Modern Physics

Modern Physics Course Materials

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Modern Physics is the third semester in our three-semester sequence of introductory physics courses. It comes in two flavors at CU: a course for engineering students (PHYS 2130), and one for physics majors (PHYS 2170). These course materials have been used in both environments.

These materials were first developed and used by Carl Wieman, Kathy Perkins, and Sam McKagan in Fall 2005 and Spring 2006. There have seen significant additions and improvements over the years (see below), and the latest versions include the following topics:

  • Special relativity
  • Photoelectric effect
  • Atomic spectra and lasers
  • Bohr and deBroglie models
  • Stern-Gerlach, entanglement & single-quanta experiments
  • Matter waves and the Schrödinger equation
  • Tunneling, α-decay, STM's
  • Hydrogen atom and molecular bonding
  • Conductivity, semiconductors, BEC

Special relativity was added in Fall 2007 by John Bohn and Noah Finkelstein - these SR materials are based on active-learning principles, but not specific research into student difficulties with special relativity. Several faculty members at CU have contributed to their expansion and revision since then, including: Chuck Rogers, Thomas Schibli, and Dan Dessau. They were further modified in Fall 2010 by Charles Baily and Noah Finkelstein to include contemporary research on the foundations of quantum mechanics (e.g. single-quanta experiments) and more explicit treatment of interpretive themes (indeterminacy, wave-particle duality, the physical reality of the wave function). Further details on the development process and education research surrounding these course materials can be found in the Associated Research and About the Course tabs.

The text in the course description explains much of the transformation process and rationale behind it. The first part (2006) reports on the state of affairs following the first year of the process, after the course had been taught twice (in the FA05 and SP06 semesters). The second part details additional changes that were made to the materials in 2010 as part of Charles Baily's dissertation project on quantum perspectives.

How to obtain materials

The most recent versions of these modern physics course materials:

  • Colorado School of Mines - Spring 2011 [Baily] (includes Special Relativity)
  • University of Colorado - Fall 2010 [Baily, Finkelstein] (no SR)
  • University of British Columbia - Summer 2009 [Wieman] (no SR)
...are available as a package in the Download All Materials tab at the top of this page, and below. They can also be conveniently found in the Browse Materials tab, where active links to the lecture slides, clicker questions, PhET simulations and homework problems are embedded in the course calendar for SP11, so that it's easily seen when topics/problems were covered/assigned. Passwords for any protected links on this site can be accessed by contacting .

Please email for a password to the homework and exam solutions. [58 MB]

Link to the Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey (QMCS) - developed by Sam McKagan with Carl Wieman.

Instructors and education researchers are free to use and adapt these materials for non-commercial purposes, according to the Creative Commons license below. We ask for your cooperation in not making any solutions you may create for the homework (and exam problems, clicker questions, etc…) available on the open web, out of respect for instructors and students at other institutions, and for maintaining the integrity of our research.

Supporting Publications

"Teaching Quantum Interpretations: Revisiting the goals and practices of introductory quantum physics courses"
Charles Baily and Noah D. Finkelstein, Phys. Rev. ST: Phys. Ed. Res. 11, 020124 (2015). pdf  PRST-PER

"Reforming a large lecture modern physics course for engineering majors using a PER-based design."
S. B. McKagan, K. K. Perkins, and C. E. Wieman, PERC Proceedings 2006, AIP Press (2006). pdf

For other supporting research documents, see the Associated Research tab.

Other Resources

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Works borrowed or adapted from others are subject to their respective licenses.
This material is based upon work supported by the University of Colorado, The Hewlett Foundation, & NSF CAREER Grant No. 0448176.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.