COOL CLASSES: “Waves and Optics”

This physics course is about everything that oscillates—vibrations and waves in mechanical, electronic, and optical systems—and introduces related mathematical methods, such as functions of a complex variable and Fourier analysis.

Class name: “Waves and Optics”

Taught by: Professor of Physics and Astronomy Andrea Lommen


Here’s what Lommen had to say about her class:
This class is really about everything that oscillates. It’s a pretty unique course in that it doesn’t stick to one discipline of physics. There are oscillations in mechanics (springs and pendula), in circuits, and in quantum mechanics, and we deal with them all. It turns out the same techniques apply to all those problems. We even did a plasma astrophysics problem on our last problem set even though it’s not an astrophysics class!

I hope students develop confidence in doing problems they’ve never seen before, by using intuition they’ve gained throughout our curriculum. As I tell the students on the first day of class, “You will learn to make profitable wrong-turns. Am I going to teach you to do physics flawlessly? Absolutely not!  The world needs your creativity and therefore it needs your mistakes.” I want them to develop the ability to tackle complex problems by breaking them down into parts. I want them to develop the ability to deal wisely with the different pieces of information provided and the ability to detect a wrong answer.

I don’t lecture in the class. Students are asked to watch screencasts related to each chapter of their reading out of class, so that we can use class time to demonstrate new concepts with fun toys, tackle questions, place our work in several larger contexts, and take time to notice how much we are learning.

The class was created by another Haverford professor, Walter Smith, who literally wrote the book we are using. I really wanted to teach it because it uses a lot of different physics at a very fundamental and mathematically beautiful level. The math really excites me, and helping students get through the initial intimidation of some of the math in order to give them power with it is maybe even more exciting.

See what other courses the Department of Physics and Astronomy is offering this semester.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.

Photos by Patrick Montero.