Physics 201: Modern Physics

Fall 2017

This course will review two revolutionary concepts that in early 20th century transformed human understanding of the Universe: relativity and quantum mechanics.  We will also discuss some applications of these theories, selected from the fields of Atomic and Molecular, Condensed Matter, Nuclear and Particle Physics. Although physical description of these ideas is the main focus of the course, we will also consider their historical, social and philosophical implications.

Lectures:  MWF 10:00-10:50am and F 2:00-2:50 pm in Small 111

Instructor: Irina Novikova

Office: Small 251
E-mail: ixnovi[at]
Office hours: W11am-12pm; R1-2pm; or by appointment
Telephone: (757) 221-3693

Web-site: or in Blackboard

Grader: Xiang Li


E-mail:  xli33[at]
Office hours (grading questions only): by appointment

E-mail is my preferred communication method for any technical or organizational questions. I am usually very good about answering quickly, but please write your e-mails under assumption that it may take a day or two for me to reply. Also I would like to strongly discourage any physics questions over the e-mail: it is much more efficient to discuss those in person.

Required text: R. A. Serway, C. J. Moses, and C. A. Moyer (SMM): Modern Physics, 3rd Ed. (ISBN 9780534493394). We will be using this book extensively in the course; most of the HW problems are from there.

Suggested math supplement: Mary Boas: Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences, 3rd Ed., Wiley. This book introduces many mathematical concepts needed for most undergraduate and introductory graduate physics courses at a somewhat “low-key” level. The text is clear and easy to follow.

Prerequisites: This course assumes a solid background in first year physics at the level of Phys 101-102 or Phys 107-108. AP Physics is not usually sufficient (I’ll be happy to discuss any particular situation, thought). You must have a full year of calculus at the level of Math 111-112 (and here AP credit is sufficient).

Problem sets: There will be 12 homework assignments during this course. Each assignment consists of several problems (typically from SMM) and due beginning of the corresponding Friday class. Late assignments will be accepted with a 50% penalty when submitted on or before Monday class following the due date. Any assignment turned in after that time will not be accepted (unless you obtained a permission form me beforehand).

Comments/responses: There will be weekly reading assignments regarding the historical significance of the events discussed in class. After each discussion, you should read these essays and write roughly ˝ page of thoughts, comments, and questions about the material.

Course schedule and homework assignments


Problem sets






Two midterm tests

20% each


Final exam



William & Mary accommodates students with disabilities in accordance with federal laws and university policy. Any student who feels s/he may need an accommodation based on the impact of a learning, psychiatric, physical, or chronic health diagnosis should contact Student Accessibility Services staff at 757-221-2509 or at to determine if accommodations are warranted and to obtain an official letter of accommodation. For more information, please see