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Undergraduate and Graduate Studies

Course Descriptions

Physics Undergraduate Courses

All undergraduate level physics courses currently offered are listed below (units shown in brackets). Please note that some courses are not offered every semester, for an up-to-date listing of current class schedules students should consult the UC Merced registrar.


PHYS 005: Energy and the Environment [3]

This is an introductory course on energy and the environment. It examines different types of renewable and nonrenewable energy sources and the environmental effects of using these energy resources. The course will cover environmental, economic and sustainability considerations associated with fossil fuels and alternative energy sources. Normal Letter Grade only.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 006: The Cosmos, Science and You [4]

Introduction to physics and astronomy for non science and engineering majors. Topics include: Scientific method as illustrated by astronomical discoveries about the Cosmos; and the concepts of matter and energy; and the formation of the Universe, galaxies, stars and the Solar System. Throughout the course our physical connection and dependence the Cosmos will be illustrated using new discoveries in astrophysics, astrochemistry and astrobiology.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 008: Introductory Physics I [4]

Introduction to classical and contemporary physics. Intended for students with preparation in calculus and algebra. Topics include introduction to forces, kinetics, equilibria, fluids, waves and heat. Experiments and computer exercises are integrated into the course content. Prerequisite: MATH 21 or ICP 1A. 

PHYS 009: Introductory Physics II [4]

Continuation of introduction to classical and contemporary physics. Topics include introduction to electricity, magnetism, electromagnetic waves, optics and modern physics. Experiments and computer exercises are integrated into the course content. Prerequisite: PHYS 8 and MATH 21 or ICP 1A. 

PHYS 010: Introductory Physics III [4]

An introduction to developments in modern physics over the last 150 years that have radically altered our view of nature. Particular emphasis is placed on relativity, quantum theory and thermodynamics with applications to atoms, molecules, solids and light. Prerequisite: PHYS 08, PHYS 018, or ICP 1A and ICP 1B. Corequisite: PHYS 09 or PHYS 19 (may be taken concurrently or previously). 

PHYS 12: Light, Color, Vision [4]

Introduction to the physics, chemistry and biology of light and vision for nonscientists. Covers basic optics, optical instruments, photography, light and color in nature, human and animal vision, visual perception and optical illusions and aspects of modern technology including fiber optics and lasers. Includes classroom demonstrations and out-of-class observational exercises.  

PHYS 018: Introductory Physics I for Biological Sciences [4]

First introductory physics course for biological science majors. Topics include vectors, kinematics, Newton's Laws, Work, Energy and Conservation, Torque and rotation, Fluids and Elasticity, Oscillations and Waves all with an emphasis on biological applications. Prerequisite: MATH 21. Normal Letter Grade only. 

PHYS 019: Introductory Physics II for Biological Sciences [4]

The physical principles of electromagnetism and thermodynamics are introduced, examined and discussed in the context of biological applications. Prerequisite: PHYS 8 and MATH 21 or ICP 1A. 

PHYS 90X: Freshman Seminar [1]

Examination of a topic in physics. May be repeated for credit.  

PHYS 95: Lower Division Undergraduate Research [1-5]

Supervised research. Permission of instructor required.  

PHYS 98: Lower Division Directed Group Study [1-5]

Permission of instrucor required. Pass/No Pass grading only.  

PHYS 099: Lower Division Individual Study [1-5]

Permission of instructor required. Pass/No Pass grading only.  

PHYS 104: Biophysics [4]

This course aims to give students an understanding of relevant physical principles for biological systems, introduce them to experimental and theoretical techniques of biophysics and to communicate the excitement of cutting-edge biophysics research. Topics include diffusion, fluids, entropic forces, motor proteins, enzymes, nerve impulses, networks and evolution.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 105: Analytic Mechanics Core [4]

This course provides a rigorous, mathematical foundation in classical mechanics. Topics includeNewtonian mechanics; motion of particles in one, two and three dimensions; centralforce motion; moving coordinate systems; mechanics of continuous media; oscillations; normalmodes; Lagrange?s equations; and Hamiltonian methods. Prerequisite: PHYS 8 and MATH 22.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 108: Thermal Physics Core (4)


PHYS 109: Soft Matter Physics (3)

An introduction to the physics of soft materials designed for upper level undergraduate students in physics. In this course we will use a physics based approach to study the structure and assembly of a variety materials including liquid crystals, polymers, colloidal systems and surfactants including biological examples. Prerequisite: PHYS 108

PHYS 110: Electrodynamics Core [4]

Intermediate Electrodynamics. Topics covered include vector calculus including divergence, curland vector field theorems; Electrostatics including field, potential, work and energy; Laplace’s equation including solutions in different geometries, separating variables, method of images andmultipole expansions; Electrostatics in media including polarization and dielectrics (linear/nonlinear); Magnetostatics including the Biot-Savart Law, Ampere’s Law and vector potentials;Magnetic fields in matter including magnetization, linear and non-linear media; andElectrodynamics including EMF, induction and Maxwell’s equations as well as conservation ofcharge, energy and momentum in EM fields. Prerequisite: PHYS 9 and MATH 23. [Syllabus]  [Syllabus]

PHYS 111: Electromagnetic Radiation Minicourse [2]

This half-semester minicourse covers plane electromagnetic waves including polarization,reflection, refraction and dispersion. Electromagnetic waves in wave guides and cavities will alsobe covered. Additional topics include radiation, both dipole and multipole as well as scatteringand diffraction Prerequisite: PHYS 110 and PHYS 122.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 112: Statistical Mechanics Core [4]

This course covers the fundamental concepts of statistical mechanics, which form themicroscopic basis for thermodynamics. Topics include applications to macroscopic systems,condensed states, phase transformations, quantum distributions, elementary kinetic theory oftransport processes and fluctuation phenomena. Prerequisite: PHYS 10 and MATH 22. [Syllabus]  [Syllabus]


PHYS 116: Mathematical Methods [4]

Covers essential mathematical methods for physicists, with an emphasis on Linear Algebra, Partial Differential Equation, and Fourier Transform. The subjects covered in this course are the standard tools for quantum mechanics, classical mechanics, and electrodynamics. This course satisfies the Physics Programmatic Learning Outcomes #2: Mathematical Expertise. 

Prerequisite: MATH 023 and MATH 024 and PHYS 009Normal Letter Grade only. Discussion included.


PHYS 120: Physics of Materials [4]

Electrical, optical and magnetic properties of solids. Free electron model, introduction to band theory. Crystal structures and lattice vibrations. Mechanisms and characterization of electrical conductivity, optical absorption, magnetic behavior, dielectric properties and p-n junctions. Prerequisite: PHYS 9 and CHEM 112.  

PHYS 122: Waves Minicourse [2]

This half-semester minicourse covers scalar wave phenomena and mathermatical methods inPhysics. Prerequisite: PHYS 10 and MATH 24.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 124: Rotational Mechanics Minicourse [2]

This half-semester minicourse covers classical and quantum rotational dynamics. Classicaltopics include rigid body rotations, tops and gyroscopes. Quantum topics include molecularrotational spectra, nuclear magnetic resonance and the hydrogen atom. The connectionbetween classical and quantum angular momentum is emphasized Prerequisite: PHYS 137 and PHYS 105.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 126: Special Relativity Minicourse [2]

This half-semester minicourse introduces the exciting and thought-provoking physics of specialrelativity. Topics include hallmark experiments; Lorentz transformations; time dilation andlength contraction; relativistic optics; tensor techniques; mass, energy and momentum;relativistic mechanics; and relativisitic electricity and magnetism. Prerequisite: PHYS 9.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 129: Particle Physics [3]

Tools of particle and nuclear physics. Properties, classification and interaction of particles including the quark-gluon constituents of hadrons. High-energy phenomena analyzed by quantum mechanical methods. Quantum number determination of resonances, hadron structure functions, introductory electro- weak theory with Dirac matrices, Standard Model (overview), grand unified theories. Prerequisite: PHYS 136.  

PHYS 137: Quantum Mechanics Core [4]

This course covers the fundamentals of quantum mechanics, which forms the foundation of ourmodern understanding of matter at the atomic and molecular level. Topics include theSchroedinger equation, Hilbert spaces, the operator formalism, the Heisenberg UncertaintyPrinciple, tunneling, pertubation and WKB theory, fermions and bosons. Prerequisite: PHYS 105, MATH 23 and MATH 24. 

PHYS 141: Condensed Matter Physics [3]

Classification of solids and their bonding; electromagnetic, elastic and particle waves in periodic lattices; thermal, magnetic and dielectric properties of solids; energy bands of metals and semiconductors; superconductivity; magnetism; ferroelectricity; magnetic resonance. Prerequisite: PHYS 137.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 144: Modern Atomic Physics [4]

The description and calculation of the properties of atomic energy levels based on the centralfield approximation. Modern experimental methods in atomic physics and some of theimportant physics obtained from them. Examples include magnetic resonance, lasers andmasers, ion and netural atom traps, optical pumping and beam foil spectroscopy. Prerequisite: PHYS 124.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 148: Modern Optics [4]

Geometrical optics, radiative transfer, partial coherence, lasers, quantum optics. Prerequisite: PHYS 111.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 150: Energy Sources [3]

Fossil energy resources, nuclear energy, solar energy and other renewable energy sources (wind, hydro, geothermal). Prerequisite: MATH 22 or PHYS 9.  

PHYS 151: Solar Energy [3]

The solar energy resource, modeling and simulation, thermal collectors, photovoltaic collectors, solar energy systems, special applications (solar lasers, material processing) Prerequisite: MATH 22 or PHYS 9.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 159: Particle Physics [4]

Tools of particle and nuclear physics. Properties, classification and interactions of particles including the quark-gluon constituents of hadrons. High-energy phenomena analyzed by quantum mechanical methods. Quantum number determination of resonances, hardon structure functions, introductory electroweak theory with dirac matrices, Standard Model (overview), grand unified theories. Prerequisite: PHYS 137.  

PHYS 160: Modern Physics Lab [4]

Provides a rigorous foundation in physics laboratory techniques, with an emphasis on hands-on laboratory training. The nature of the experiments available to students will cover a range of modern topics, from nonlinear dynamics and chaos through nonlinear optics and spectroscopy. Emphasis is placed on error estimation, data analysis and interpretation. Prerequisite: PHYS 10.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 161: Astrophysics and Cosmology [3]

Elements of general relativity. Physics of pulsars, cosmic rays, black holes. The cosmological distance scale, elementary cosmological models, properties of galaxies and quasars. The mass density and age of the universe. Evidence for dark matter and concepts of the early universe and of galaxy formation. Reflections on astrophysics as a probe of the extreme of physics. Prerequisite: MATH 22 and PHYS 9.  [Syllabus]

PHYS 195: Upper Division Undergraduate Research [1-5]

Permission of instructor required.  

PHYS 198: Upper Division Directed Group Study [1-5]

Permission of instructor required. Pass/No Pass grading only.