skip to primary navigationskip to content

CC100: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 2nd December 1999

Physics Consultative Committee

CC100: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 2nd December 1999


Present: Ms Deng, Mr Eldridge, Mr Gough, Mr How, Ms Jenkins, Ms Larrabee, Mr Liddell, Mr Church (pp Mr Richards), Mr Riley, Ms Somodi, Dr Gull, Prof. Longair, Dr Waldram, Dr Ward, Dr Batley.


1. The new student representatives were welcomed and the purpose of the committee was briefly described.

2. The minutes of the previous meeting were approved.

3. Matters Arising

Part II Examination Results: Prof. Longair had sent a note to the Strategic Committee of the Natural Sciences Tripos about the greater overall fraction of Firsts plus II.1s awarded by the biological subjects in Part II (though the physical science subjects award a greater fraction of Firsts). The note had been ``received with interest'' and would be discussed by the biological subjects, but it was unlikely that any changes would result.

4. Teaching Committee Matters

Dr Waldram summarised various aspects of the physics courses which are currently under review:

Future of first year physics: a working group has begun to gather information on the changes currently being made to A-level physics courses. It is already clear that substantial changes to the Part IA physics syllabus will be needed in 2-3 years time.

Thermal physics: a working group has already reviewed the teaching of thermal physics in Part II and will now consider the Part IB syllabus in detail.

Minor Options: a review of the Part III Minor Options will be carried out, to establish, for example, whether some of the courses on offer are too narrow in scope, or whether the range of options available should be made more coherent.

IB single subject physics: a review of the future of Part IB single subject physics, to consider, for example, whether it might be possible to combine some of the single subject and IB Advanced lecture courses, has now been completed. It was concluded that it was not as easy as first thought to make such changes and the matter will be put on hold until the upcoming changes to the Part IA course have worked their way through.

Communication skills: the recent Subject Review had recommended that communication skills should feature more widely in our courses. In the short term, this might perhaps be accomplished through adjustments to Part II Literature Reviews and Part III Projects.

Maths courses: Prof. Longair and Dr Gull are the Physics representatives on an interdepartmental committee considering the teaching of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences Tripos. A concern with the current proposals, which weaken the Mathematics `A' course, is that they may not provide a good route through to IB Advanced Physics for people who have only taken single subject maths at A-level.

5. Part III

Solid State Physics, Dr Allison (28 replies, 2 9 7 6 4, avg=3.0)

The course was generally felt to be harder and more detailed than earlier solid state courses; more time and additional explanation would be useful for the harder parts. Some easier introductory questions on the examples sheet would also be helpful. The lecture transparencies were excellent, though sometimes the colour had not photocopied well or the text was too small to read.

Structure and Properties of Condensed Matter, Prof. Donald (23 replies, 1 6 7 7 2, avg=3.1)

A well-organised lecture course, enthusiastically lectured. While most students liked having to take notes in lectures, and the speed of the lectures was fine in this context, it was generally felt that by the end of the course the resulting notes were incomplete and fragmented. The handouts for the course were also quite sparse. It was requested that questions from past Tripos papers not be used on the examples sheet since these are needed for revision.

Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology, Prof. Fabian, Prof. Rees and Dr Hobson (45 replies, 0 2 5 31 7, avg=4.0)

A well-liked course eliciting a very positive response. The course was quite full however and it was suggested that some of the material could be moved to a Minor Option. All three lecturers were very good, though Prof. Fabian's transparencies were sometimes of poor quality and the material could be presented in a disjointed fashion, and Prof. Rees was generally impressive but sometimes a little slow or inaudible.

Particle Physics, Dr Batley (21 replies, 0 1 6 9 5, avg=3.9)

The course was felt to contain a lot of material, but was generally fine. Some additional questions on the examples sheet to ensure a complete coverage of the material would be helpful. There were differing views on whether having split handouts (one set for the physics, one set for the more mathematical material) was helpful.

Physics of Earth as a Planet, Dr Priestley and Dr Haines (19 replies, 0 4 10 3 2, avg=3.2)

Most students were very positive about this course. The format of the course, with practical sessions and examples classes, was very helpful. There was often a lack of continuity between lectures however so that the presentation of the material was somewhat disjointed. The course is very mathematical, and more guidance on which material students were expected to be able to reproduce in the exam would be welcomed. The photocopying of colour diagrams was sometimes problematic.

Theoretical Concepts in Physics, Dr Simons (10 replies, 0 0 1 3 6, avg=4.5)

An excellent lecturer and a very good course, despite containing a lot of material. More detail in the worked solutions would be helpful.

Quantum Field Theory, Prof. Manton (7 replies, 0 0 3 2 2, avg=3.9)

There were no handouts and no worked solutions for this course. More explanation of how the mathematics relates to the physics would be helpful.

Structure and Evolution of Stars, Prof. Gough and Dr Tout (6 replies, 0 2 3 1 0, avg=2.8)

The blackboard notes were hard to read, and there were no handouts or worked solutions. More questions were needed on the first two examples sheets. The examples classes were well run but there was not enough scope for discussion.

Themes of Cavendish Research, Dr Phillips and others (8 replies, 1 2 1 3 1, avg=3.1)

The lectures had not been advertised adequately at the beginning of term, but this had been fixed early on. The talks were generally well received.

General Comments

Allocation of Part III Projects: A survey carried out by the Part III student reps showed that about half (22/41) of Part III students thought that the system used to allocate Part III Projects was unfair, though most (34/41) had got their first choice. The system was perceived effectively to work on a first-come first-served basis. It was difficult to think of a better system however, though it might help if supervisors could be encouraged to stick to the proper timetable for arranging meetings. Prof. Longair pointed out that it is open to students to suggest their own project, and that enthusiasm and persistence can work dividends!

Worked Answers: The same survey had revealed an even divide between those wanting worked solutions to be made available before or after the relevant supervision. All Part III courses this term did provide worked solutions at some point, though not all had provided numerical answers with the examples sheets.

Study Area: The Part II/Part III study area on the bridge between the Rutherford and Bragg buildings was being used regularly for Part IA supervisions. This is extremely distracting and also completely unjustified now that extra supervision rooms have been provided at the Cavendish.

Part II/Part III Library: Books are often unavailable for long periods of time. While overnight borrowing is allowed, the computer check-out indicates that books can be borrowed for longer, and this may be leading to confusion about the borrowing rules.

Part III Supervisions: It was asked whether it would be possible to increase the number of Part III supervisions given. However the supervision arrangements have to be negotiated with Colleges and it would be very difficult to change the existing provision.

Course Handbook: It would be useful if email addresses could be added to the list of staff at the back of the course handbook.

6. Part II

Solid State Physics II, Dr Smith (51 replies, 3 22 19 6 1, avg=2.6)

The lecturer was difficult to hear and it would be very helpful if a microphone were to be used. There was also a tendency to take off the current transparency before students had had time to take down notes - making full use of the two OHPs available would resolve this. Many students felt that more mathematical rigour was needed; diagrams were often used to explain the material, but these were untidy and hard to copy down. The summaries at the start of each lecture were an excellent idea, but they tended to take too long. The course material was very interesting, and the examples sheet was good and pitched at the right level. It would be helpful if numerical answers could be provided with the examples sheet.

Thermal and Statistical Physics, Dr Julian (51 replies, 0 2 9 21 19, avg=4.1)

A very good course, enthusiastically lectured. The short breaks in the middle of lectures were much appreciated. The lectures sometimes went a bit too fast to copy down notes reliably, though having to copy down notes was generally liked per se. Probably a bit too much time was spent on the material (thermodynamics) in the early part of the course.

Quantum Mechanics II, Dr Ward (50 replies, 0 8 27 15 0, avg=3.1)

A good course. More time could probably be spent on the harder topics such as spin, which only appeared at the very end of the Part IB course; more revision questions might also help in this context. More examples of matrix methods would also be useful. The material on spectroscopy was generally felt to be dull, but it was pointed out that not everyone has already taken Chemistry. The blue handout was excellent.

Relativity and Electromagnetism, Dr Alexander (49 replies, 0 2 24 20 3, avg=3.5)

A good course, presented with a nice lecturing style. The transparencies were very clear, but the typeset handouts were harder to follow - more emphasis on the main results might help here ? More examples of how to apply the techniques learnt to actual problems would also be helpful.

Computational Physics, Dr Alexander (49 replies, 0 7 33 9 0, avg=3.0)

The course started off well at a suitably low level, but the pace picked up appreciably later on. Most students had found debugging programs to be a big problem as it was very hard to know what to do when an error occurred. More filespace would be useful - program errors produced core dumps which filled up the available space, but students weren't aware that this was what was happening. Another technical problem was compiling NAG routines as it wasn't made clear how to do this. The demonstrators didn't seem to be familiar with FORTRAN 90 or to have been given the handouts ahead of time. On balance however, the course was well lectured and represented a big improvement over last year. Moving the computer project deadline back to the start of next term (because of a clash with Experiment E1b) was an extremely popular move, and it was suggested that this timetable should be kept in future years.

TP1, Dr Ansorge and Dr Terentjev (23 replies, 1 4 5 9 4, avg=3.5)

The first half of the course was very well lectured and enjoyed, and was on reasonably familiar material. The second half was a bit rushed however and needed more explanation. The last part of the course, on stochastic processes, was felt to be very hard. Dr Terentjev sometimes seemed unaware of which material had already been covered in previous courses. It would also help if Dr Terentjev were to use a microphone as he was sometimes a bit quiet. Most students would prefer small group supervisions to examples classes, though the classes had generally worked well. The classes in which a short talk had been given half way through to pick up on the important points were especially good. The demonstrators were very good and very helpful.

Experiment E1, Dr Scott and others (24 replies, 1 3 10 6 4, avg=3.4)

The various experiments had generally gone well, though a few had suffered from lack of Head of Class visibility and/or poor demonstrating. The procedure used to allocate the practicals at the start of term had been rather rushed and disorganised. Also not much explanation of each experiment was available - just the titles. It was suggested that additional information about each experiment could be made available via the web, and a bit earlier than is currently the case.

General Comments

Allocation of Literature Reviews: some students were not allocated any of their five choices of literature review. However, given that some areas (astrophysics, particle physics) are much more popular than others, it is difficult to come up with a better scheme; most staff are already offering 4 or 5 reviews in these areas. It was pointed out also that students are free to suggest their own literature review titles, in which case they are almost certain to get their first choice.

Worked Answers: it was requested that all Part II lecturers be asked to provide worked answers. Current policy is to leave this to the discretion of individual lecturers.

7. Part IB Advanced

Dynamics, Dr Mackay (75 replies, 6 16 13 34 6, avg=3.2)

An enjoyable course, with a good and interesting lecturer. Too much prior knowledge and too high a mathematical level is assumed however. It was difficult to take notes in lectures due to the simultaneous use of all three blackboards (though having to take notes in lectures is generally liked per se). The distribution of examples on the examples sheet was not always well matched to the lectures, and numerical answers would be very helpful. The recommended course textbook was very new and difficult to find, and was not available in libraries.

Experimental Methods, Dr Saunders (76 replies, 0 5 27 36 8, avg=3.6)

A very good course presented with an interesting and enjoyable lecturing style. The lecture on report writing was not found to be of much help with the Head of Class write-up, though it was interesting to see how research results were actually presented in practice.

Waves, Dr Riley (105 replies, 0 9 41 43 12, avg=3.6)

A good course, very well lectured. The handout was good but very full, and it might be helpful to highlight the important points more ?

Mathematical Concepts in Physics, Dr Green (10 replies, 0 0 0 7 3, avg=4.3)

A very clear course and an excellent lecturer.

Examples Classes in Mathematical Physics (37 replies, 3 5 16 10 3, avg=3.1)

Only one class had taken place so far and there were no particular comments.

Practical Classes, Dr Saunders (73 replies, 4 11 36 21 1, avg=3.1)

The practicals were felt to be much better than those in Part IA. The demonstrators were generally very good, though there were often inconsistencies in what they expected by way of error analysis and lab book presentation.

8. Part IB

Waves and Imaging Instruments, Dr Bleloch (13 replies, 0 2 3 7 1, avg=3.5)

Good, clear lectures presented at the right speed and right level. Legibility was often a problem, and more handouts would be useful. The interludes on historical aspects of the subject were much enjoyed. Providing numerical answers with the examples sheet would be very helpful.

Practical Classes, Dr Bleloch (11 replies, 0 0 7 4 0, avg=3.4)

The practicals were felt to be very good and helpful, and the effort put in by the organisers was much appreciated. The timing with the lectures was not always quite right, but this is probably unavoidable. The handout was very good.

9. Part IA

Foundations of Classical and Statistical Physics (course A), Prof. Longair (82 replies, 0 4 24 38 16, avg=3.8)

An excellent lecturer and a very good course. The course was generally felt to be quite hard, especially the newer material beginning with the Boltzmann distribution. It was not always clear which material had to be learnt for examination purposes. Most students appreciated the comprehensive handouts, though many would also like to have something to write during lectures. The mathematics handout was extremely useful and worked well. The examples sheet was not always well matched to the lectures and a few easier questions would probably be useful.

Foundations of Classical and Statistical Physics (course B), Dr Waldram (112 replies, 17 25 46 23 1, avg=2.7)

The full handouts meant that many students found it hard to concentrate, and most would prefer to have something to write during lectures. The mathematical working often contained gaps so that it was not always clear where a particular equation had come from. The examples sheet was generally felt to be difficult, especially the questions on the less familiar material covering statistical and quantum physics.

Practical Classes, Dr White (190 replies, 3 21 92 70 4, avg=3.3)

The practicals were generally felt to be too long, though it was pointed out that they had been shortened since last year. They were felt to be hard, but not too hard. The gyroscope practical was long, but was very useful and helpful in terms of understanding the lecture material. A lecture on error analysis would be very useful. The enthusiasm and helpfulness of the overall HoC was very much appreciated. The demonstrating was generally good, though a few exceptions were noted. Some students commented that it wasn't clear what was expected by way of lab book notes, though demonstrators should provide feedback on this.

10. Any Other Business

  • The female toilets near the practical classes had no drink cup dispenser and no sanitary towel disposal bins.
  • Prices in the Cavendish canteen were high compared to College butteries.
  • It was asked whether model solutions to past Tripos questions could be made generally available. Dr Ward is collecting numerical or algebraic answers together and these are now available on the web. The Teaching Committee is considering whether more detailed answers could be provided, but this would be a lot of work.

11. Next Meeting

The next Consultative Committee meeting will be on Thursday 16th March 2000 at 09:30 in the Committee Room.


JRB, 6th January 2000