PHYS 151(F) Seminar in Modern Physics (Q)

Why does a hot coal glow red rather than blue or green or some other color? Remarkably, this simple question could not be answered before the year 1900, because the answer depends on a radical assumption introduced in that year by Max Planck. His work on thermal radiation marked the beginning of a revolutionary era in the history of physics that culminated in a new framework for our understanding of the physical world. The two pillars of this framework, quantum mechanics and relativity, together with the ideas of statistical physics that allow us to apply quantum mechanics to macroscopic objects (such as hot coals), constitute the core of this course. As we study this material, we will also be exploring the process of research in physics, partly by doing some experiments of our own. We will discuss the interaction between experiment and theory, as well as the roles of simplicity, elegance and unity in the search for explanations. This is a small seminar designed for first-year students who have placed out of Physics 141. Format: lecture/discussion, three hours per week; laboratory, every other week. Evaluation will be based on class participation, labs, weekly problem sets, an oral presentation, two hour-exams and a final exam, all of which have a substantial quantitative component. Prerequisites: placement by the department (see advanced placement above). Students may take either Physics 142 or Physics 151 but not both. Enrollment limit: 20 (expected: 14).