Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module PHYS4281: Modern Atomic and Optical Physics 4

Department: Physics

PHYS4281: Modern Atomic and Optical Physics 4

Type Open Level 4 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Foundations of Physics 3A (PHYS3621) AND (Foundations of Physics 2B (PHYS2591) OR Foundations of Physics 3C (PHYS3671)).


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • Modern Atomic and Optical Physics 3 (PHYS3721).


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It builds on Level 2 courses in geometric optics and quantum mechanics by providing courses on modern optics and atomic physics.
  • It develops transferable skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation on the findings.


  • Fourier Optics: Fourier toolkit, angular spectrum, Gaussian beams, lasers and cavities, Fresnel and Fraunhofer, 2D diffraction – letters, circles, Babinet and apodization, lenses, imaging, spatial filtering.
  • Atomic Clocks: History of precision measurement of time. Principle of atomic clocks, revision of atomic structure, electric and magnetic dipole interactions with electromagnetic fields, selection rules. Visualising electron distributions in atoms during transitions. Spontaneous emission, Einstein A coefficient and relationship with atomic clocks, lifetimes, line widths, line intensities and line shapes. Fine-structure and hyperfine splitting, using degenerate perturbation theory to calculate the ground-state hyperfine splitting of the H atom. Lifetimes of electric dipole forbidden transitions, selection rules and relationship with atomic clocks. Zeeman effect, using degenerate perturbation theory to calculate Zeeman shifts of the hyperfine states of the ground-state of the H atom, relationship with atomic clocks. Derivation of Rabi equation for two-level system, transit-time broadening, relationship with atomic clocks. Light forces, the scattering force. Laser cooling of atoms, optical molasses, Doppler limit. Zeeman slowing and Sisyphus cooling of atoms. Magneto-optical trapping of atoms. Moving molasses, caesium fountain clock, Ramsay Interferometry. Optical frequency standards, laser locking. Optical frequency combs, ion trapping, Lamb-Dicke regime. Aluminium quantum logic clock, Ytterbium ion clock. Strontium optical lattice clock, AC Stark effect, dipole force, optical dipole traps and optical lattices, magic wavelength optical lattice. Systematic effects in optical frequency standards, comparisons between clocks. Applications of atomic clocks, time-variation of fundamental constants, electric-dipole moment of the electron and relativistic geodesy.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module, students will be able to use Fourier methods to describe interference and diffraction and their applications in modern optics.
  • They will be familiar with some of the applications of quantum mechanics to atomic physics and the interaction of atoms with light.
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:
  • Students will have developed skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation.

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

  • Teaching will be by lectures and workshops.
  • 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 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.
  • Lecturers will provide a list of advanced topics related to the module content. Students will be required to research one of these topics in depth and write a dissertation on it. Some guidance on the research and feedback on the dissertation will be provided by the lecturer.
  • Student performance will be summatively assessed through an open-book examination and a dissertation and formatively assessed through problem exercises and a progress test. The open-book examination will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acquisition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem-solving skills. The dissertation will provide the means for students to demonstrate skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation.
  • The problem exercises and progress test 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 38 2 per week 1 Hour 38
Workshops 17 Weekly 1 Hour 17
Preparation and Reading 145
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Open-book examination Component Weighting: 80%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Open-book examination 100% None
Component: Dissertation Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Dissertation 1500 words 100% None

Formative Assessment:

Problem exercises and self-assessment; one 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