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Physics is many things to many people. It is a doorway to some of the most beautiful and profound phenomena in the universe, e.g. black holes, supernovae, Bose-Einstein condensates, superconductors. It is a driver of lifestyle-changing technology, e.g. engines, electricity, and transistors. And it is a powerful way of perceiving and analysing problems that can be applied in various domains, both within and outside standard physics. The beauty and profundity of the phenomena studied by physicists offer romance and excite passion; the utility of its discoveries and the power of its methods arouse interest. These methods can be very intricate and demanding: theoretical physics requires a skilful combination of physical and mathematical thinking, and experimental physics requires some of this along with the ability to turn tentative ideas into physical devices that can put those ideas to the test. The successful practice of physics demands mathematical and mechanical adroitness, persistence, and great imagination. Fortunately, the physicist’s imagination is nourished not just by physics but also by other areas of human enquiry and thought, of the kind that an Ashoka undergraduate is expected to encounter.
With all of this in mind, the physics programme has been designed to: (i) allow students wishing to major in physics to discover real physics and make a wise choice, in the first two semesters; (ii) provide a thorough training in fundamental physics, in the following three semesters; and (iii) bring together everything learnt earlier, and give students the option to pursue more advanced courses in physics or branch out into other areas, in the final semester. The idea is to accompany those wishing to become professional physicists as they take the first steps in that direction, and to introduce everyone who goes through the programme to the physicist’s way of thinking.
Mathematical level: All theory courses are calculus-based. The level of mathematical sophistication will increase progressively. The mathematical-physics courses will be application-oriented rather than proof-oriented.
Labs: All lab courses will involve extensive use of instruments to make observations. These experiments will in general illustrate ideas studied in the accompanying theory courses.
The use of computers: All theory courses will include computational exercises, generally using the programming language Python. Labs will also require the use of computers.
Duration:
Theory courses: Two lectures a week each lasting 1.5 hours.
Laboratory courses: One 3-hour lab session per week (plus one optional 3-hour lab session for students to complete their work.)
Number of courses required to major in physics: 15
Of these, the 13 courses of the core curriculum are mandatory, and 2 electives may be chosen of those offered. Students are of course free to take as many of the electives as they wish.
Number of courses required to minor in physics: 6
Of these the two gateway courses – Mathematical Physics I: Mathematical and Computational Toolkit and Lab 1: An Introduction to Physics through Experiments – are compulsory.
At least two more courses should be taken from among the core courses offered in semesters 3, 4, and 5, provided appropriate prerequisites have been satisfied for these courses.
The remaining two may be either other compulsory courses offered or elective courses offered by the Physics Department or cross-listed with Physics, provided appropriate prerequisites have been satisfied.
Number of courses required for a concentration in physics: 4
Of these the two gateway courses – Mathematical Physics I: Mathematical and Computational Toolkit and Lab 1: An Introduction to Physics through Experiments – are compulsory.
At least two more courses should be taken from among the core courses offered in semesters 3, 4, and 5, provided appropriate prerequisites have been satisfied for these courses.
Semesters 1 and 2: Discovering College-level Physics
Students wishing to major in physics are expected to take, in the first semester, the introductory course in calculus offered by the Mathematics Department.
The physics-major sequence begins in semester 2, with two courses, one in theoretical physics and the other in experimental physics. The first purpose of these courses is to provide an experience of college-level physics on the basis of which a student can decide whether or not to major in physics, i.e. they are gateway courses. The second purpose of these courses is to serve as an introduction to the physicist’s way of thinking about problems and solving them, something that has proved useful not just to physicists but also to those in other disciplines that make use of quantitative methods and experiments, e.g. mathematics, computer science, economics, psychology, and biology.
Semesters 3, 4, and 5: The Physics Core
The physics courses in semesters 3, 4, and 5 form the core of the physicist’s undergraduate canon: Mathematical Physics II, Classical Mechanics, Electricity & Magnetism in Light of Relativity, Thermal & Statistical Physics, Oscillations, Waves & Optics, Quantum Mechanics I, and Statistical Mechanics, and three accompanying labs. Anyone majoring in physics is expected to be thorough in these areas.
Semester 6: Choosing a Direction and Bringing Physics Together
In semester 6 there will one required course that bring together all the physics learnt in earlier semesters, so that the student leaves with a view of physics as an integrated subject: The Physics of Matter. In addition there will be one more elective course.
Recommended Additional Courses:
Linear Algebra, offered by the Department of Mathematics.
Course Type | Semester 1 | Semester 2 | Semester 3 | Semester 4 | Semester 5 | Semester 6 |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
Core Theory Courses | Mathematical Physics I | Classical Mechanics | Thermal Physics | Statistical Mechanics | Physics of Matter | |
Electricity & Magnetism | Waves & Optics | Quantum Mechanics | ||||
Mathematical Physics II | ||||||
Core Lab Courses | Lab I | Lab II | Lab III | Lab IV | ||
Physics Electives Critical Thinking Seminars Other Courses |
Computational Physics (Elective) |
Quantum Mechanics II (Elective) |
||||
Order of Magnitude Physics (CTS) | Biophysics (Elective) |
Mathematical Physics III (Elective) |
||||
Calculus I (Mathematics) |
Linear Algebra (Mathematics) |
Lab V: Electronics (Elective) |
||||
Theme | Discovering Physics | The Physics Core | Choosing a Focus |
PHY101 – Mathematical Physics I: Mathematical & Computational Toolkit
This course aims to familiarise the student with a variety of mathematical techniques which every student of physics should be conversant with. Having taken the course you should be comfortable with casting a wide variety of physics problems in mathematical language and being able to analyse and solve them subsequently. The course will also include an introduction to programming with Python. Within the physics curriculum at Ashoka university, this course is an essential prerequisite for Classical Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism in Light of Relativity offered in the third semester.
PHY102 – Physics Lab I: An Introduction to Physics through Experiments
The goal of this introductory lab is to help students develop the skills needed for experimental physics. Students will be introduced to the basic concepts of data collection, analysis, and interpretation over the span of the course by working on different experimental problems which have been carefully selected to represent different branches of physics.
PHY203 – Classical Mechanics
Newtonian mechanics and an introduction to Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics. Newtonian mechanics is, both historically and otherwise, the starting point of all of physics. The Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations of classical mechanics allow a more profound vision of the subject while also introducing the language in which much of higher-level theoretical physics is expressed.
PHY204 – Electricity & Magnetism in Light of Relativity
The beautiful theory of electricity and magnetism is, with classical mechanics, the heart of classical physics. What is often not appreciated at the undergraduate level is that electricity and magnetism are related in a way that reveals the structure of space-time. In this course relativity will be used from the beginning to relate electric and magnetic fields, so that their unity, as components of the electromagnetic field are revealed and used in the study of Maxwell’s Equations.
PHY202 – Physics Lab II: Classical Mechanics and Electromagnetism
Designed to accompany the theory courses Classical Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism in Light of Relativity, this laboratory course explores their experimental foundations.
PHY201 – Mathematical Physics II
This mathematical physics course aims to be an introduction to differential equations. Besides standard topics in ordinary and partial differential equations, nonlinear dynamical systems will be studied and nonlinear ODEs will be analysed using geometric and computational tools.
PHY205 – Oscillations, Waves & Optics
Oscillatory phenomena appear in all areas of physics, both classical and quantum (to the point where a famous textbook begins by saying that the domain of physics is all phenomena that can be reduced to coupled oscillators). The methods used to study oscillatory motion are powerful and wide-ranging in their utility.
PHY206/BIO302 – Thermal & Statistical Physics (cross-listed with the Department of Biology)
An integrated approach to thermodynamics, kinetic theory, and basic statistical mechanics. Physical quantities like temperature, entropy, and free energy, and phenomena like heat flow make sense only in systems with large numbers of particles. The basic methods used to study such systems will be established in this course. This course will also be useful to biology majors; the mathematical pre-requisites have been adjusted accordingly.
PHY207 – Physics Lab III: Optics, Oscillations & Thermodynamics
Designed to accompany the theory courses Thermal and Statistical Physics and Oscillations, Waves & Optics, this laboratory course explores their experimental foundations.
Quantum Mechanics I
There are several approaches to teaching quantum mechanics at the undergraduate level. In this course, a modern approach using vector spaces and spin-½ particles will be followed. This approach takes one straight to the heart of the quantum conundrum and reveals the subject in all its extraordinariness, without in any way being inaccessible to those who have some training in linear algebra and partial differential equations.
Statistical Mechanics
Statistical mechanics allows one to solve problems involving large numbers of particles by exploiting statistical regularities. When combined with quantum mechanics, it helps physicists to understand some of the most fascinating phenomena in the universe.
Physics Lab IV: Quantum Mechanics & Statistical Mechanics
Designed to accompany the two theory courses Quantum Mechanics and Statistical Mechanics, this laboratory course explores their experimental foundations.
The Physics of Matter
In real physical systems the various areas of fundamental physics that are studied separately in semesters 3-5 are usually required all at once. The purpose of this course is to show how fundamental physics can be used to study a number of interesting phenomena.
Computational Physics
This course focuses on developing an algorithmic approach to problem solving, and on the translation of algorithms to working computer codes. The course starts from the basics of computations and errors, and then discusses both deterministic problems and those involving random numbers, like Monte Carlo.
PHY301/BIO211 – Biophysics (cross-listed with the Department of Biology)
The main goal of this course is to give students a basic idea on how biophysics is important to understand biology. We will start with the general introduction to physical chemistry and biomolecules. Then progress to dealing with biological reactions and interactions, functional aspects of various bio-molecules particularly ion channels, ATP synthases and motor proteins; biophysical techniques: electrophoresis, diffusion, sedimentation, light scattering; chemical kinetics, spectroscopy, light and electron microscopy, mass spectrometry, crystallography, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. Our primary objective is to not only develop the theoretical knowledge but also nurture the analytical and expression skills within the students.
Quantum Mechanics II
A second course quantum mechanics is advisable for those wishing to pursue theoretical physics.
Mathematical Physics III
This mathematical physics course will develop the use of complex analysis in physics. It will develop the subject from an application point of view, and discuss its applications in Fourier transforms, Laplace transforms, Green's functions, differential equations, special functions, etc. It will be useful for those wishing to pursue theoretical physics.
Physics Lab V: Electronics
Students will be introduced to the theory and practice of designing analog and digital electronic circuits. The course will cover logic gates, the implementation of truth tables, and the basics of amplifiers and oscillators.
Mathematical Physics IV
This course will cover tensor analysis, the mathematical structure needed for Einstein's general theory of relativity; and group theory, the mathematics in light of which many of the symmetries of classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, relativity, crystal structure, etc become clear.
CT165 – Order-of-Magnitude Physics
Order-of-Magntiude Physics is a Critical Thinking Seminar in which simple examples will be used to illustrate the conceptual lenses through which a typical physicist looks at phenomena and the associations that arise naturally in her mind when she does that. In other words, students will learn to see the world through the eye of a physicist.
Students will be encouraged not to remember what they know but to re-examine it. A little knowledge of physics and mathematics may be helpful, but too much knowledge is likely to be a hindrance. Students will be required to solve problems and make presentations in the class.
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