The University of British Columbia

Physics 210

"Computational Physics"

Calendar description:   INTRODUCTION TO COMPUTATIONAL PHYSICS   3 credits [0,3,0;0,0,0]  
Introduction to UNIX/Linux; software tools for processing, fitting and displaying data;
numerical methods and applications in the physical sciences.
Prerequisites:   one of PHYS 102 or PHYS 108 or SCIE 001.
Corequisites:   one of MATH 221 or MATH 223.

Place & Time:   Lecture: Henn 201 - Tue & Thu 12:30-13:30;
Laboratory A: Henn 205 - Tue & Thu 13:30-15:30; Laboratory B: Henn 205 - Tue & Thu 15:30-17:30.


Instructor:   Jess H. Brewer
TAs: Ben Gutierrez & Silvestre Aguilar-Martinez & Daoyan Wang

Office:   Hennings 320A: 822-6455
Lab:   TRIUMF: 222-1047, ext 6471
Office Hours:   Between Lecture and Lab, or by appointment.

Assignments 30
Participation 15
Proposal  5
Project 40
Presentation 10
 TOTAL 100

Textbook:   Various on-line documentation, tutorials, blogs, wikis and help files.
You need not spend any money on dead trees for this course.

References: The diversity of topics will require several sources.
However, several good tutorial-style textbooks as well as electronic support material are available.
A list of Web links to useful references will be maintained on the course's Website.

PHYS 210 is designed to provide an introduction to computational methods in physics and to meet the specialized computational needs of Physics and Astronomy students. The first step will be to familiarize everyone with the UNIX/Linux operating systems we will use. Then an eclectic variety of software will be introduced and available for student use, from simple bash shell scripts to computational exercises in MatLab (or Octave) and Maple (and/or Maxima) - to name a few - to elementary programming in Python, FORTRAN and/or C. Students will learn to use simple UNIX commands and plain text editors, to manage their own files and directories, to configure their email, to maintain their own Web pages, to prepare computer presentations, to typeset manuscripts in /REVTeX 4 and to manipulate, plot and fit data. MatLab syntax and formalism will be employed to demonstrate the principles of numerical analysis. A tentative outline & schedule of the course is available on the course Website; it is certain to evolve.

CAVEAT:   This was a new course in 2006, and is still evolving. Partly for this reason, the targeted "body of knowledge" to be covered is not yet rigourously defined; and partly because your instructor is an ornery, stubborn, subversive libertarian, the details described above and below are just a guess as to what we are really going to do and how we are going to do it. In the first week or two, you will have a chance to discuss what you really want out of this course (and what I feel obliged to include); we can then redesign it to match. It is my hope that out of the resultant chaos will emerge something of lasting value - and a lot of fun.

EXAMS:   There aren't any, unless you feel a midterm would be helpful in calibrating your progress through this maze of loosely related tasks. (Some people have actually asked for this; we can discuss it in the first week of classes.)

ASSIGNMENTS   will be set on Tuesday each week and due by the beginning of the class 1 week later unless otherwise specified; solutions will be provided at that time if appropriate. The deadline will be strictly enforced and late assignments may not be marked. There will be approximately 10-12 assignments.

PARTICIPATION:   It is difficult to define exactly what I mean by this, but in a course of this type it is very important. One of the foremost hazards of "computing" is its tendency to encourage isolation. While it is essential to have some undisturbed and uninterrupted time to work on a problem, it is also important to share ideas with others. Synthesis and "cross-fertilization" can make a group effort much more powerful than the sum of its parts. In rare cases several people may work together on a more ambitious team project. You are encouraged to seek help from each other in doing the homework; discussing the problems in a study group is a great way to learn, but I do expect each student to write up (and understand!) his/her own solutions handed in for grading. This is taken very seriously - students have been thrown out of school for copying! (See PHYS 210 Notices.  I apologize if I am insulting your intelligence by stating the obvious, but this probably won't be the last time.  ;-)

PROJECTS:   The term project is the largest single component of your course mark. You must submit a written report in the format preferred by the most appropriate scientific journal (e.g. REVTEX for PHYSICAL REVIEW) explaining what you did, why, and how it turned out. (Success is nice, but sometimes one learns the most important lessons from failure. It's better to be a little too ambitious than to aim low, as long as you reflect profitably on the lessons learned, and share your discomfiture with others in the form of cautionary advice.) I anticipate an enormous variety of project ideas, and don't want to bias your thinking by offering a list of suggestions that might be misinterpreted as a menu. Come talk to me, in class or out.

PROJECT PROPOSALS:   Around mid-term, each student will present a proposal for her/his term project to the entire class in a brief (5 min) talk (barring disabilities) employing computer presentation tools such as OpenOffice, PowerPoint or Keynote. The goal of these presentations is to elicit feedback from fellow students and instructors regarding the proposed topic. Is it too ambitious? Too ill-defined? Too broad? Or just the reverse? You are not expected to know exactly what you want to do at this point, much less to have done it. The purpose of the exercise is to get other people's help in planning your term project, and to give them the benefit of your judgement. The latter contribution will account for a substantial fraction of your "participation" mark.

PROJECT PRESENTATIONS:   In the last week of classes, each student will present to the entire class a seminar-style presentation on his/her term project. The available time (roughly 5-6 hours) will be divided equally among presentations. This time there are no restrictions on media (within reason), but if appropriate you can use the .odp, .ppt or .key file from your proposal as a starting point for your presentation. All students will be expected to attend every presentation and participate in its evaluation, as part of their "participation" mark.

FEEDBACK:   You have to do all the work of learning, but there may be things we can do to make it more fun, more efficient, more rewarding or more useful. Let us know if you have any suggestions! There are several tools on our Web site to facilitate such feedback.

Last modified: Wed Aug 25 13:37:50 PDT 2010     by     Jess H. Brewer