PHY1024 Properties of Matter 2017-18
Dr C.D.H. Williams
Delivery Weeks: T2:01-11
Level: 4 (NQF)
Credits: 15 NICATS / 7.5 ECTS
Enrolment: 152 students (approx)


Understanding properties of matter is both a basic aspect of physics and very important in view of its increasing technological importance. The coverage of condensed matter within the degree programmes is spread over a number of modules, this being the first. The aim of this module is to develop a sound understanding of the basic concepts of properties of matter. This is done at two levels. Topics such as elastic properties and hydrostatic properties are explained using experimental observations and macroscopic (large-scale) theories. Surface tension in liquids is explained using a molecular-level theory. This is followed by the a microscopic treatment of interatomic interactions, the ground-state electronic structure of atoms, and rotational and vibrational energy levels in molecules. The structure of liquid crystals is discussed in terms of different molecular arrangements. Finally, atomic structure and bonding in crystals with diamond structures and sodium chloride structures is described.

Module Aims

This module pre-dates the current template; refer to the description above and the following ILO sections.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

A student who has passed this module should be able to:

Syllabus Plan

  1. Introduction
    Brief historical survey.
  2. Temperature and Related Topics
    Thermometric systems and properties; Constant-volume gas thermometer; Triple point of water; The ideal-gas temperature; Temperature scales; Equations of state; State variables; p/V isotherms; Van der Waals equation of state; Thermal expansion; Quantity of heat; Heat Capacity and latent heat; Phase changes; Mechanisms of heat transfer: Conduction, convection and radiation.
  3. The Ideal Monatomic Gas
    Pressure; Microscopic interpretation of temperature; Internal energy of an ideal gas; Equipartition of energy; Polyatomic gases; Distribution functions; The one-component Maxwell velocity distribution; The Maxwell speed distribution; The mean speed, mean square speed and 'most probable' speed; The mean free path and thermal conductivity; Equipartition of energy.
  4. Elasticity
    1. Elastic behaviour
    2. Types of stress and strain: tensile, shear, bulk; Young's modulus, shear modulus, bulk modulus, Poisson ratio
    3. Plastic behaviour
    4. Isotropic materials
    5. Elastic energy
  5. Hydrostatics
    1. Pressure in liquids
    2. Variation of pressure with height
    3. Pressure transmission: Pascal's law and its applications
    4. Buoyancy: Archimedes' principle and its applications
  6. Surface Tension
    1. Definition
    2. Measurement of surface tension
    3. Molecular theory
    4. Surface energy
    5. Pressure inside a soap bubble and a liquid drop
    6. Capillarity
    7. Negative pressure and the cohesion of water
  7. Microscopic Considerations for the Study of Properties of Matter
    1. Rough calculation of molecular size and interatomic distance
    2. Forces holding atoms in condensed matter
    3. Short-range and long-range interatomic forces
    4. Interatomic potential
      1. in inert gas solids - the Lennard-Jones form
      2. in ionic solids - the Born-Meyer form
    5. General features of the interatomic potential-energy curve: energy depth; equilibrium interatomic distance; slope of the repulsive part of the curve; shape of the curve near its minimum; bulk modulus and the harmonic part of the curve; atomic vibrations and the harmonic part; speed of sound and the harmonic part; anharmonic part of the curve - thermal expansion and thermal conduction
    6. Heat-capacity
    7. Thermal expansion: coefficients of linear and volume expansion
    8. Thermal Conductivity
    9. Thermal stress
    10. Grüneisen's constant
  8. Atomic and Molecular Structure
    1. Periodic table of the elements
    2. Ground state electronic configuration
    3. Structure of molecules: monatomic, diatomic, triatomic
    4. Shapes of molecules: linear, planar, three-dimensional
    5. Molecular spectra: rotational and vibrational energy levels
  9. Structure of Solids
    1. Atoms in gases, liquids, and solids
    2. Interatomic forces in simple liquids
    3. Liquid crystals: nematic and smectic
  10. Structure of Amorphous Solids
    1. Lack of long-range forces
    2. Radial distribution function
    3. Glasses
  11. Structure of (Single) Crystals
    1. Lattice: cubic lattice system and Bravais lattices (sc, fcc, bcc)
    2. Crystal structure = lattice & basis
    3. Rock-salt and diamond structures
  12. Broad Classification of Solids
    1. Metals and non-metals
    2. Metallic, ionic, covalent, molecular, and hydrogen-bonded crystals
  13. X-Ray Diffraction and the Reciprocal Lattice
    1. Examples of X-ray diffractometers
    2. Bragg scattering
    3. Miller indices
    4. Reciprocal lattice
    5. Laue conditions for diffraction
    6. Bragg scattering (k-space)
    7. Ewald sphere

Learning and Teaching

Learning Activities and Teaching Methods

Description Study time KIS type
22×1-hour lectures 22 hours SLT
5×6-hour self-study packages 30 hours GIS
7×2-hour problems sets 14 hours GIS
Problems class support 9 hours SLT
Tutorial support 3 hours SLT
Reading, private study and revision 72 hours GIS


Weight Form Size When ILOS assessed Feedback
0% Exercises set by tutor 3×1-hour sets (typical) Scheduled by tutor 1-8 Discussion in tutorials
0% Guided self-study 5×6-hour packages Fortnightly 1-8 Discussion in tutorials
10% 7 × Problems Sets 2 hours per set Weekly 1-8 Marked in problems class, then discussed in tutorials
15% Mid-term Test 1 30 minutes Weeks T2:04 1-8 Marked, then discussed in tutorials
15% Mid-term Test 2 30 minutes Weeks T2:08 1-8 Marked, then discussed in tutorials
60% Final Examination 120 minutes May/June assessment period 1-8 Mark via MyExeter, collective feedback via ELE and solutions.


The following list is offered as an indication of the type & level of information that students are expected to consult. Further guidance will be provided by the Module Instructor(s).

Core text:

Supplementary texts:


Further Information

Prior Knowledge Requirements

Pre-requisite Modules Vector Mechanics (PHY1021) and Mathematics Skills (PHY1025)
Co-requisite Modules none


Re-assessment is not available except when required by referral or deferral.

Original form of assessment Form of re-assessment ILOs re-assessed Time scale for re-assessment
Whole module Written examination (100%) 1-8 August/September assessment period

Notes: See Physics Assessment Conventions.

KIS Data Summary

Learning activities and teaching methods
SLT - scheduled learning & teaching activities 34 hrs
GIS - guided independent study 116 hrs
PLS - placement/study abroad 0 hrs
Total 150 hrs
Summative assessment
Coursework 10%
Written exams 90%
Practical exams 0%
Total 100%


IoP Accreditation Checklist
  • SM-01 Kinetic theory of gases and the gas laws to the level of Van der Waals equation.
  • SS-01 Mechanical properties of matter to include elasticity and thermal expansion.
  • SS-02 Inter-atomic forces and bonding.
  • SS-04 Crystal structure and Bragg scattering. (See also PHY2024.)
Availability unrestricted
Distance learning NO
Keywords Physics; Crystals; Energy; Gas; Interatomic forces; Liquid; Matter; Pressure; Properties; Solid; Structures.
Created 01-Oct-10
Revised N/A