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CC104: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 15th March 2001

Physics Consultative Committee

CC104: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 15th March 2001


Present: Ms Bessis, Mr Eckley, Mr Eldridge, Mr Jewsbury, Ms Knox, Mr Mach, Mr Sharp, Ms Somodi, Mr Wallhead, Prof. Longair, Dr Waldram, Dr Ward, Dr Batley.

Apologies: Ms Lignos


1. The draft minutes of the previous meeting were approved, with minor mdifications.

2. Matters Arising

Catering: A sandwich machine has been installed on a trial basis in the Foyer area outside the Pippard lecture theatre.

3. Teaching Committee Matters

Part IA Physics: The proposed changes to the Part IA Physics courses for 2002/03 onwards, required as a result of the introduction of new 'A'-level syllabuses, were discussed at a meeting with Directors of Studies. Following this feedback, the intention is to reduce the course content further and to place greater emphasis on teaching of the basic concepts. The present `A' and `B' course structure will be retained if possible. A major problem in Part IA remains the mathematics courses; much of Part IA Mathematics is too abstract and too disjoint from physics applications. Also, the examples sheet for the Mathematics `B' course represents a large workload and can take up as much time as the other Part IA subjects combined (though the balance is about right for the Mathematics `A' course).

Part IB courses: The TC would like to allow students to take a broader range of subjects in Part IB, by making it easier to take Advanced Physics with subjects (e.g. Materials or Physical Chemistry) other than Mathematics. One option being considered is to make the current `Concepts in Mathematics' course longer and examinable so that students would not feel disadvantaged if they do not take Part IB Mathematics.

Exam classing in Part II NST: Significant progress has been made recently towards agreement on reducing the disparity in classing between physical and biological subjects in Part II Natural Sciences (the biological subjects currently award a larger fraction of First's plus II.1's). A working group will produce a uniform set of descriptions of the standard expected for each exam class, and will use cohort tracking to monitor the classing fractions in each subject.

Physics teaching in schools: The introduction of a Part II option allowing students to undertake physics teaching in local schools is being considered. This might be taken as an alternative to a Literature Review, for example. This idea met with a very favourable response from the student representatives.

4. Part III

(Owing to the large number of Part III Minor Option courses in the Lent Term, it was not possible to discuss all the courses individually).

Gauge Field Theory, Prof. Webber (5 replies, 0, 0, 1, 2, 2, avg=4.2)

This course was well received. It would be helpful if additional explanation were provided to accompany the mathematics.

Information Theory, Dr Mackay (16 replies, 0, 0, 7, 4, 5, avg=3.9)

A very good course, though containing too much material. It was not always clear which material was examinable. Students enjoyed the interactive nature of the lectures, though it was perhaps slightly overdone. Those with previous computing experience were at an advantage.

General Relativity, Dr Hobson (13 replies, 0, 0, 2, 9, 2, avg=4.0)

A very interesting course which was well lectured, but contained too much material.

Low Dimensional Magnetism, Dr Bland (1 reply, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, avg=4.0)

Phase Transitions, Dr Simons (8 replies, 0, 0, 0, 4, 4, avg=4.5)

An interesting but difficult course. Students generally liked the technique of lecturing on the blackboard as it aided concentration.

Superconductivity, Dr Cooper (0 replies, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, avg=0.0)

Quantum Effects in Low-dimensional Semiconductor Devices, Prof. Pepper and Dr Barnes (4 replies, 0, 0, 0, 4, 0, avg=4.0)

A difficult course, but very well taught.

Microelectronics and Semiconductor Materials, Dr Hasko (3 replies, 0, 1, 1, 1, 0, avg=3.0)

An interesting course. The handouts were generally felt to be too concise and needed more explanatory material.

Optoelectronics, Dr Greenham (3 replies, 0, 0, 1, 2, 0, avg=3.7)

A well received course, though containing too much material.

Shock Waves and Explosives, Prof. Field and others (7 replies, 0, 0, 4, 3, 0, avg=3.4)

An interesting and well lectured course. The handouts were often hard to understand after the lectures.

Polymers and Colloids, Dr Terentjev (2 replies, 0, 0, 0, 2, 0, avg=4.0)

A well received course with very good demonstrations. It would be helpful if the handouts could be distributed earlier.

Physical Applications of Geometric Algebra, Dr Lasenby and Dr Doran (4 replies, 0, 0, 3, 0, 1, avg=3.5)

Prof. Lasenby's lectures were well paced and the material was carefully and clearly explained. Dr Doran's lectures were fine but sometimes rather rushed.

The Frontiers of Experimental Astrophysics, Dr Haniff (6 replies, 0, 0, 5, 0, 1, avg=3.3)

An interesting and enjoyable course. The handouts were minimal in content, which was not a problem as such but had caused difficulties for students missing lectures for unavoidable reasons.

Medical Physics, Dr Thomas and others (6 replies, 0, 1, 3, 2, 0, avg=3.2)

A very good and interesting course, though with variable standards of lecturing. The handouts were sometimes of poor quality or illegible (for example produced using Powerpoint with six slides per page, making equations unreadable). There were no handouts at all for the last few lectures and it was hard to take good notes (due for example to the difficulty of copying diagrams). The course contained a lot of material, and it was not always clear which material was examinable.

Physics of Remote Sensing, Dr Rees (7 replies, 0, 0, 0, 4, 3, avg=4.4)

An excellent course, enthusiastically lectured.

Quantum Information, Dr Payne (8 replies, 0, 0, 3, 4, 1, avg=3.8)

An interesting, up-to-date, and enjoyable course. It would be helpful if more diagrams could be included in the handouts.

Numerical Simulation Methods, Dr Monthoux and Dr Sprik (1 reply, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, avg=3.0)

Physics and Chemistry of Complex Fluids, Prof. Hansen and Dr Warner (2 replies, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, avg=3.5)

Advanced Quantum Field Theory, Dr Evans (0 replies, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, avg=0.0)

Atomic Astrophysics, Dr Burgess and Dr Mason (0 replies, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, avg=0.0)

Philosophy of Physics, Prof. Lipton and others (1 reply, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, avg=3.0)

A very interesting course, though with variable lecturing quality.

Modelling with Supercomputers, Dr Rajagopal (5 replies, 0, 1, 0, 3, 1, avg=3.8)

Entrepeneurship, Dr Hiscocks and others (1 reply, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, avg=5.0)

This was a new course, and the general view was that it was an excellent option which should be retained in future years. The Powerpoint handouts were of variable quality. The recommended books for the course were not available in the Rayleigh library. It would be helpful if model answers to questions could be provided.

General Comments

The Minor Option courses are intended to provide general exposure to a subject, but in practice many contain a lot of material, much of which is quite theoretical.

The joint options with chemistry seem to be going well. They have generally been found to be more theoretical than expected.

It would be useful to have an additional reminder of the deadlines for submitting the progress reports on Part III Projects nearer to the actual deadline.

5. Part II

Atoms and Light, Dr Phillips (56 replies, 4, 15, 21, 14, 2, avg=2.9)

There was a mixed response to this course. It was generally felt to contain interesting (often cutting edge) material which had been enthusiastically and clearly lectured, but also to be the hardest course of the year. It relied in places on material presented towards the end of the Part IB Optics course, which many students had not absorbed fully at the time. The OHPs used in the lectures were made available via the web, but most students would prefer an advance paper copy as in practice it could be difficult to take notes during the lectures themselves. Due to the disparate nature of the course, students needed to look at a large number of textbooks and it could be difficult to find the most appropriate book.

Systems, Dr Padman (74 replies, 2, 31, 31, 10, 0, avg=2.7)

The overheads for this course were very good, but students would prefer to have a copy ahead of the lecture. The course seemed generally straightforward, but most students found the questions quite hard. (The questions also appeared in a different order to the lecture material). The course material was considered to be interesting, and it was an advantage to have also taken TP1.

Nuclear Physics, Dr Shepherd-Themistocleous (76 replies, 9, 29, 31, 7, 0, avg=2.5)

The course contained interesting material, delivered with a good lecturing style, but the handouts were generally felt to be of poor quality. They tended to be rather sparse, with many incomplete sentences and inconsistent notation. It would be helpful if numerical answers could be provided to all the questions.

Particle Physics, Dr Thomson (57 replies, 0, 1, 6, 42, 8, avg=4.0)

This course was enthusiastically lectured and well received. The lecture notes were very clear and students appreciated the cutting edge nature of much of the material. The laser pen was not visible.

Fluids, Dr Warner (58 replies, 0, 1, 6, 32, 19, avg=4.2)

This was a very good course, enthusiastically delivered and with excellent demonstrations. Most students liked having to take notes during lectures as it aided concentration, but the notes were hard to digest when revisited after the lectures. The lecturer's handwriting was often hard to read. The printed handout was very useful and could profitably be expanded. The question sheet was generally found to be difficult.

Concepts in Physics, Prof. Longair (52 replies, 0, 0, 4, 30, 18, avg=4.3)

This was an enjoyable, interesting, useful and well lectured course. It was felt to be well worth attending despite being non-examinable. It would be useful if copies of the lecture notes could be provided.

TP2, Dr Rajagopal and Dr Cooper (30 replies, 0, 0, 6, 15, 9, avg=4.1)

This was a well lectured and well received course. It contained a huge number of examples involving a lot of algebra. The examples classes were not felt to be as useful as last term's since complete solutions were already provided beforehand.

Physics in Action, Prof. Brown and Dr Ansorge (2 replies, 0, 0, 0, 0, 2, avg=5.0)

This was an excellent and enjoyable course which was very well presented. Students enjoyed seeing connections made between abstract physics and practical applications.

Experiment E2, Dr Scott and others (25 replies, 1, 2, 8, 12, 2, avg=3.5)

The experiments had generally gone well, and most students had found it more satisfying to carry out a substantial two week experiment compared to shorter practicals. There had been problems with the STM experiment (which had not been picked up quickly enough) requiring the experiment to be re-done during the week after term.

General Comments

The results of the TP1 exam had appeared too late, after the deadline for choosing the TP2 or E2 options. This was due to a technical problem with the mark processing and should not recur in future years.

Vacation project vivas had not taken place until this term, by which time students had forgotten much of the detail of the project.

6. Part IB Advanced

Optics, Dr Hughes (80 replies, 2, 9, 47, 21, 1, avg=3.1)

The feedback on this course was fairly positive. It would help concentration if the lectures could be made more structured, for example by introducing a short break or by providing recaps or summaries. The handouts were also felt to need more structure and it would be useful if the key points could be flagged more clearly. The material near the end of the course was covered too fast and most students had jettisoned coherence. Although there were no lecture demonstrations, the linkage to practicals was very good.

Electromagnetism, Dr Gull (80 replies, 4, 30, 25, 19, 2, avg=2.8)

There was a mixed response to this course. The handouts were clearly presented but generally felt to be too sparse. The breaks in the middle of lectures were very interesting but too long (sometimes up to 20 minutes) and at the expense of core material. The material in the last few lectures had been covered too quickly. The examples sheet was very hard and more worked examples would be useful. The Part II student representatives commented that the notes and summary sheets from the Part IB Electromagnetism course were very useful in future years.

Thermal Physics, Prof. Howie (71 replies, 7, 22, 33, 7, 2, avg=2.6)

There were some very positive comments on this course but others had found the material hard to follow. The handouts were excellent when read through after the lecture course had finished but were of limited use during the lectures themselves.

A review of the syllabuses of the various courses on thermal physics will be undertaken shortly. It was felt that the present Part IB course content, with its 50/50 split between thermodynamics and statistical physics, is about right.

Practicals, Dr Butcher and others (72 replies, 2, 7, 35, 26, 2, avg=3.3)

The practicals had in general gone well, and were felt to be better than those in the Michaelmas term. They linked in well to the lecture courses. There were still complaints about non-uniformity of demonstrator marking. Some Heads of Class gave little support during the class.

Examples Classes in Mathematical Physics, Prof. Littlewood and others (44 replies, 2, 1, 15, 24, 2, avg=3.5)

The examples classes were felt to be very useful, especially the class on electromagnetism. Some demonstrators did not seem to have prepared properly before the class, which wasted time in the class itself.

7. Part IB

(The student representative for this course was unable to attend the meeting.)

Quantum Physics, Dr Linfield (8 replies, 0, 1, 0, 5, 2, avg=4.0)

Practicals, Dr Warner (7 replies, 0, 3, 4, 0, 0, avg=2.6)

8. Part IA

Oscillations and Waves (course A), Dr Riley (106 replies, 0, 3, 21, 67, 15, avg=3.9)

This course was well presented, with an interesting and enjoyable lecturing style. The mathematical aspects were well explained and easy to follow. The summaries at the start and end of each lecture were appreciated, as were the worked examples and demonstrations. Some annotations (usually in red) could be hard to read. Students had varying prior experience of electronic components and circuit analysis, and additional introductory or revision material in this area might be helpful. The examples were generally felt to be on the hard side.

Oscillations and Waves (course B), Dr Batley (109 replies, 0, 0, 19, 52, 38, avg=4.2)

This couse was well received and no particular problems were raised. The mathematical content of the course and the level of the examples were felt to be about right.

Practicals, Dr Jones and others (163 replies, 4, 29, 78, 50, 2, avg=3.1)

There were some very positive, but also some very negative, comments about the quality of the demonstrating. Particular problems mentioned included a poor grasp of English and demonstrators who were unwilling to help or unable to find problems. The quality of the Heads of Class also varied greatly; some were extremely good and assisted the demonstrating while some took no active role. The introductory non-examinable practical on the oscilloscope was very helpful. In general however the practicals were felt to be too long and too stressful. The level of description in the manuals varied appreciably, and in general a more detailed description of how to connect up and use the equipment would be helpful.

9. Any Other Business

No items were raised under this heading.

10. Next Meeting

The next Consultative Committee meeting will be on Thursday 24th May 2001 at 09:30 in the Committee Room.


JRB, 4th May 2001