2012-13 Catalog

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Offering Description

Methods of Mathematical Physics


Fall 2012, Winter 2013 and Spring 2013 quarters

Brian Walter (F) mathematics, computer science, improvisational theater , Gary Howell (F) , John Schaub physics, mathematics, creative writing
Fields of Study
mathematics and physics
Preparatory for studies or careers in
mathematics, physics, chemistry and education.
One year of calculus and calculus-based physics. Students with less physics should consult the faculty to discuss possible arrangements.

Close observation of the natural world reveals a high degree of underlying order. One of the ways scientists understand and explain this order is using the language of mathematics. Indeed, the degree to which the universe lends itself to a mathematical description is remarkable. The goal of this advanced program is to introduce the mathematical language and methods we use to describe and create physical models of our world. To that end, we will examine a number of key physical theories and systematically develop the mathematical tools that we need to understand them.

We will begin, in fall quarter, with a detailed study of classical mechanics--the mathematical description of the clockwork universe envisioned by Newton and others who followed him. We will focus initially on linear approximations for which analytical solutions are possible. The mathematical methods we will learn for this purpose include differential equations, vector calculus and linear algebra. In winter quarter we will move beyond linear approximations and study non-linear systems and chaos and the implications of these ideas for the determinism implied by classical mechanics. We will also consider electrodynamics, the theory that governs the interactions between charged particles, and extend our study to the realm of the very fast by considering Einstein's theories of special and general relativity. We will continue our study of vector calculus and partial differential equations to develop these ideas.  In spring quarter we will explore modern physics and quantum theory, which describe physics at the atomic scale. In support of this work we will continue to study boundary value problems and partial differential equations.

The work in this program will consist of lectures, tutorials, group workshops, student presentations, computer labs and seminars on the philosophy and history of mathematics and physics, current topics in physics, and mathematics and physics in literature and writing.

Online Learning
Enhanced Online Learning
Greener Store
Special Expenses
$150 for graphing calculator with symbolic algebra capabilities. Cheaper software for smartphones is also available.
Upper Division Science Credit
Upper division science credit may be awarded for upper division work.
May be offered again in
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
February 5th, 2013 The description and spring signature requirement have been updated.
November 15th, 2012 Signature required for winter quarter enrollment.
July 25th, 2012 Brian Walter has joined the teaching team.
April 5th, 2012 David McAvity will be serving as a Dean; a visitor will teach this program.