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PHYS 360:  Modern Physics
Fall 2018

Lectures:  10:20-11:55am TTh,  Mainiero 60

Labs:  2:00-5:20pm Thursday, Mainiero 60

Instructor:  David Chappell, Ph.D.

Office:  MA 64

Phone:  909-448-4598

email:  dchappell at

course webpage:


Course Description

This course follows the development of two revolutions in physics that took place at the beginning of the 20th Century: relativity and quantum mechanics. We will survey the experiments whose surprising results shook the foundation of classical, Newtonian Physics and forced physicists to adopt counter-intuitive views of the nature of space, time, matter and energy.




Relativity was developed almost entirely by Albert Einstein. The Special Theory of Relativity, published in 1905, states that space and time (and matter and energy) are interconnected and may be transformed into one another. The effects of Special Relativity are largest when speeds approach the speed of light and subtle effects can be measured for even for more modest motions. General Relativity extends Special Relativity to accelerating reference frames and provides a theoretical explanation of gravity.

Quantum Mechanics was developed by dozens of physicists over several decades to explain the behavior of matter and energy on an atomic scale. It is the most successful and far-reaching theory of all of physics, and has been estimated to drive approximately 1/3 of the U.S. economy. Applications of quantum mechanics include lasers, semiconductors, solar cells, the atomic bomb, atomic energy, medical imaging, superconductors and particle physics.

Quantum Mechanics was extended to include Special Relativity by Paul Dirac (and as a result lead to the discovery of anti-matter). The most promising attempt to unite General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics is String Theory, however, much work remains to be done.

You will study many of the theories and experiments covered in this class in more detail in classes such as Quantum Mechanics, Thermal Physics, Solid State Physics and Astrophysics.




PHYS 203, PHYS 204, MATH 202


Required Text

K.S. Krane, Modern Physics, (John Wiley & Sons, 2012), 3rd ed. ISBN-10 1118061144


Supplemental Texts

H.T. Milhorn, The History of Physics, (Virtual Book Worm, College Station, TX, 2008).

P.A. Tipler and R.A. Llewellyn, Modern Physics, (W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, 2012), 5th ed.



homework, quizzes and participation20%
3 exams (15% each)45%
final exam (cumulative)20%




A 5-minute quiz will be given at the beginning of most classes. The quiz will cover the assigned readings for that day. It is very important that you read the book and lecture notes before coming to class. No makeup quizzes will be given, but the lowest two quiz scores will be dropped.



A large part of this class will involve the discussion of new ideas in physics that arose during the 20th century. Students are expected to read the assigned readings before coming to class and participate in the class discussions.




Homework will be assigned each class period. Assignments are due at the beginning of class. You are expected to write your solutions neatly and in an organized fashion that conveys your reasoning and provides a complete picture of how you arrived at your results. Homework problems that are illegible or excessively disorganized will be given zero credit. You are encouraged to work with your classmates on homework assignments, but you are expected to write up you final solutions on your own. Homework will be graded and returned the next class session. If you are not satisfied with your grade, you may rework your solutions using the feedback provided and resubmit your work to be regraded. You may repeat this process as many times as you like up until the next exam.



Math and Graphing Software

Throughout this course you will need to plot mathematical functions and use software to assist with pesky math problems. You may use any mathematical software package you like. Here are a few packages available either on the La Verne lab computers or physics laptops:



Exams will be conducted in-class and will cover all the material in the course including lectures, assigned readings in the textbook, homework, and labs.



Famous Physicists

This course follows the historical development of modern physics. We will get to know a number of famous physicists whose names are now associated with pivotal experiments and theories. Understanding the context of these revolutionary ideas and discoveries will be of the utmost importance. Why were the results of a particular experiment so unexpected and confusing at the time? What did classical physics predict should happen? How did these experiments lead to a new theoretical understanding of our universe? The following resources may be helpful:



Class Presentations

Throughout the semester, you will have the opportunity to research famous physicists and experiments and make PowerPoint presentations to the class. Here are the guidelines for the presentations:

  • Each presentation should be 5 minutes in length
  • Topics to cover include:  brief biography of the physicist, major contributions in physics, and a more detailed explanation of at least one contribution related to our class.
  • The presentation should also discuss the context in which the physicist was working. What were the dominant views held at the time? How did this physicist help to change those views?
  • PowerPoint presentations should include a title slide, a references slide and 5-7 content slides.
  • PowerPoint slides should include figures, images and diagrams that help communicate your content. They should be visually engaging (not just lines of text). Font size of text should be between 32-36, so that it is clearly readable. Do not clutter the slide with superfluous visual effects that do not contribute to the content. The viewer should be engaged by what you are communicating, not fancy effects.




You will conduct six labs throughout the semester. During lab you will record your data and calculations in a bound lab book. Lab reports will be prepared electronically and have a standardized format similar to the labs you did in PHYS 203 and 204. Lab reports are due two weeks after the date when the lab is assigned. Lab reports turned in after the due date will be marked down 5% for each day they are late. As in a professional research report, the discussion and interpretation of results is of the utmost importance, as is the careful presentation of data.



Modern Physics in the News

I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears alert for news articles related to modern physics. The following websites have weekly news articles related to research in the high tech world, quantum physics, particle physics, astrophysics, etc.

Schedule:  here