skip to primary navigationskip to content

CC106: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 29th November 2001

Physics Consultative Committee

CC106: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 29th November 2001


Present: Ms Bacon, Ms Blackburn, Ms Glansdorp, Mr Jewsbury, Mr Lintott, Mr Mach, Ms Schlichting, Ms Soule, Mr Sprague, Mr Sprake, Prof. Longair, Dr Waldram, Dr Needs, Dr Batley.


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

2. The draft minutes of the previous meeting were approved.

3. Matters Arising

Faculty Board Elections: This year's elections had been poorly advertised and it had proved difficult to obtain information on the election arrangements. It was suggested that in future the elections should be clearly advertised in lectures or via email. A re-run of this years elections would be requested from the Faculty Board.

E-mail lists: email lists of Part IA and Part IB physics undergraduates are normally available soon after registration for practicals, and are set up for Part II and Part III students in the course of organising supervisions.

4. Teaching Committee Matters

Dr Waldram reported on various issues currently being considered by the Teaching Committee:

Course Revision: The new Part IA Physics syllabuses which come into effect next year are essentially complete and are now with the Part IA lecturers for final revision. The syllabuses will be circulated shortly to the student representatives for comment. A working group is now reviewing the Part IA Practicals, especially the earlier practicals and the teaching of error handling.

A review of the physics teaching in Part IB and beyond is now underway, primarily to consider the knock-on effects of the changes about to come into force in Part IA. It is hoped to integrate the current Part IB Physics and Advanced Physics courses so that the former becomes a subset of the latter. Lectures on Astrophysics could be introduced in the Easter term of Part IB. Another aim is to encourage a greater diversity in the choice of subject taken in conjunction with Advanced Physics, and greater mobility between subjects in moving from Part IB to Part II. This probably involves enhancing the IB Mathematics Concepts course, and has implications for the organisation of Practicals.

A review of the Minor Options on offer in Part III is also being undertaken, the aim being to reduce the overlap between some of the existing options while at the same time extending and updating the overall coverage.

Part II and Part III Supervisions: Steps were taken this year to encourage closer links between lecturers and supervisors in Part II and Part III. The number of supervisions offered in each Part III Major Option course was also increased from three to four. A new computerised system to handle the supervision arrangements was introduced this year. Teething problems with the new system meant that information about supervisions reached students somewhat later than usual this term. Generally this had not caused noticeable problems, but in a few cases supervisions had begun only very late in the term.

5. Part III

Principles of Quantum Condensed Matter Physics, Prof. Littlewood (21 replies, 0 0 3 12 6, avg=4.1)

A well received course with very good lecture notes. There had been problems with legibility early in the course but these had quickly been sorted out.

Structure and Properties of Condensed Matter, Prof. Donald (19 replies, 0 3 3 12 1, avg=3.6)

A clear, well-structured course with good handouts and a good lecturing style. There were several references to required reading material outside the lectures, but this had proved to be a manageable load and had worked well. A minor problem was the use of yellow on diagrams, which didn't photocopy well.

Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology, Prof. Fabian, Prof. Lasenby and Prof. Rees (45 replies, 0 1 6 26 12, avg=4.1)

A very enjoyable and interesting course, despite containing too much material. The lecture notes were good and the examples were at about the right level.

Particle Physics, Dr Batley (26 replies, 0 2 7 16 1, avg=3.6)

This course received a generally positive response. The handouts were good, and students appreciated having typeset handouts as well as the copies of the lecture transparencies.

Physics of Earth as a Planet, Dr Priestley and Prof. Mackenzie (21 replies, 0 6 8 6 1, avg=3.1)

There was a mixed response to this course. Some students felt that the physics was somewhat lost in the mathematics while others found the course to be very interesting and well balanced. The examples were quite mathematical whereas the exams involved more essay style questions, which made exam preparation difficult. The handouts were sometimes not detailed enough, and it would help if colour schemes could be used which photocopied more distinctively into black and white.

Theoretical Concepts in Physics, Dr Simons (26 replies, 0 0 1 8 17, avg=4.6)

An excellent, if hard course, presented with a very good lecturing style. It had been asserted that the course would be accessible to students who hadn't taken TP1 and TP2 in Part II, but knowledge of material from these courses (e.g. operator formalism) was in fact assumed.

Quantum Field Theory, Prof. Drummond (12 replies, 1 1 5 5 0, avg=3.2)

It was generally felt that the course was pitched at a reasonable level, but was somewhat dry and lacking in physical emphasis. The lectures contained quite a few minor mistakes.

Formation and Evolution of Stars, Dr Tout (3 replies, 0 0 0 1 2, avg=4.7)

An excellent and well taught course.

Themes of Cavendish Research, Dr Barnes and others (2 replies, 0 0 1 1 0, avg=3.5)

These lectures were felt to be useful and interesting by those attending, and worth continuing in future. Several students commented that they often forgot that the lectures were taking place, and it was suggested that weekly advertising in lectures be introduced.

6. Part II

Solid State Physics II, Dr Smith (74 replies, 5 23 33 10 3, avg=2.8)

This course was reasonably well received. The main problem was the handout, which would benefit from more structure and highlighting of key results, and from extra space for annotations. The ``spider diagram'' summaries at the start of lectures were very good and it would be useful if these could be added to the handouts. The lecturer's handwriting was hard to read. The material in the early part of the course was interesting, but the lectures on semiconductor devices were less so. The balance of questions on the exampes sheet did not reflect particularly well the mixture of material in the lectures.

Thermal and Statistical Physics, Dr Needs (71 replies, 2 9 31 26 3, avg=3.3)

This was generally felt to be a difficult course but had been well lectured and had good handouts (though more space in the handouts for annotations would be useful). There were sometimes differences between the overheads and the handouts, which led to confusion.

Quantum Mechanics II, Dr Ward (74 replies, 0 3 25 35 11, avg=3.7)

An interesting and well lectured course. The handouts were excellent, and it was very helpful to have typeset handouts complementing the copies of the lecture transparencies. The examples sheet was hard but doable.

Relativity and Electrodynamics, Dr Cooper (69 replies, 1 2 25 37 4, avg=3.6)

An excellent course, well structured and well presented. The lecture transparencies and lecture notes sometimes employed different notation and different derivations, which could be confusing.

Computational Physics, Dr Titterington and others (63 replies, 8 18 29 8 0, avg=2.6)

Views on this course were somewhat divided: those with little or no prior computing experience found it to be far too fast while those familiar with computing techniques found it rather easy. The self-study and practical parts of the course were very good. The introduction of a new computer system had caused problems this year, and there were insufficient demonstrators at the practicals. It was suggested that it would be better to move from FORTRAN to C++ in future. However this would require more time to teach and might widen the gap between those who had or hadn't done much prior computing.

TP1, Dr Terentjev and Dr Gull (49 replies, 1 3 14 20 11, avg=3.8)

A difficult and fast course, but very well taught and followable. The lecturer's enthusiasm was much appreciated. The questions in the Examples Classes were set at a reasonable level. There were often not enough demonstrators however, and some of the demonstrators were not sufficiently on top of the material. The later classes were less useful and attendance had dropped. It was requested that paper copies of the handouts be made available; these were available via the web but were expensive to print.

Experiment E1, Dr Scott and others (25 replies, 0 1 4 15 5, avg=4.0)

Most students had learnt a lot from their Part II experiment and found them interesting and enjoyable. Having a degree of flexibility as to when the work was carried out was appreciated, though this could also lead to a temptation for the experiment to take up all the student's time, and to get behind with supervision work as a result.

General Comments

The Long Vacation project vivas had not been held until late in the Michaelmas term. It was requested that the deadline for the vivas to be held be brought forward in future, to the division of Michaelmas Term for example.

7. Part IB Advanced

Dynamics, Dr Mackay (72 replies, 4 5 6 30 27, avg=4.0)

This was considered to be a very stimulating course, with lively and enjoyable lectures. A large part of the syllabus material had not been covered, however, and the last few lectures had been incredibly squeezed. This piled a lot of material into the last week or two of term when students were busy completing the Head of Class practical write-up. It also meant that much of the material needed to tackle the questions on the examples sheet had not been covered, which made supervisions awkward. The recommended books for the course had also proved a problem: Hand+Finch was too hard while Kibble+Berkshire was pitched at too low a level. The website for the course was excellent.

Experimental Methods, Dr Saunders (70 replies, 1 0 17 30 22, avg=4.0)

This course met with a very positive response. The lectures had presented the material in an interesting fashion and linked well with the Practicals and the Head of Class write-up. It was requested that the numerical answers to problems be moved from directly below the corresponding question as this could prove too tempting.

Waves, Dr Ritchie (68 replies, 7 31 23 7 0, avg=2.4)

The lecture notes and handouts for this course were excellent, and the lectures were well prepared and well structured. It would help concentration if the material could be presented in a more interesting style however. The lecture demonstrations were very good and there were interesting links to the lecturer's own research. Material involving only straightforward algebra could be covered more quickly.

Mathematical Concepts in Physics, Dr Withington (13 replies, 0 0 2 8 3, avg=4.1)

This was a very good course, well lectured and well connected to the physics courses: ``the way maths should be taught''. The ``jargon busting'' approach was appreciated. It was asked whether the course could be lengthened in future as some topics had inevitably been a bit rushed. Supervisions had been introduced for this course this year, though they had started late because of problems with a new computer based system for supervision organisation.

Practical Classes, Dr Saunders (69 replies, 3 8 40 16 2, avg=3.1)

The Part IB practicals were generally considered to be more satisfying and enjoyable than those in Part IA. The help provided by different demonstrators varied widely in quality. In some classes, the demonstrators had all gone to lunch at the same time; the Head of Class should coordinate this properly. A common grievance was receiving a poor mark from a demonstrator with no explanation as to why a low mark had been given.

8. Part IB

Waves and Imaging Instruments, Dr Buscher (7 replies, 0 0 2 5 0, avg=3.7)

This course had been well received, and students appreciated being in a small group where it was easier to ask questions. The handouts for the course were very good. The examples were sometimes not well matched to the material presented in lectures. Numerical answers to the examples would be helpful. There had been a problem early in the term finding supervisors for the course.

Practical Classes, Dr Bleloch (7 replies, 0 2 1 4 0, avg=3.3)

The practical manual for IB Physics was less prescriptive than in IA and students were often unsure of the next step. In one of the practical groups the Head of Class had been very involved and given ``mini-lectures'', and this had worked very well. The visits (e.g. to the telescopes) had been very interesting and useful.

9. Part IA

Foundations of Classical and Statistical Physics (course A), Prof. Longair (83 replies, 1 8 25 43 6, avg=3.5)

The lectures were very interesting and enjoyable; they were generally considered to be fast but followable. The handouts were very good, though additional summaries could be useful. The material on the Boltzmann distribution was new to most students and felt to be quite difficult. There was a big jump between the lectures and the problems on the examples sheet, and it would help if some easier questions could be included.

Foundations of Classical and Statistical Physics (course B), Dr Waldram (103 replies, 2 13 40 45 3, avg=3.3)

A well received course with good lectures. It was generally felt that earlier topics had been covered a bit too slowly and later ones a bit too fast. The handout was excellent, but if anything was almost too thorough as it left little to add during the lectures themselves. It was also suggested that some of the mathematics could be separated from the main text.

Practical Classes, Dr Haniff (184 replies, 3 26 80 72 3, avg=3.3)

The practical on the gyroscope was excellent and helped the understanding of the material presented in lectures. The other practicals were less closely linked to lectures. The main complaint remains the limited time available to complete the practical. This tends to make the practicals too stressful and leaves no time to think about what is being done and why. The talks by the Heads of Class were sometimes too long or interrupted the work in hand, and there were variable opinions as to their usefulness. The manual was excellent.

General Comments

The main jolt on arrival at Cambridge from school is the level of mathematics required.

10. Any Other Business

Web access: Past exam papers for the TP1 course were available on the web but the solutions had not been released until half way through the vacation, which made access difficult for many students. Several lecturers (e.g. Mackay, Warner, Cooper) had produced excellent websites for their courses. Some course websites (e.g. Part IB Electromagnetism) did not have a link from the standard Cavendish web pages. It was requested that course web sites not be used as a substitute for the provision of lecture handouts distributed on paper - this simply transferred much of the cost of handout production to the students themselves.

Coton footpath: The lighting on the Coton footpath is poor, which is particularly inconvenient for students returning to town at the end of Practicals.

11. Next Meeting

The next Consultative Committee meeting will be on Thursday 14th March 2001 at 09:30 in the Committee Room.


JRB, 16th January 2001