Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)


Department: Physics


Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • Foundations of Physics 1 (PHYS1122) AND ((Single Mathematics A (MATH1561) and Single Mathematics B (MATH1571)) OR (Calculus I (MATH1061) and Linear Algebra I (MATH1071))).


  • Foundations of Physics 2A (PHYS2581) AND (Mathematical Methods in Physics (PHYS2611) OR Analysis in Many Variables II (MATH2031) which covers similar material).

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It builds on the Level 1 module Foundations of Physics 1 (PHYS1122) by providing courses on Thermodynamics, Condensed Matter Physics and Optics.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Thermodynamics: Basic ideas, zeroth law and temperature; Definitions of state variables; the first law of thermodynamics; Heat engines and the second law of thermodynamics; Clausius inequality, Entropy and entropy change in reversible and non-reversible processes; Availability of Energy; Heat and refrigeration cycles; Thermodynamic Potentials and Maxwell's relations; Equilibrium, equations of state and phase transitions; Low temperatures and third law of thermodynamics; thermodynamics of other systems; Basic postulates of statistical mechanics; kinetic theory; Boltzmann formulation of entropy; Stirling's approximation; Boltzmann distribution function; Relationship between entropy and number of microstates in a macrostate; Bose-Einstein and Fermi-Dirac distribution functions.
  • Condensed Matter Physics: Review of crystal structures and their description; Wave Diffraction and the Reciprocal Lattice; Crystal binding and Elastic Constants; Bose and Fermi distributions; Phonons; The Drude model; Free Electron Fermi Gas Model; Energy Bands; Bending of energy bands close to the Brillouin zone boundary; Metals, Semimetals and Insulators.
  • Optics: Light as a wave: Superposition principle, spatial frequency; Intensity; Scalar approximation; Plane waves, spherical/cylindrical waves, and phasors; Interference – Young’s double slit, Michelson interferometer; Polarisation, Linear/circular basis, Malus’ law, Birefringence, Optical activity and the Faraday effect; Many waves: Multiple slits and the Fresnel diffraction integral; Fresnel and Fraunhofer diffraction; Laser beams.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module students will have an understanding of the thermodynamics of matter, the four laws of thermodynamics and their application.
  • They will have appreciation of distributions of classical and quantum particles leading to a discussion of entropy and temperature.
  • They will have the ability to describe the arrangement of atoms in a crystal structure and the diffraction pattern that results in both direct and reciprocal space.
  • They will have an understanding of elastic vibrations of atoms in crystals and how these vibrations are quantised into phonons.
  • They will have knowledge of the concept of phonons and how these explain the thermal properties of solids.
  • They will have knowledge of the breakdown in classical physics and how to apply quantum mechanics to the study of electrons in crystalline solids, the nature of electron states and how metallic, semiconducting and insulating materials arise.
  • They will have an appreciation of X-ray and neutron scattering as a probe of crystal structure, vibrational, and electronic properties of solids in 2 and 3 dimensions.
  • They will be able to use analytical methods to describe a range of wave phenomena, including interference, diffraction and polarisation, and will be familiar with their applications in optics.
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 predictable and unpredictable 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 tutorial-style workshops.
    • The lectures provide the means to give 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 online.
    • Regular problem exercises and workshops 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 a written examination and an online test and formatively assessed through problem exercises and a progress test. The written examination and online test will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acquisition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem-solving skills. The problem exercises, progress test and workshops will 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 46 2 or 3 per week 1 hour 46
    Workshops 18 Weekly 1 hour 18
    Preparation and Reading 136
    TOTAL 200

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Written Examination 2 hours 100%
    Component: Online tests Component Weighting: 40%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Online tests 100%

    Formative Assessment:

    Problem exercises and self-assessment; progress test, workshops 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