Classical Mechanics and Electromagnetism
The first year of a two-year course in introductory classical and modern physics. Topics: Newtonian mechanics in Ph 1 a; electricity and magnetism, and special relativity, in Ph 1 b, c. Emphasis on physical insight and problem solving. Ph 1 b, c is divided into two tracks: the Practical Track emphasizing practical electricity, and the Analytic Track, which teaches and uses methods of multivariable calculus. Students enrolled in the Practical Track are encouraged to take Ph 8 bc concurrently. Students will be given information helping them to choose a track at the end of fall term.
Waves, Quantum Mechanics, and Statistical Physics
An introduction to several areas of physics including applications in modern science and engineering. Topics include discrete and continuous oscillatory systems, wave mechanics, applications in telecommunications and other areas (first term); foundational quantum concepts, the quantum harmonic oscillator, the Hydrogen atom, applications in optical and semiconductor systems (second term); ensembles and statistical systems, thermodynamic laws, applications in energy technology and other areas (third term). Although best taken in sequence, the three terms can be taken independently.
Introductory Physics Laboratory
Introduction to experimental physics and data analysis, with techniques relevant to all fields that deal in quantitative data. Specific physics topics include ion trapping, harmonic motion, mechanical resonance, and precision interferometry. Broader skills covered include introductions to essential electronic equipment used in modern research labs, basic digital data acquisition and analysis, statistical interpretation of quantitative data, professional record keeping and documentation of experimental research, and an introduction to the Mathematica programming language. Only one term may be taken for credit.
First-Year Seminar: Astrophysics and Cosmology with Open Data
Analog Electronics for Physicists
A fast-paced laboratory course covering the design, construction, and testing of practical analog and interface circuits, with emphasis on applications of operational amplifiers. No prior experience with electronics is required. Basic linear and nonlinear elements and circuits are studied, including amplifiers, filters, oscillators and other signal conditioning circuits. Each week includes a 45 minute lecture/recitation and a 2½ hour laboratory. The course culminates in a two-week project of the student's choosing.
A laboratory introduction to experimental physics and data analysis. Experiments use research-grade equipment and techniques to investigate topics in classical electrodynamics, resonance phenomena, waves, and other physical phenomena. Students develop critical, quantitative evaluations of the relevant physical theories; they work individually and choose which experiments to conduct. Each week includes a 30-minute individual recitation and a 3 hour laboratory.
A laboratory course continuing the study of experimental physics introduced in Physics 6. The course introduces some of the equipment and techniques used in quantum, condensed matter, nuclear, and particle physics. The menu of experiments includes some classics which informed the development of the modern quantum theory, including electron diffraction, the Stern-Gerlach experiment, Compton scattering, and the Mössbauer Effect. The course format follows that of Physics 6: students work individually and choose which experiments to conduct, and each week includes a 30 minute individual recitation and a 3 hour laboratory.
Experiments in Electromagnetism
A two-term sequence of experiments that parallel the material of Ph 1 bc. It includes measuring the force between wires with a homemade analytical balance, measuring properties of a 1,000-volt spark, and building and studying a radio-wave transmitter and receiver. The take-home experiments are constructed from a kit of tools and electronic parts. Measurements are compared to theoretical expectations.
First-Year Seminar: The Science of Music
This course will focus on the physics of sound, how musical instruments make it, and how we hear it, including readings, discussions, demonstrations, and student observations using sound analysis software. In parallel we will consider what differentiates music from other sounds, and its role psychically and culturally. Students will do a final project of their choice and design, with possibilities including analysis of recordings of actual musical instruments, instrument construction and analysis, and tests or surveys of people's abilities or preferences. First-year (undergraduate) only; limited enrollment.
Frontiers in Physics
Open for credit to first-year students and sophomores. Weekly seminar by a member of the physics department or a visitor, to discuss their research at an introductory level; the other class meetings will be used to explore background material related to seminar topics and to answer questions that arise. The course will also help students find faculty sponsors for individual research projects. Graded pass/fail.
First-Year Seminar: Beyond Physics
First-year students are offered the opportunity to enroll in this class by submitting potential solutions to problems posed in the fall term. A small number of solutions will be selected as winners, granting those students permission to register. This course demonstrates how research ideas arise, are evaluated, and tested and how the ideas that survive are developed. Weekly group discussions and one-on-one meetings with faculty allow students to delve into cutting edge scientific research. Ideas from physics are used to think about a huge swath of problems ranging from how to detect life on extrasolar planets to exploring the scientific underpinnings of science fiction in Hollywood films to considering the efficiency of molecular machines. Support for summer research at Caltech between an undergraduate's first and sophomore years will be automatic for students making satisfactory progress. Graded pass/fail. First-year (undergraduates) only; limited enrollment.
Waves, Quantum Physics, and Statistical Mechanics
A one-year course primarily for students intending further work in the physics option. Topics include classical waves; wave mechanics, interpretation of the quantum wave-function, one-dimensional bound states, scattering, and tunneling; thermodynamics, introductory kinetic theory, and quantum statistics.
Computational Physics Laboratory I
Introduction to the tools of scientific computing. Use of numerical algorithms and symbolic manipulation packages for solution of physical problems. Python for scientific programming, Mathematica for symbolic manipulation, Unix tools for software development. Offered first and second terms.
Computational Physics Laboratory II
Computational tools for data analysis. Use of python for accessing scientific data from the web. Bayesian techniques. Fourier techniques. Image manipulation with python. Offered second and third terms.
Computational Physics Laboratory III
Computational tools and numerical techniques. Applications to problems in classical mechanics. Numerical solution of 3-body and N-body systems. Monte Carlo integration. Offered third term only.
Caltech Physics League
This course serves as a physics club, meeting weekly to discuss and analyze real-world problems in physical sciences. A broad range of topics will be considered, such as energy production, space and atmospheric phenomena, astrophysics, nano-science, and others. Students will use basic physics knowledge to produce simplified (and perhaps speculative) models of complex natural phenomena. In addition to regular assignments, students will also compete in solving challenge problems each quarter with prizes given in recognition of the best solutions.
Oral and Written Communication
Provides practice and guidance in oral and written communication of material related to contemporary physics research. Students will choose a topic of interest, make presentations of this material in a variety of formats, and, through a guided process, draft and revise a technical or review article on the topic. The course is intended for senior physics majors. Fulfills the Institute scientific writing requirement.
Advanced Physics Laboratory
Advanced preparation for laboratory research. Dual emphasis on practical skills used in modern research groups and historic experiments that illuminate important theoretical concepts. Topics include advanced signal acquisition, conditioning, and data processing, introductions to widely-used optical devices and techniques, laser-frequency stabilization, and classic experiments such as magnetic resonance, optical pumping, and doppler-free spectroscopy. Fundamentals of vacuum engineering, thin-film sample growth, and cryogenics are occasionally offered. Special topics and student-led projects are available on request.
Senior Thesis (Experiment)
Senior Thesis (Theory)
Open only to senior physics majors. Theoretical research must be supervised by a faculty member, the student's thesis adviser. Two 15-minute presentations to the Physics Undergraduate Committee are required, one near the end of the first term and one near the end of third term. The written thesis must be completed and distributed to the committee one week before the second presentation. Students wishing assistance in finding an adviser and/or a topic for a senior thesis are invited to consult with the chair of the Physics Undergraduate Committee, or any other member of this committee. A grade will not be assigned in Ph 79 until the end of the third term. P grades will be given the first two terms, and then changed at the end of the course to the appropriate letter grade. Not offered on a pass/fail basis.
Emphasis will be on using basic physics to understand complicated systems. Examples will be selected from properties of materials, geophysics, weather, planetary science, astrophysics, cosmology, biomechanics, etc. Given in alternate years. Not offered 2023-24.
This course is designed primarily for junior and senior undergraduates in astrophysics and physics. It covers the physics of black holes and neutron stars, including accretion, particle acceleration and gravitational waves, as well as their observable consequences: (neutron stars) pulsars, magnetars, X-ray binaries, gamma-ray bursts; (black holes) X-ray transients, tidal disruption and quasars/active galaxies and sources of gravitational waves.
Analog Electronics for Physicists
A laboratory course intended for graduate students, it covers the design, construction, and testing of simple, practical analog and interface circuits useful for signal conditioning and experiment control in the laboratory. No prior experience with electronics is required. Students will use operational amplifiers, analog multipliers, diodes, bipolar transistors, and passive circuit elements. Each week includes a 45 minute lecture/recitation and a 2½ hour laboratory. The course culminates in a two-week project of the student's choosing.
Topics in Classical Physics
An intermediate course in the application of basic principles of classical physics to a wide variety of subjects. Ph 106 a will be devoted to mechanics, including Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations of mechanics, small oscillations and normal modes, central forces, and rigid-body motion. Ph 106 b will be devoted to fundamentals of electrostatics, magnetostatics, and electrodynamics, including boundary-value problems, multipole expansions, electromagnetic waves, and radiation. It will also cover special relativity. Ph 106 c will cover advanced topics in electromagnetism and an introduction to classical optics.
Classical and Laser Optics
Noise and Stochastic Resonance
The presence of noise in experimental systems is often regarded as a nuisance since it diminishes the signal to noise ratio thereby obfuscating weak signals or patterns. From a theoretical perspective, noise is also problematic since its influence cannot be elicited from deterministic equations but requires stochastic-based modeling which incorporates various types of noise and correlation functions. In general, extraction of embedded information requires that a threshold be overcome in order to outweigh concealment by noise. However, even below threshold, it has been demonstrated in numerous systems that external forcing coupled with noise can actually boost very weak signatures beyond threshold by a phenomenon known as stochastic resonance. Although it was originally demonstrated in nonlinear systems, more recent studies have revealed this phenomenon can occur in linear systems subject, for example, to color-based noise. Techniques for optimizing stochastic resonance are now revolutionizing modeling and measurement theory in many fields ranging from nonlinear optics and electrical systems to condensed matter physics, neurophysiology, hydrodynamics, climate research and even finance. This course will be conducted in survey and seminar style and is expected to appeal to theorists and experimentalists alike. Review of the current literature will be complimented by background readings and lectures on statistical physics and stochastic processes as needed. Part b not offered 2023-24.
Physics of Measurement
Physics of Measurement: Moonbounce and Beyond - Microwave Scattering for Communications and Metrology
This course is an introduction to quantum cryptography: how to use quantum effects, such as quantum entanglement and uncertainty, to implement cryptographic tasks with levels of security that are impossible to achieve classically. The course covers the fundamental ideas of quantum information that form the basis for quantum cryptography, such as entanglement and quantifying quantum knowledge. We will introduce the security definition for quantum key distribution and see protocols and proofs of security for this task. We will also discuss the basics of device-independent quantum cryptography as well as other cryptographic tasks and protocols, such as bit commitment or position-based cryptography. Not offered 2023-24.
Computational Physics Lab
Many of the recent advances in physics are attributed to progress in computational power. In the advanced computational lab, students will hone their computational skills by working through projects inspired by junior level classes (such as classical mechanics and E, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics and quantum many-body physics). This course will primarily be in Python and Mathematica. This course is offered pass/fail. Part a and part b not offered 2023-24.
A one-year course in quantum mechanics and its applications, for students who have completed Ph 12 or Ph 2. Wave mechanics in 3-D, scattering theory, Hilbert spaces, matrix mechanics, angular momentum, symmetries, spin-1/2 systems, approximation methods, identical particles, and selected topics in atomic, solid-state, nuclear, and particle physics.
Statistical Physics of Interacting Systems, Phases, and Phase Transitions
An advanced course in statistical physics that focuses on systems of interacting particles. Part a will cover interacting gases and spin models of magnetism, phase transitions and broken symmetries, classical field theories, and renormalization group approach to collective phenomena. Part b will introduce the path-integral based quantum to classical statistical mechanics mapping, as well as dualities and topological-defects descriptions, with applications to magnets, superfluids, and gauge field theories.
Mathematical Methods of Physics
Mathematical methods and their application in physics. First term focuses on group theoretic methods in physics. Second term includes analytic methods such as complex analysis, differential equations, integral equations and transforms, and other applications of real analysis. Third term covers probability and statistics in physics. Each part may be taken independently. Part c not offered 2023-24.
Introduction to Condensed Matter
This course is an introduction to condensed matter which covers electronic properties of solids, including band structures, and transport. In addition, the course will introduce topological band-structure effects, covering Berry phase, the Thouless pump, and topological insulators. Ph 135 is continued by Ph/APh 223 ab in the winter and spring terms.
Applications of Classical Physics
Applications of classical physics to topics of interest in contemporary "macroscopic" physics. Continuum physics and classical field theory; elasticity and hydrodynamics; plasma physics; magnetohydrodynamics; thermodynamics and statistical mechanics; gravitation theory, including general relativity and cosmology; modern optics. Content will vary from year to year, depending on the instructor. An attempt will be made to organize the material so that the terms may be taken independently. Ph 136 a will focus on thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, random processes, and optics. Ph 136 b will focus on fluid dynamics, MHD, turbulence, and plasma physics. Ph 136 c will cover an introduction to general relativity. Given in alternate years. Not offered 2023-24.
Atoms and Photons
Quantum Hardware and Techniques
This class covers multiple quantum technology platforms and related theoretical techniques, and will provide students with broad knowledge in quantum science and engineering. It will be split into modules covering various topics including solid state quantum bits, topological quantum matter, trapped atoms and ions, applications of near-term quantum computers, superconducting qubits. Topics will alternate from year to year.
Introduction to Elementary Particle Physics
This course provides an introduction to particle physics which includes Standard Model, Feynman diagrams, matrix elements, electroweak theory, QCD, gauge theories, the Higgs mechanism, neutrino mixing, astro-particle physics/cosmology, accelerators, experimental techniques, important historical and recent results, physics beyond the Standard Model, and major open questions in the field.
Fundamentals of Fluid Flow in Small Scale Systems
Research efforts in many areas of applied science and engineering are increasingly focused on microsystems involving active or passive fluid flow confined to 1D, 2D or 3D platforms. Intrinsically large ratios of surface to volume can incur unusual surface forces and boundary effects essential to operation of microdevices for applications such as optofluidics, bioengineering, green energy harvesting and nanofilm lithography. This course offers a concise treatment of the fundamentals of fluidic behavior in small scale systems. Examples will be drawn from pulsatile, oscillatory and capillary flows, active and passive spreading of liquid dots and films, thermocapillary and electrowetting systems, and instabilities leading to self-sustaining patterns. Students must have working knowledge of vector calculus, ODEs, basic PDEs, and complex variables. Not offered 2023-24.
Fundamentals of Energy and Mass Transport in Small Scale Systems
Reading and Independent Study
Research in Physics
Advanced Experimental Physics
A one-term laboratory course which will require students to design, assemble, calibrate, and use an apparatus to conduct a nontrivial experiment involving quantum optics or other current research area of physics. Students will work as part of a small team to reproduce the results of a published research paper. Each team will be guided by an instructor who will meet weekly with the students; the students are each expected to spend an average of 4 hours/week in the laboratory and the remainder for study and design. Enrollment is limited. Permission of the instructors required.
This course aims at a quantitative understanding of how the nervous system computes. The goal is to link phenomena across scales from membrane proteins to cells, circuits, brain systems, and behavior. We will learn how to formulate these connections in terms of mathematical models, how to test these models experimentally, and how to interpret experimental data quantitatively. The concepts will be developed with motivation from some of the fascinating phenomena of animal behavior, such as: aerobatic control of insect flight, precise localization of sounds, sensing of single photons, reliable navigation and homing, rapid decision-making during escape, one-shot learning, and large-capacity recognition memory. Not offered 2023-2024.
Special Topics in Physics
Topics will vary year to year and may include hands-on laboratory work, team projects and a survey of modern physics research.
Candidacy Physics Fitness
The course will review problem solving techniques and physics applications from the undergraduate physics college curriculum. In particular, we will touch on the main topics covered in the written candidacy exam: classical mechanics, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics and quantum physics, optics, basic mathematical methods of physics, and the physical origin of everyday phenomena.
An introduction and overview of modern topics in nuclear physics, including models and structure of nucleons, nuclei and nuclear matter, the electroweak interaction of nuclei, and nuclear/neutrino astrophysics.
Relativistic Quantum Field Theory
The theory of quantum information and quantum computation. Overview of classical information theory, compression of quantum information, transmission of quantum information through noisy channels, quantum error-correcting codes, quantum cryptography and teleportation. Overview of classical complexity theory, quantum complexity, efficient quantum algorithms, fault-tolerant quantum computation, physical implementations of quantum computation.
Advanced Condensed-Matter Physics
Advanced Mathematical Methods of Physics
Advanced topics in geometry and topology that are widely used in modern theoretical physics. Emphasis will be on understanding and applications more than on rigor and proofs. First term will cover basic concepts in topology and manifold theory. Second term will include Riemannian geometry, fiber bundles, characteristic classes, and index theorems. Third term will include anomalies in gauge-field theories and the theory of Riemann surfaces, with emphasis on applications to string theory. Part c not offered 2023-24.
Elementary Particle Theory
First term: Standard model, including electroweak and strong interactions, symmetries and symmetry breaking (including the Higgs mechanism), parton model and quark confinement, anomalies. Second and third terms: more on nonperturbative phenomena, including chiral symmetry breaking, instantons, the 1/N expansion, lattice gauge theories, and topological solitons. Other topics include topological field theory, precision electroweak, flavor physics, conformal field theory and the AdS/CFT correspondence, supersymmetry, Grand Unified Theories, and Physics Beyond the Standard Model. Part c not offered 2023-24.
Introduction to Topological Field Theory
Topological field theories are the simplest examples of quantum field theories which, in a sense, are exactly solvable and generally covariant. During the past twenty years they have been the main source of interaction between physics and mathematics. Thus, ideas from gauge theory led to the discovery of new topological invariants for 3-manifolds and 4-manifolds. By now, topological quantum field theory (TQFT) has evolved into a vast subject, and the main goal of this course is to give an accessible introduction to this elegant subject. Not offered 2023-24.
Theoretical Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics
Cosmology in an expanding universe, inflation, big bang nucleosynthesis, baryogenesis, neutrino and nuclear astrophysics. Second term: Cosmological perturbation theory and the cosmic microwave background, structure formation, theories of dark matter.
A systematic exposition of Einstein's general theory of relativity and its applications to gravitational waves, black holes, relativistic stars, causal structure of space-time, cosmology and brane worlds. Given in alternate years. Part c not offered 2023-24.
Special topics in Gravitational-wave Detection. Physics of interferometers, limits of measurement, coherent quantum feedback, noise, data analysis.
An introduction to independent research, including training in relevant professional skills and discussion of current Caltech research areas with Caltech faculty, postdocs, and students. One meeting per week plus student projects. Registration restricted to first-year graduate students in physics.
Introduction to String Theory
Ph 300 is elected in place of Ph 172 when the student has progressed to the point where research leads directly toward the thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Approval of the student's research supervisor and department adviser or registration representative must be obtained before registering. Graded pass/fail.