The course studies the establishment of the ideas and institutions
of modern physics, covering the evolution of the discipline over roughly
the last century and a half. This period has witnessed some of the field's
most dramatic developments, both intellectual and structural. We begin
with the nineteenth-century organization of the discipline and the debates
over the classical world picture (mechanics, electromagnetism and optics,
thermodynamics and statistical mechanics). We then follow the dramatic
changes that undid the classical picture, from the discovery of radioactivity
and x-rays, through Einstein's theories of relativity, on to the the creation
of quantum mechanics and accompanying philosophical disputes. We consider
the elucidation of atomic structure, the exploration of the nucleus, and
the establishment of the field-theoretic description of natural phenomena.
Alongside these conceptual upheavals we will be watching the transformation
of the discipline from a small-scale, academic, largely European enterprise
to a world-wide profession on an American model, carried out in reliance
upon massive state funding and endowed with the power, through its creations
(solid-state devices, the atomic bomb), to shape national and international
As a historical study of a scientific field, the course draws
on approaches and materials from both history and science. We deal
in some depth with scientific concepts, though in a way that should remain
accessible to non-scientists willing to put in a bit of effort.
In all this, however, emphasis is placed on the historical development,
and one of the course's goals is to practice the skill of thinking historically.
The course is aimed at two groups of students. First, science
and engineering majors will gain an understanding of the structure and
functioning of a field they have studied. They should come away from the
course with a sense for how modern physics works and hangs together. Equally,
non-science/engineering students will get a historical introduction to
this scientific discipline. This course fulfills the L&S breadth requirement
in physical sciences. A decent high-school level course in physics or
chemistry will be adequate preparation. Students concerned about their
background should feel free to talk to me individually. All should expect
to learn a good deal of science. In past years, the best students in the
class have divided equally between science/engineering and non-science/engineering
Reading materials (back
This is a history course. There is something to read (usually short)
for almost every class meeting, and the readings are required. For guidance
in reading you can refer to two things:
You should complete each assignment before coming to class, as the lectures
will presume your familiarity.
- The page of reading
- Preparatory questions for each assignment, available in the reader
and as links from the schedule.
Many of the materials are primary sources written by scientists during
the period we are studying. They are found in the reader
, which is available for purchase from Copy Central, 2560 Bancroft Way,
and on reserve in the Physics
Library . Some of the materials in the course reader, marked as such
on the schedule, are also available on the web. Several further
assignments, likewise marked on the schedule, can be completed only
on the web.
Two required books (both works of fiction) are available in the bookstores
and on reserve in the Physics Library.
There is no single "textbook" for this course. However, the Physics Library
also has on reserve a selection of relevant
books . You are encouraged to browse or ask me for guidance. Two books
recommended for students with physics backgrounds are:
- Russell McCormmach, Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist
, Harvard, 1991, ISBN 0674624610, $19.95.
- Michael Frayn, Copenhagen, Anchor Books, 2000, ISBN 0385720793,
- Robert D. Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century,
Rutgers, 1997, ISBN 0813524423, $22.00.
- Helge Kragh, Quantum Generations, Princeton, 1999, ISBN
Course mechanics (back
The full schedule
of assignments is available separately. You are responsible for keeping
up with it.
Lectures will provide the framework within which the readings
will make sense. Do not assume that you already know the history of physics
(from your physics class, popular reading, or television specials) and
so can get by without the lectures. For each class meeting, a brief outline
and a list of names and terms will be posted as a link from the schedule.
These will also be projected, along with the presentation, during the
class. They are designed to supplement, not substitute for, notetaking.
I will try to make them available before class. If I cannot, they will
be posted afterwards.
There is no discussion section. If you are looking for classmates
to compare notes, please contact me.
Informal worksheets will help you consolidate your grasp of
the scientific material. These will not be graded, and you will not turn
them in, but we will briefly discuss them in class. It will be to your
advantage to complete them. The exact timing will depend on our progress
through the semester, but I anticipate the following (rough) completion
dates: Mechanics and thermo 1/31, EM 2/7, new phenomena 2/24, the quantum
2/28, special relativity 3/7, old QT 3/17, QM 3/31, QFT and particle physics
(1) 4/7, bomb physics 4/23, QFT and particle physics (2) 5/7.
You will have four short writing assignments, two based on books
and two based on research. You must do all four .
Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist (3 pp.): Write a
short essay (questions are given) on this work of historical fiction
about a turn-of-the-century theoretical physicist. Due Monday, February
Review assignment (3 pp.): Examine the early years (pre-1910)
of the first American physics journal, the Physical Review, and
submit a group report. Due Wednesday, February 26.
Copenhagen (3 pp.): Write a response (questions are again
given) to the Tony-Award-winning play about a World War II meeting between
Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. Due Wednesday, April 16.
assignment (3 pp.): Analyze two articles of your choice from
the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists between 1945 and 1952,
suggesting what they reveal about physicists' concerns after World War
II. Due Friday, April 25 .
Written assignments may not be submitted by e-mail or in any
other electronic form. Papers are due in class, and late papers will be
penalized: each day (or fraction thereof, starting at 11:00 a.m.) that
a paper is late will reduce its grade by 2/3 of a mark (e.g., A to B+,
B- to C). You have been forewarned.
If you choose, instead of the four short writing assignments, you may
make a special arrangement with me to write a 10-12 page research
paper. This is recommended only for history majors (looking ahead
to the History 101 thesis, for instance) or students with experience
with college-level research papers. If you are considering this option,
you must come talk with me. You may not pursue it without
my approval. You must make your decision no later than Wednesday,
February 26, and inform me in an e-mail. I will be happy to help
you brainstorm. If you end up doing the first short writing assignment
and then deciding to write a research paper, the first short writing
assignment will count as extra credit.
- The midterm (50 minutes, in-class) is scheduled for Monday,
March 10. It covers the first two units of the syllabus. Study questions
will be available.
- The final exam is scheduled (according to Exam Group 6) for
Monday, May 19, from 8:00-11:00 a.m. It covers the entire semester and
counts twice as much as the midterm. Study questions will again be available.
My exams tend to emphasize questions requiring answers one paragraph
in length; sometimes I add a few longer options. I generally give you
a choice of which questions to answer. I include a section of short-answer
identifications, generally worth about a quarter of the exam.
Reading journal option
If you choose, you can skip the midterm and take a reduced version
of the final (fewer paragraph-answer questions and no identifications).
In exchange, you must keep a reading journal. This is a series of responses
to the reading assignments, kept in a notebook or (preferably) on your
computer. You must write at least three entries per syllabus unit and
turn them in on the last day of each unit. You must decide whether to
take this option no later than Friday, February 14, when the first
unit's entries are due in class. Obviously, you will make it easier for
yourself if you write the entries as each assignment comes up.
Each entry should be 300-400 words (about 1 to 1½ pages typed, double-spaced).
If you choose, you may use the reading questions for each assignment
to guide your responses. If there is more than one text in a single
day's assignment, you may respond to the entire assignment or any part
of it, but you cannot do more than one entry per day. Entries may be
tentative or exploratory, but the writing should be polished. The entries
will be graded. If you do more than three entries in a single unit,
you will get extra credit; three extra entries over the course of the
semester count as a single extra credit assignment.
Final grades will be assigned according to the following weighting:
|Night Thoughts assignment
|Physical Review assignment
|Midterm and final exam
||6 parts (2 parts plus 4 parts)
|Reading journal and reduced final
||6 parts (4 parts plus 2 parts)
Any work not completed will count as an F. In individual cases
(e.g., marked improvement over the course of the semester) I may choose
to deviate from this scheme.
credit options are available. Any two extra credit assignments count
as much as one short writing assignment. Extra credit work can only
improve your grade.
(in the reader unless bold or italics)
philosophy and mechanical explanation
||Joule, "Mechanical Equivalent"
||Clausius, "Second Law"
||Coulomb, "Electric Force"
||Maxwell, selections, and start on Night Thoughts
sense of Maxwell
||Duhem, "Physical Theory"
world pictures (1)
||Mach, "Economy of Science"
world pictures (2)
Night Thoughts, and essay
mechanics and kinetic theory
||Klein, "Mechanical Explanation"
world of a physicist
||Tables from "Physics circa 1900"
radiations, new phenomena (1)
"Radium" and website
radiations, new phenomena (2)
quantum: Planck on radiation
"Quantum Theory" through p. 13
sense of the quantum
and relativity (1)
and relativity (2)
||Heisenberg, "Relativity" through p. 120
and relativity (3)
||Einstein, "Autobiographical Notes"
relativity and beyond
||Heisenberg, "Relativity," p. 121 on
||(review for midterm)
old quantum theory of atomic structure
"Quantum Theory" p. 13 on
quantum mechanics (1)
||Heisenberg, "Quantum Theory," 1st
quantum mechanics (2)
||Heisenberg, "Physical Content"
sense of quantum mechanics
||Bohr, "Bohr-Einstein Dialogue"
use of quantum mechanics
||Pauli, "Exclusion Principle"
and particles (1)
||Dirac, "Electrons and Positrons"
||Brown and Hoddeson, "Elementary-Particle Physics"
rise of American physics
ch. 1, and start on Copenhagen
physics at home
ch. 2 , ep. 1, 2nd
||Frisch, "Nucleus," Hahn and Strassmann, "Existence,"
and Frisch, "Disintegration"
threats of the 30s
||"Physics and National Socialism"
under National Socialism
Copenhagen, and essay
Unit 4: World War II and Beyond
ch. 3 , ep. 2
as a weapon
||Weisskopf, "The Bomb," Sakharov, "Tamm Group"
politics, and the state
ch. 4 , ep. 3, and Roberts, "Dollars"
of the Atomic Scientists essay
quantum field theory
||Weisskopf, "Field Theory," to p. 77
||Dyson, "Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga"
and particles (2)
||Weisskopf, "Field Theory," p. 77 on
field theories and the Standard Model
||Mattuck, "Feynman Diagrams," 3rd
new world picture?
||Anderson, "More is Different"
||Bell, "Six possible worlds"
||Final exam, 8:00-11:00 a.m.
Road maps (back
quantum mechanical era
Useful links (back
History of physics on the web
AIP Center for History
Physics reference and information
ECHO Science and Technology Virtual
Physics timelines (thermo/stat mech and E&M)
classic papers from the history of chemistry (construed to include much physics)
papers from the history of chemistry (and some physics too)
Locating written sources on the history of physics
of physics (alphabetical index to essays on advanced
Physics and astronomy online education
Science in the headlines
of Science Society reading list (guide to printed
History of science
History of science
and technology database (books and articles)
UCB Physics Library
to the UCB libraries
Pathfinder (online UCB library catalogue
Back to (back
Prof. Carson's home