Ph 311/312 course details, last updated: January 25, 2016

Introduction to Modern Physics

these two courses are considered to be a sequence, so it does not make sense to join PH 312 without proper preparation by either PH 311 or some similar course taken somewhere else


Tu/Th 10:00 -11:50 am, CH 383,, 2015-2019 calendars


Instructor: Peter Moeck, Dr. rer. nat. (Crystallography), Professor of Physics, Office hours: room 404, Science Research and Teaching Center (SRTC, formerly Science Building II), Tuesday and Thursday: 12.00 to 12:30 pm (you can walk with me up to the office right after class if you want)

e-mail: pmoeck at pdx dot edu, web: and

telephone: 503 725 4227 (but I do prefer communicating per e-mail with my students), do not send e-mail attachments to me, e.g. late homeworks, I do not open them as a matter of principle, late homeworks can however be send as attachments to our teaching assistant Christopher Halseth, halseth at pdx dot edu, his weekly deadline for receiving homeworks is always Tuesday 1 pm, his website is at

office hours of our teaching assistant: Mondays from 13:00 - 14:00 (and by appointment if you have other courses at that time) in SRTC 170

Solutions to the homeworks are posted on Tuesdays afternoons by the teaching assistant on the internet, see he also keeps all homeworks that were not collected in class,

For discussions on the homework problems and their grading you have to approach the teaching assistant first, only if the two of you cannot resolve the matter together, I will talk to you about them in the presence of the teaching assistant. Only if the teaching assistant agrees will your homework score be changed. Do not postpone issues with him or her up to the last weeks!


As for the usage of information technology in class and multi-tasking, research shows that it does more harm than good. It is also like passive smoking; even the students who want to concentrate on the lecture get distracted by it. So find some way of dealing with that please amongst yourself.


This course is pretty rigorous! Rigorous instruction requires students to construct meaning for themselves, impose structure on information, integrate individual skills into processes, operate within but at the outer edge of their abilities, and apply what they learn in more than one context and to unpredictable situations.


What will be covered in PH 311/312?


The revolutions in the concepts of physics in the early 20th century: special relativity, introduction to quantum mechanics: black-body radiation, energy quantum ideas, Bohr/Rutherford theory of the atom, Schroedinger equation, wave functions, electronic structure of atoms, periodic table of elements, nuclear structure, radioactivity, fission and fusion, (+ very briefly: statistical physics and solid state physics). 


Prerequisite: Ph 203, or Ph 213 and Mth 252, PH 312 is to be taken after PH 311 or a similar one quarter/one semester course, it does make no sense at all to show up for the second part - PH 312 - without proper introduction to the subject. Also some prior exposure to partial differential equations and complex numbers/functions are highly advantageous.



highly recommended text books:


Modern Physics, by Thornton and Rex, any of four editions so far, the last edition should be in the library as an ebook


Concepts of Modern Physics by A. Beiser, McGraw-Hill, any edition since the 2nd, (the 6th edition by some Indian publisher in paperback is very good value for your money but there are quite a few typos, the fifth edition has essentially the same material but much fewer typos)


Check out for cheep books


This is a two quarter course, everybody who enrolls only in the second term is assumed to have sufficient knowledge of Modern Physics form some other course!

It is best to take the two courses within one academic year as there will be frequent references back to the material covered in the first quarter throughout the second quarter !!

You better come to the lectures as it is the things I pay special attention to in the lectures that will be asked off you in the tests and exams.

your final grade will be calculated from your individual scores:

only very good excuses with supporting documents will allow you to reschedule your midterm and extraordinary good excuses with supporting documents will allow you to reschedule your final exam


PH 311

30 % weekly homeworks

35 % Midterm exam, 5th week (October 27, 2015) over the whole two hours of class time

35 % Final exam, all topics after 10 weeks (December 8, 2015) as set by Portland State policies, (typically Tuesday of finals week, 10:15 am to 12:05 pm),

PH 312

30 % weekly homeworks

35 % Midterm exam, 5th week (February 2, 2016) over the whole two hours of class time

35 % Final exam, all topics after 10 weeks (March 15, 2016) as set by Portland State policies (typically Tuesday of finals week, 10:15 am to 12:05 pm),


Homework Assignment links on this website get updated every week on Thursday late afternoon/evening (sometimes very late in the evening)


Ph 311

your homework assignments

HW1, HW2, HW3, HW4, HW5, HW6, HW7, HW8, HW9,

, review 311


Ph 312


your homework assignments

HW1, HW2, HW3, HW4, HW5, HW6, HW7, HW8, HW9,

, review 312


The great master himself on special and general relativity, hear him speak


A good book


student manual for a good book, chapters 1-4


student manual for a good book, chapters 5-7


student manual for a good book, chapters 8-10


two more good books: here and here


another good book, here with companion site for more material


very good modern physics book with applications in nanoscience for dedicated physicist majors, companion website:


another master himself,, his quantum mechanics is an alternative to the way it is typically taught


It is a good idea to download lecture manuscripts below; BUT you do need to update/modify them during class yourself in order to learn, also I keep on modifying these power point slides before each class


chapter 1 here

chapter 2 here

chapter 3 here

chapter 4 here

chapter 5 here, electron diffraction movie (in German), double slit lecture movie by a great physicist ( from Stanford University, about 400 to 500 level in PSU terms, single slit diffraction experiments: , double slip:, wave packet explorer:


chapter 6 here, four pages on total internal reflection

chapter 7 here

chapter 8 here

chapter 9 here

chapter 10 here

chapter 11 here

chapter 12 here

chapter 13 here


Is the Moon there when Nobody looks? Reality versus Quantum Theory? last lecture in the course PH 312


Relative strengths and weaknesses of selected textbooks that can be used with this course

Concepts of Modern Physics by A. Beiser, McGraw-Hill, 6th edition, 2002, 542 pages, (quite easy going but pretty much to the point, a few bits and pieces missing, but a good thread throughout, unfortunately, there are quite a few typos in the 6th edition, but the 5th and 4th are just as good and probably much cheaper

Modern Physics by P. A. Tipler, R. A. Llewellen, 5th edition, Freeman, 2008, (a bit heavier but the classical text for the serious student, best on postmodern particle physics and cosmology, I served as one of the chapter/concept reviewers).

Modern Physics by Thornton/Rex, any of the 4 editions to far, pretty good, somewhere in between Beiser and Tipler/Llewellen, I based the lecture slides for this course on slides that came with this book

Modern Physics by R.A. Serway and C.J. Moses, 1st edition (and together with Moyer 3rd edition) about 550 pages without index, by the way, do not purchase a copy of the 2nd edition (Saunders, 1997) including MP Desktop software that is supposed to help the students and lots of optional text which kind of makes it difficult to follow the thread), my 2002/2003 students did not like it much, but the first and 3rd editions are fine (PSU faculty colleagues from the physics department and I served as chapter accuracy reviewer for the third edition)

Modern Physics by Randy Harris, 2nd (and earlier edition under the title Nonclassical physics: beyond Newton's views), Wiley, 2008, 554 pages plus some 100 pages with appendices, (good, conceptual, some formula and material missing but good descriptions, not much on the history of modern physics, but many examples on how modern physics is used in current technologies, ... I really like it)

Modern Physics for Scientist and Engineers by John R. Taylor, Chris D. Zafiratos, Michael A. Dubson, 2nd edition, Prentice Hall, 2004, 720 pages, (many good examples in the text, good reviews of classical physics concepts from time to time, comprehensive atomic mass table, operators and expectation values first show up in the section on the hydrogen atoms, rather than in the section on quantum mechanics in one dimension, makes it a bit more difficult than perhaps necessary)

Modern Physics by Kenneth Krane, 3rd (and both earlier editions), Wiley, 2012, about 600 pages, (more conceptual, frequent connections to classical physics, quite easy going, sometimes too simplistic for my liking, but a good book)

Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers, 2nd edition, John C. Morrison, Elsevier, Academic Press, 2015, pretty good but "unusual" sequence of material, i.e. relativity in chapters 11 and 12, but then it included the Dirac theory of the electron which the typical textbook typically only mentions briefly or ignores altogether, about 400 pages, no appendix with atomic mass table as it is semi-standard in this kind of book.

Modern Physics by Hans C. Ohanian, 2nd edition, Prentice Hall, 457 pages without appendices, (a bit week on solid state physics but otherwise OK, mathematical level is moderate, but the useful Wentzel Kramers and Brillouin (WKB) approximation for very gradual variations of the time independent potential and short wavelength standing waves is mentioned)

Modern Physics by J. Bernstein, P. M. Fishbane and S. Gasiorowicz, Prentice Hall, 2000, 602 pages, (somewhat tough going at places; sometimes explanations are not provided in sufficient detail for the mathematically less gifted student)

Modern Physics from α to Z0 by James W. Rohlf, John Wiley and Sons. Inc., 1994, 569 pages plus some 60 pages appendix, good book for very dedicated students, but somewhat unconventional sequence in presenting the material, i.e. it starts with a survey of particles and forces and within some 20 pages arrives at Feynman diagrams and the fine structure constant, which other text may cover at page 200 or so in case of the fine structure constant (or not at all in case of Feynman diagrams). The Lorentz transformations, on the other hand, only come up after some 100 pages. Since the book was published 1994, the top quark is missing, but otherwise if is very good. It is almost like a reference book rather than an undergraduate textbook, although there are lots and lots of worked out problems! Perhaps there were no further editions because not many instructors recommended this text for their classes for students with mixed backgrounds?

Concepts of Modern Physics, Unraveling Old and New Mysteries by George Duffey, 2010, Solomon Press, 330 pages, (only two pages of appendices and other shortcomings when compared to the dedicated undergraduate texts above). Instructors may like it because it is very concise, almost like a collection of the most important formulae and concepts.

I particularly like his concluding statement: In a fundamental sense, all extant physical theories are false. Each is a good representation of nature only over a limited range of the independent variables. Many undergraduate students and the general public may have some difficulty appreciating this simple fact.

Introduction to Modern Physics, Theoretical Foundations, J. D. Walecka, World Scientific, 2008, this has been used for a freshman advanced modern physics course at Stanford University, it covers much more material than the books above but will only serve the very bests of physics students. A good use of this text would be for a senior (or higher) modern physics/quantum mechanics course. The material we will cover in our course make only about one third of the material in this book.

ebook only (as far as I know) Modern Physics for Science and Engineering, M. L. Burns, ISBN: 978-0-9713134-4-6, very good coverage of classical and quantum statistical mechanics, rest is OK, but no nuclear and particle physics at all (from all the books above, it provides the best treatment of statistical mechanics, possibly a bit too much for an introductory 300 level course)

a complementary book for worked problems: Schaum(s) Outlines Modern Physics, by R. Gautreau and W. Savin, 2nd edition, Mc Graw-Hill, 1999, does not substitute for a genuine textbook

Quantum Physics for Scientist and Technologies, by Paul Sanghera, Wiley 2011, is also pretty good for complementary reading. As the title implies, there are no dedicated chapters on special and/or general relativity, but the book covers pretty much the same material as the dedicated modern physics textbooks mentioned above. Many of the important formulae are present (including the time-independent Schroedinger equation in spherical coordinates), but there is much more text explaining the concepts in plain English. Some discussion, e.g. that of the Zeeman effect, are incomplete (and result, e.g. in equation 8.13 being wrong). Because of its well written text and there are many section living in the quantum world on modern applications of quantum mechanics (that the classical modern physics text do not have), this book may be helpful to many undergraduates.

direct quotes ----------------

David Mermin: It is because nothing required us to apprehend atomic structure during our evolutionary development that we are incapable of understanding what it is that quantum mechanics describes. Quantum mechanics is weird to us because we can make inferences about the atomic world only indirectly through the correlations we can arrange for it (called measurements) which those parts of the world (called classical) that evolution has outfitted us directly to apprehend.


Richard P. Feynman in chapter 1 of QED, the strange theory of light and matter gives good advice for the novice student of modern physics

I would like to talk a little bit about understanding. When we have a lecture, there are many reasons why you might not understand the speaker. One is, his language is bad, he does not say what he means to say, or he says it upside down, and it is hard to understand. That is a rather trivial matter, and I will try my best to avoid too much of my New York accent.

Another possibility, especially if the lecturer is a physicist, is that he uses ordinary words in a funny way. Physicist often use ordinary words as work or action or energy or even, as you shall see, light for some technical purpose. Thus, when I talk about work in physics, I do not mean the same thing as when I talk about work on the street. During this lecture I might use one of those words without noticing that it is being used in this unusual way. I will try my best to catch myself, that is my job, but it is an error that is easy to make.

The next reason that you might think you do not understand what I am telling you is, while I am describing to you how Nature works, you will not understand why Nature works that way. But you see, nobody understands that. I can not explain why Nature behaves in this peculiar way.

Finally, there is this possibility: after I tell you something, you just can not believe it. You can not accept it. You do not like it. A little screen comes down and you do not listen anymore, I am going to describe to you how Nature is, and if you do not like it, that is going to get in the way of your understanding it. It is a problem that physicists have learned to deal with: They have learned to realize that whether they like a theory of they do not like a theory is not the essential question. Rather, it is whether or not the theory gives predictions that agree with experiment. It is not a question of whether a theory is philosophical delightful, or easy to understand, or perfectly reasonable form the point of view of common sense. The theory of quantum electrodynamics describes nature as absurd form the point of view of common sense. And it agrees fully with experiment.


John Wheeler: Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, that when we grasp it - in a decade, a century, or a millennium - we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise? How could we have been so stupid?
We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.


Supporting web pages


Training quizzes, hand on simulations, companion site of the Thornton Rex book:


Pretty good and comprehensive overview classical physics in preparation of modern physics


more supporting websites



Collected Papers of Albert Einstein: open access:


some entertaining physics movies:,


something to watch together with your kids or your grandmother if they ask you what you do all day:


boy and his CO molecule:


how the movie boy and his atom was made:


some BS by a well known charlatan:



an after thought

If you did not get an A or B this time, do not worry too much, I did not get straight As all my life and neither did Werner Heisenberg. If you want to know how badly he screwed up his final PhD exam, click here, nevertheless he defended his second (higher level) doctor degree (habilitation that allows a German to become a lecturer at a university) at age 23 and was professor of physics at Leipzig University at age 25 as well as one of the greatest physicists ever.