PHY1023 Waves and Optics 2023-24
Prof. P. Vukusic
Delivery Weeks: T2:01-11
Level: 4 (NQF)
Credits: 15 NICATS / 7.5 ECTS
Enrolment: 150 students (approx)


The module first considers the characteristic parameters of a forced, damped harmonic oscillator, and relates them to the characteristic parameters of wave propagation. Later stages discuss the propagation and reflection of waves, using waves on a stretched string as the model system. Longitudinal waves in solids, sound waves in gases, and waves in periodic structures (key to much of solid-state physics) are also discussed, followed by an introduction to geometrical optics and optical systems.

Module Aims

The concepts of oscillation amd wave propagation permeate the whole of physics. This module identifies and applies the underlying principles enabling the student to understand many apparently unrelated systems. A wide range of physical phenomena are used as examples. The concepts introduced in this module underpin, and will be developed in later modules, e.g. in PHY2021 Electromagnetism I, PHY2022 Quantum Mechanics I and PHY2024 Condensed Matter I.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

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

Syllabus Plan

  1. Introduction
    Brief historical survey.
  2. The Physics of Simple and Damped Harmonic Motion (SHM)
    1. SHM - mass on a spring, equation of motion
    2. Phase angle, displacement, velocity, acceleration
    3. Energy of simple harmonic motion
    4. Damped SHM (mechanical system) - oscillatory and logarithmic decrement (exponential notation)
    5. Quality factor, Q - energy dissipation
    6. Critical-, under- and over-damped mechanical systems
  3. Forced Oscillator
    1. Steady-state solution for mass on a spring plus driving force
    2. Mechanical impedance (complex impedance, amplitude, phase factor); amplitude resonance; power supplied by the driving force, Q-value
  4. Alternating Electrical Currents (Steady State)
    1. Alternating voltage, phasor diagram, amplitude, phase, period
    2. Resistance, inductance and capacitance in an AC circuit: current-voltage relationships
    3. Complex impedance in AC circuits; power in AC circuits; series and parallel resonance
  5. Introduction to Waves
    1. The electromagnetic spectrum
    2. Definition and examples of wave motion; transverse and longitudinal waves; polarization; plane and spherical waves
    3. Basic wave concepts: amplitude and phase; wave number k and angular frequency ω; phase velocity
    4. The wave equation and its solutions
    5. The Doppler effect
    6. Example: transverse waves on a string
    7. Energy transfer in wave motion
  6. Superposition of Waves
    1. Standing waves and normal modes
    2. Partial standing waves
    3. Fourier series
    4. Wave packets, dispersion and group velocity
    5. Example: dispersed wave on a string
  7. Reflection and Transmission of Waves
    1. Characteristic impedance; reflection and transmission coefficients of amplitude and energy
    2. Example: Reflection and transmission of transverse waves on a string
    3. Impedance matching and the quarter-wave transformer
  8. Waves on Periodic Structures
    1. Transverse waves on a one-dimensional periodic structure: dispersion relation, low-pass characteristic, first Brillouin zone
    2. Normal modes on a one-dimensional periodic structure
  9. Other Examples of Waves
    1. Longitudinal waves in a solid
    2. Sound waves in a gas
  10. Optics
    1. Geometrical optics
      Imaging and ray tracing; thin-lenses; total internal reflection
    2. Interference and diffraction
      Young's experiment; diffraction limited resolution; diffraction-grating spectrometer; thin films and anti-reflection coatings; Fabry-Perot interferometer; Michelson interferometer
    3. Dispersion by prisms and diffraction gratings
    4. Polarization
      Electromagnetic interpretation; Generation by polarizers, reflection and scattering; Birefringence
    5. Optical cavities and laser action

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 1-14 Discussion in tutorials
0% Guided self-study 5×6-hour packages Fortnightly 1-14 Discussion in tutorials
10% 7 × Problems Sets 2 hours per set Weekly 1-14 Marked in problems class, then discussed in tutorials
15% Mid-term Test 1 30 minutes Weeks T2:04 1-14 Marked, then discussed in tutorials
15% Mid-term Test 2 30 minutes Weeks T2:08 1-14 Marked, then discussed in tutorials
60% Final Examination 120 minutes May/June assessment period 1-14 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%) 1-14 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
  • WV-01 Free, damped, forced and coupled oscillations to include resonance and normal modes.
  • WV-02 Waves in linear media to the level of group velocity.
  • WV-03 Waves on strings, sound waves and electromagnetic waves.
  • WV-04 Doppler effect.
  • EM-02 DC and AC circuit analysis to the level of complex impedance, transients and resonance.
  • EM-05 Electromagnetic spectrum.
  • OP-01 Geometrical optics to the level of simple optical systems.
  • OP-02 Interference and diffraction at single and multiple apertures.
  • OP-03 Dispersion by prisms and diffraction gratings.
  • OP-04 Optical cavities and laser action.
Availability unrestricted
Distance learning NO
Keywords Physics; Amplitudes; Diffraction; Dispersion; Examples; Impedance; Motion; Phase; Reflection; Systems; Waves.
Created 01-Oct-10
Revised N/A