding energy, Frenkel excitons: alkali halides, organic molecules; Light emission in solids: interband luminescence emission, spontaneous emission rates, solid state optical devices (LEDs); Free electron effects in solids: plasma reflectivity, plasmons; Optical properties of molecules: electronic-vibrational coupling, configuration coordinate diagrams, Franck-Condon principle, stokes shift; Vibrational states: optically active phonons, polariton coupled optical-vibrational states, polarons, inelastic light scattering; Nonlinear optics: nonlinear susceptibility, resonant non-linearities, frequency mixing.
  • Soft Condensed Matter Physics: An overview of soft matter and the length scales, time scales and forces that are relevant. Polymer structure, dynamics and elasticity. Phase transitions in soft condensed matter. Equilibrium phase diagrams and liquid-liquid demixing. The kinetics of phase separation. Self assembly of amphiphilic molecules through aggregation and phase separation. Polymer and block copolymer self-assembly.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module, students will have an understanding of atom-field interactions, and an appreciation of the different hierarchy of frequency-broadening mechanisms in the context of modern metrology.
  • They will be familiar with a range of optical phenomena in materials, and the techniques used to measure them, and will understand the physical phenomena which have led to the development of solid state light sources and lasers in today’s optoelectronics industry.
  • They will understand polymer structure, dynamics and elasticity, liquid-liquid demixing and phase separation and self-assembly.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the acquisition of subject knowledge, students will be able to apply the principles of physics to the solution of complex problems.
  • 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 by lectures and example classes.
    • The lectures provide the means to give a concise, focused presentation of the subject matter of the module. The lecture material will be defined by, and explicitly linked to, the contents of the recommended textbooks for the module, thus making clear where students can begin private study. When appropriate, the lectures will also be supported by the distribution of written material, or by information and relevant links on DUO.
    • Regular problem exercises and example classes will give students the chance to develop their theoretical understanding and problem solving skills.
    • Students will be able to obtain further help in their studies by approaching their lecturers, either after lectures or at other mutually convenient times.
    • Student performance will be summatively assessed through an examination and problem exercises. These will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acquisition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem-solving skills.
    • The problem exercises and example classes 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 39 2 per week 1 Hour 39
    Examples classes 6 Every 3 weeks 1 Hour 6
    Preparation and Reading 155
    Total 200

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Examinations Component Weighting: 90%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Written examination 3 hours 100%
    Component: Problem exercises Component Weighting: 10%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Problem exercises 100%

    Formative Assessment:

    Examples classes and problems solved therein.

    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