Fall Semester 2010
Prerequisites: U3 or U4 standing; one D.E.C. category E course

This is the course web page

Instructor: Philip B. Allen (
office Physics B-131;  hours: Tues- & Wed 10:00-12:00; or by appointment
The class meets in Physics P-122, TU 5:20-8:20 pm
Note that the original room assignment, Van de Graaf 007, has been changed.
Required text: Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Simon & Schuster, 1986.
              (ISBN: 0-671-44133-7; 0-648-81378-5 (Pbk))
Class 1 is on Tuesday Aug. 31.  This class is mandatory.  There will be a short lab exercise which serves as a crucial introduction to the subjects of the course.  Please download Radioactivity Lab Instructions and read them.

The table below is incomplete.  It will be reorganized as the course goes on.


course and assignment schedule book list

term paper Suggested reading on Radiation
Radioactivity Lab Instructions

Louis Bloomfield: How microwave ovens work
John Bahcall: "How the Sun Shines"

D.E.C. Category H:   Implications of Science and Technology
Category H courses are designed to help students understand the social and global implications of science and technology and to examine examples of the impact of science, culture, and society on one another.

Bulletin Description: Exploration of our understanding of the basic constituents of matter, and of how that understanding and the tools developed to study them affect aspects of contemporary society.  Historical discoveries and their place in social and political institutions of the time are considered, along with issues of government funding and the cost to society. Includes a discussion of developments at Brookhaven National Laboratory and their scientific and social impact.

Prerequisite:  U3 or U4 standing; one D.E.C. category E course.  No math background is required beyond entry level University math.  Although Physics and Astronomy majors may take this course, it will not fulfill departmental requirements for a major in physics.

Syllabus for Fall 2010

I.  One subject of the course PHY313 is a history, and a layman's interpretation, of modern physics 1890-1950.  Another subject is the terrible world wars of 1914-1918, and 1939-1945, and how scientists participated and the consequences for society.  A final topic is some sociology of science and psychology of scientists.

In 1890, atoms were a Platonic concept used as a basis for thinking about chemistry.  Molecules, but not atoms, were considered real.  The concept of an atom was useful to classify molecules, but scientists were strongly discouraged from thinking that atoms were "real."  It was considered naive to make any hypothesis about the properties that these idealized entities might have.  A similar view was held more recently about quarks.  In both cases, experiments eventually showed that rather than being Platonic ideals, they were actually real; their properties could be measured, and an underlying theory was needed to account for these properties.  In the case of atoms, the crucial experiments were done by 1912, at which point scientists finally agreed that atoms were real.  A wonderfully improved, but still "primitive" theoretical model for the structure of the atom was constructed, and evolved into the quantum theory by 1927.  This evolution might have occured faster, except for the cataclysm of World War I.  Fundamental research into atoms was put on hold.  Scientists found that they could influence the outcome of the war by applying science to the development of new tools of war.  This was a new and ominous development, but, at the time, it had little to do with the microscopic understanding of atoms.

The model of an atom requires a tiny nucleus, which carries most of the mass and all of the positive charge.  The positive charge is balanced by an equal negative charge of the electrons, which occupy much larger regions of space outside the nucleus.  To understand atoms, it is rarely necessary to know any detailed properties of the nucleus.  However, many of the crucial experiments of 1895-1912 used projectiles which came out of the nucleus.  Great confusion existed about how nuclei could do this, until the decade 1932-1942, during which time experiments and theory made great advances.  Simultaneously Europe was lurching towards World War II.  Neither scientists nor military planners had forgotten the role that science could play in creating new tools.  Two very dramatic scientific efforts occured.  In one effort, radar evolved from a primitive tool into a crucial military agent.  The lasting legacy of this development continues today in electronic, and especially imaging, technology.  In the other effort, nuclear physics provided the atom bomb.  The legacy of this development is some very difficult questions that haunt us all.

Richard Rhodes has written eloquently about how all these things happened during the first half of the twentieth century.  The course will cover the same material that is covered in his book.

II. Procedures and Requirements: There will be reading assingments for each class.  You must do the reading before class, in order to particpate in class activities and discussions.  There will be in-class writing each week based on the reading and the previous week's discussion.  You will need a spiral notebook for these assignments, which will be handed in after class each week, and returned at the beginning of class the following week.

III. Grading:
PHY 313 students will be graded on their in-class writings (70%) , lab report (10%), plus a short essay (20%),  which expands on one of the in-class writing topics, or can be on another topic if approved in advance by the instructor (due December 4).
CEI 544 students will be graded on in-class writings (60%), lab report (10%), and on a term paper in the form of a critical essay (30%) about some scientific conflict, event, or claim, on a subject pre-approved by the instructor (due December 4).

IV Required text:

Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Simon & Schuster, 1986.
              (ISBN: 0-671-44133-7; 0-648-81378-5 (Pbk))

V. Academic Honesty:  Discussions with fellow students are strongly encouraged, but work which is submitted for grading must be in your own words.  You should review the definition of plagiarism.  In the essay, provide citations to literature for all important ideas, results, or historical facts on which your analysis rests.  University policy on academic honesty will be followed.

VI. To Students: If you have a physical, psychological, medical or learning disability that may impact on your ability to
carry out assigned course work, I would urge that you contact the staff in the Disabled Student Services office (DSS),
Room 133, Humanities, 632-6748v/TDD.  DSS will review your concerns and determine with you what accommodations
are necessary and appropriate.  All information and documentation of disability are confidential.