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PH10053: Vibrations, waves & optics [WL]

[Page last updated: 21 April 2022]

Academic Year: 2022/3
Owning Department/School: Department of Physics
Credits: 6 [equivalent to 12 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 120
Level: Certificate (FHEQ level 4)
Semester 1
Assessment Summary: EX 85%, PR 15%
Assessment Detail:
  • PRACTICAL (PR 15%)
Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Requisites: Before or while taking this module you must take PH10007 OR take MA10230
You must have A-level Physics (or equivalent) and A-level Mathematics (or equivalent) to take this unit
Learning Outcomes: After taking this unit the student should be able to:
* analyse oscillating systems under different driving regimes;
* apply the wavefunction for a one-dimensional travelling wave to problems involving mechanical, acoustic, water and electromagnetic waves;
* state the principle of superposition and use it to solve problems involving the superposition of more than one wave;
* define and derive the impedance of a mechanical wave and apply it to reflection and transmission at interfaces;
* construct ray diagrams for use in solving simple geometrical optics problems;
* outline the mathematical analysis of multiple-beam interference;
* derive mathematical expressions for simple diffraction patterns and relate the limits imposed by diffraction to the performance of optical instruments;
* demonstrate the correct use of common laboratory equipment, maintain a scientific logbook, perform basic error analysis and produce a scientific report.

Aims: The aims of this unit are to introduce students to the fundamental concepts and mathematical treatment of waves, to explore various phenomena arising from the superposition of two or more waves, and to outline some of the general principles governing the propagation of light.

Skills: Written Communication T/F A, Numeracy T/F A, Data Acquisition, Handling, and Analysis T/F A, Information Technology T/F A, Problem Solving T/F A, Working as part of a group T/F, Practical laboratory skills T/F A.

Content: Simple harmonic motion (3 hours): Oscillations, including damped and forced oscillations. Resonance, Q-factors. Coupled oscillations and introduction to normal modes. Wave motion as the limit of coupled oscillations. The wave equation (1D).
Introduction to waves (8 hours): Transverse and longitudinal waves. Plane, circular and spherical waves. Waves on strings; sound, water, particle and light waves. Mathematical representation of 1D plane waves; wavefunction, amplitude, frequency, wavelength, wavenumber, speed, energy, intensity and impedance. The Doppler effect. Superposition; standing waves, beats, interference. Phase and group velocity; dispersive and non-dispersive media. Complex exponential notation. Mechanical impedance. Reflection and transmission at boundaries.
The propagation of light (3 hours): Optical path length. Huygen's and Fermat's principles, Snell's Law. Reflection and refraction. Lenses; the focal plane. Geometric optics for thin lenses. Aberrations. Principles of the telescope and microscope.
Interference and diffraction (8 hours): Coherence. Young's slits experiment. The Michelson interferometer. The Fabry-Perot etalon. Interference between N equally spaced sources. Fraunhofer diffraction as far-field case. Derivation of Fraunhofer pattern for single slit. Discussion of circular aperture, diffraction limits on optical systems, definition of resolution, Rayleigh criterion. The diffraction grating. Resolving power of the telescope and grating.
Laboratory: Performance of experiments designed to develop practical skills and support lecture material.

Programme availability:

PH10053 is Compulsory on the following programmes:

Department of Physics
  • USXX-AFB03 : BSc(Hons) Mathematics and Physics (Year 1)
  • USXX-AAB04 : BSc(Hons) Mathematics and Physics with Study year abroad (Year 1)
  • USXX-AKB04 : BSc(Hons) Mathematics and Physics with Year long work placement (Year 1)
  • USXX-AFM01 : MSci(Hons) Mathematics and Physics (Year 1)
  • USXX-AAM01 : MSci(Hons) Mathematics and Physics with Study year abroad (Year 1)
  • USXX-AKM01 : MSci(Hons) Mathematics and Physics with Year long work placement (Year 1)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2022/23 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2023/24 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2022/23.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.