Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Foundations of Modern Physics

LEVEL 01 - Year 1 in Modular Undergraduate Course



DESCRIPTION Modern physics has undergone a number of revolutions in the last few centuries that have left an indelible mark on our understanding of the world. In this study-unit, students will be introduced to the theoretical and experimental breakthroughs that has shaped our view of modern physics. This will open with a brief history of physics which will also touch on the philosophical development of physics through the ages. Students will then be introduced to the four bases of modern physics, namely: Gravitation, Electromagnetism, particle physics and quantum physics. This will lay the foundations for the remainder of the course programme where each theme will be investigated in more technical detail.

Study-unit Aims:

The study-unit aims to familiarize students with the modern approach to physics and its underlying philosophical tenants. On this, a wide range of fundamental physics will then be explored which range over four key theme that have had a crucial impact to the development of our physical understanding of the Universe over the last few centuries, namely (i) Newtonian gravity and Einstein's construction of general relativity; (ii) The development that led to Maxwell's description of electromagnetism and its applications to antennas; (iii) The standard model of particle physics and its role in understanding the basis of stellar physics and nuclear power; (iv) The experimental basis for quantum physics and its application in modern technology.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

Introduction to Physics:
- Discuss historical and basic philosophical aspects of the development of physics;
- Appreciate epistemological differences in science;
- Understand the Copernican principle and its extension to the cosmological principle;
- Acquire an appreciation of the longstanding interplay between physics and mathematics;
- Describe historical examples of the relationship between the two, and how one has propelled the other;
- Discuss some philosophical questions that are raised by a number of ideas at the forefront of physics.

- Describe Newtonian gravity and its key predictions;
- Identify theoretical and observational problems in Newtonian gravity;
- Explain the weak and strong equivalence principles in gravity;
- Explain how the equivalence principle can be used to make predictions without a full theory of gravity;
- Describe Mach's principle and its origins;
- Describe how gravity fits into the standard model of cosmology.

- Appreciate the historical aspect of electomagnetism from Greek antiquity to Coulomb's Law, Gilbert, and Loadstone, among others;
- Understanding the contributions of Faraday and Maxwell to Electromagnetism;
- The electromagnetic spectrum - Ionizing and Non-ionizing radiation;
- The history of antennas and their applications;
- Applications of Electromagnetic waves.

Elementary Particles:
- Describe the standard model of particle physics;
- Understand the difference between matter and anti-matter;
- Explain the role of symmetry in particle physics;
- Explain how accelerators work to discover new particles;
- Explain nuclear processes that power the stars and nuclear power stations.

Quantum Physics:
- Wave-particle duality and Heisenberg indeterminacy principle;
- The double-slit and the Stern-Gerlach experiment: the role of measurements;
- A simple quantum system: the qubit and the entanglement between two qubits;
- Quantum technologies: teleportation, quantum computers and quantum cryptography;
- The relation between entropy and information: Maxwell’s demon and Landauer’s principle.

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

Introduction to Physics:
- Explain differences in epistemology, such as modelling and simulations (particularly as employed in certain areas of physics such as astrophysics) and laboratory experiments;
- Discuss some of the basic concepts in the philosophy of science, such as hypothesis testing and falsification;
- Provide a basic account of the history of discovery in physics.

- Use Newtonian gravity to derive its key predictions;
- Show how theoretical and observational problems emerge in Newtonian gravity;
- State the weak and strong equivalence principles;
- Connection the equivalence principle to make predictions;
- State Mach's principle and discuss its origins;
- Show the role of gravity in the standard model of cosmology.

- Appreciate the building blocks of Electricity and Magnetism as we know it today;
- Understand the differences between Ionizing and Non-ionizing radiation all of which form part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Appreciate how the improvement in understanding of electromagnetic waves clarified the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing;
- Appreciate the different antennas available and the history behind them;
- Be aware of the state of the art EM applications.

Elementary Particles:
- Classify particles types;
- Understand that leptons and quarks have corresponding anti-particles;
- Use principles of symmetry to explain the different groups of particles and their interactions;
- Use simple equations to describe how particles can be observed and new ones discovered in accelerators;
- Explain how nuclear reactors work and how fission and fusion can be harnessed for future energy;
- Explain how nuclear and particle processes fuel stars.

Quantum Physics:
- Fathom the importance of the measurement act in quantum mechanics;
- Manipulate via basic linear algebra tools the state of a qubit;
- Understand the concept of non-local quantum correlations (entanglement);
- Describe a basic quantum key distribution protocol;
- Quantify the content of information via entropic measures;
- Relate the erasure of information to irreversibility.

Main Text/s and sources:

The study-unit is self-contained and does not necessitate specific textbooks. However, interested readers are directed to the supplementary material.

Supplementary readings:

- Feynman, R. P., The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Basic Books, 2011.

ADDITIONAL NOTES Pre-Requisite qualifications: At least an intermediate in Physics and Pure Mathematics


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Presentation (20 Minutes) SEM1 Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Tony John George Apollaro
Julian Bonello
Joseph Caruana
Jackson Said (Co-ord.)
Kristian Zarb Adami

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2021/2. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.