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CC101: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 16th March 2000

Physics Consultative Committee

CC101: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 16th March 2000

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

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

2. Matters Arising

Part II/Part III Library: All books belonging to the Part II/Part III Library should in principle already be classified as such by the computer system, and be flagged as available only for overnight borrowing. The Librarian should be notified of any errors in classification. The problem of missing books is a long-standing one, and is mainly due to books being taken for long periods without being signed out. A new security system is currently being installed which will hopefully improve the situation in future. In the meantime, the Librarian has a stock of Part II/Part III books in her office which are available for borrowing and must be signed out in her presence.

Part II/Part III Study Area: The problem of people holding supervisions in the Part II/Part III study area on the Mott-Rutherford bridge is now much improved thanks to new notices put up by Bill Badcock, and his vigilence in keeping an eye on the situation.

3. Teaching Committee Matters

Communication skills: The TC has been considering ways to increase the communication skills content in the Physics courses. Current ideas are to give some exam credit for presentations of Part II literature reviews and Part III projects and to introduce a short unassessed presentation as part of the HoC marking in Part IB Advanced Physics practicals.

Teaching Office: A Teaching Office is now being established within the Cavendish, and the TO secretary, Laura McIntyre, has already begun taking over some CC duties. Laura is currently located in the LTP Group area in the Mott building, where she is also LTP Secretary, but will eventually move to an office in the Classes area.

Mathematics for Natural Sciences: The inter-departmental syllabus committee has accepted proposals put forward by the Cavendish aimed at ensuring that students arriving at Cambridge with either single or double Mathematics 'A'-level can have a route through to the Physics courses in Part IB and beyond. The content of the Part IA Mathematics 'A' course will be reduced a little (starting in Michaelmas 2000), and future Part IB courses will assume only prior knowledge from this Part IA 'A' course. This allows students with single 'A'-level Mathematics to catch up in either Part IA or Part IB. The committee also agreed to change the exam marking scheme to be more in line with that used in Physics exams.

Review of Part IA Physics courses: Ongoing changes to A-level courses will hit us in Michaelmas 2002. The TC, in consultation with the Dept of Education, is actively considering the changes that will be needed to our courses. Prof. Longair emphasised that input on these changes from the student representatives would be very much welcomed. He will try to circulate some ideas for discussion before the next CC meeting.

Part II Timetabling: The TC is minded to swap the TP1 and TP2 courses in Part II, and have also been considering timetabling issues associated with Experiment EIB and the computing project, with a preference for leaving the same system in place as was used this year, where projects were marked at the start of the Lent Term. The student representatives were happy with these proposals.

4. Part III

(Owing to the large number of Part III Minor Option courses in the Lent Term, it was only possible to discuss a few of the courses individually.)

Gauge Field Theory, Dr Ewerz (3 replies, 0, 1, 1, 1, 0, avg=3.0)

The course went too slowly at the beginning but then much too fast towards the end, and overran slightly. Course handouts should be made available before the lecture. It was felt that the linkage to the Particles Major Option could be improved.

Information Theory, Dr Mackay (14 replies, 0, 1, 1, 6, 6, avg=4.2)

A well received course, though with a lot of material and quite hard. The handouts were generally very good but could be too concise and too substantial - it was not always clear which material was examinable. The interactive aspects of the course were very good.

General Relativity, Dr Carswell (8 replies, 0, 0, 3, 5, 0, avg=3.6)

Slightly too hard in places, but overall a very good course. A little more structuring in the handout, and more equation numbering, would be appreciated.

Low Dimensional Magnetism, Dr Bland (2 replies, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, avg=3.5)

The course contained a lot of material and required a large amount of background reading.

Phase Transitions, Dr Simons (3 replies, 0, 0, 0, 0, 3, avg=5.0)

An excellent course, very well received.

Superconductivity, Dr Cooper (3 replies, 2, 0, 1, 0, 0, avg=1.7)

The efforts made by the lecturer were appreciated, but more time needs to be spent covering the basic material. There was a tendency to try to cover too many points at once. Derivations need to be worked through in detail and not just outlined. Legibility was often a problem and the quality of the handouts was poor.

Quantum Effects in Low-dimensional Semiconductor Devices, Prof. Pepper and Dr Barnes (4 replies, 0, 0, 1, 2, 1, avg=4.0)

Dr Barnes' lectures were very good, but those by Prof. Pepper tended to be more confusing and unstructured.

Microelectronics and Semiconductor Materials, Dr Hasko (0 replies, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, avg=0.0)

Optoelectronics, Dr Greenham and Dr Richards (3 replies, 0, 1, 0, 2, 0, avg=3.3)

The course was felt to be a bit on the hard side and a bit too theoretical, in the sense that the underlying physics was sometimes obscured. The demonstrations worked very well.

Shock Waves and Explosives, Prof. Field and others (4 replies, 0, 0, 1, 3, 0, avg=3.8)

A well received course. Additional text in the handout and labels on diagrams would be appreciated. Also there had been problems due to poor photocopying of colours.

Polymers and Colloids, Dr Melrose (4 replies, 0, 0, 2, 1, 1, avg=3.8)

A good course, enthusiastically lectured. The handouts contained a lot of minor mistakes (spelling, words randomly omitted or added etc.).

Physical Applications of Geometric Algebra, Dr Challinor and Dr Doran (2 replies, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, avg=3.5)

Well received, though felt to contain too much material.

The Frontiers of Exptl Astrophysics, Dr Haniff (13 replies, 0, 2, 2, 6, 3, avg=3.8)

A well received course. It would be helpful if the handouts could be expanded somewhat, and made more structured.

Medical Physics, Dr Dendy and others (4 replies, 0, 0, 3, 1, 0, avg=3.3)

Generally well received, though a lot of background reading was needed. There were mixed views on the use of several lecturers to cover the course - some students appreciated the variety, but others felt that the course became disjointed.

Physics of Remote Sensing, Dr Rees (7 replies, 0, 0, 1, 4, 2, avg=4.1)

Quantum Information, Dr Payne (12 replies, 0, 1, 3, 5, 3, avg=3.8)

An interesting course, enthusiastically lectured. The demonstrations were much appreciated. The handouts tended to be rather sparse, and legibility could be poor.

Numerical Simulation Methods, Dr Monthoux and Dr Sprik (0 replies, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, avg=0.0)

Theory of Complex Fluids, Prof. Hansen and Dr Warner (3 replies, 0, 0, 2, 1, 0, avg=3.3)

This is a new Minor Option being given jointly with Chemistry, and was generally well received. The course turned out to be quite mathematical, though it was not clear from the information available that this would be such a mathematical course. More explanation of the underlying physics would be welcome. Legibility was sometimes a problem, and it was felt that the quality of the handouts needed to be improved.

Advanced Quantum Field Theory, Prof. Landshoff (0 replies, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, avg=0.0)

Atomic Astrophysics, Dr Burgess and Dr Mason (2 replies, 0, 0, 0, 2, 0, avg=4.0)

Examples Class in General Physics, Dr Warner and others (14 replies, 2, 3, 5, 2, 0, avg=2.2)

Because of the large amount of Project work in the Lent Term, most students found that there was not enough time to prepare properly for the Examples Classes. It was suggested in future to move the classes to the Easter Term, for example holding 12 classes at a rate of 3 per week. (Some of the existing classes could be merged). It was also requested that all examples sheets should be handed out in advance of the class, that solutions should eventually be made available, and that the level of the questions be kept more consistent.

Philosophy of Physics, Prof. Lipton and others (11 replies, 5, 2, 1, 2, 0, avg=1.8)

Prof. Lipton's lecture was excellent, but the other lectures in the series were poor, the most common complaints being that material was not properly explained and that the bias was too much towards physics and away from philosophy. It was also felt that some lecturers could be more helpful in answering questions. On balance though, there was a clear consensus that the course was interesting and should be retained.

Modelling with Supercomputers, Dr Rajagopal (10 replies, 0, 0, 1, 6, 3, avg=4.2)

A brilliant course!

General Comments

Number of Minor Options: There is a feeling that there are currently too many Minor Options on offer (especially in the area of solid state physics) and the TC is looking for ways to reduce the number for next year. On the other hand, a few students had suggested that it would be useful to have a new Minor Option on Experimental Particle Physics, along the lines of the Experimental Astrophysics course.

5. Part II

Atoms and Light, Dr Phillips (26 replies, 0, 11, 6, 9, 0, avg=2.9)

A reasonably well received course, though generally felt to be a little unstructured and disjointed. Many students had found it hard to find good textbooks. It would be very helpful if the handout could contain more of the mathematical working. In the first few lectures, outline notes were provided on the overheads in addition to the printed notes, and seeing the material presented in two different styles was felt to be very helpful. The material on polarisation and Bloch vectors had been covered too quickly. Audibility was sometimes a problem. The web page for the course was very good.

Systems, Dr Padman (31 replies, 8, 9, 11, 9, 0, avg=2.6)

The course came over as somewhat disconnected, and the last bit was too rushed. It was felt that the handout relied overmuch on a bullet point style, and that more words of explanation and more detail would be useful. The computer demonstrations were very useful. The examples sheet was felt to be hard - some simpler worked examples in the lectures would be very helpful.

Nuclear Physics, Dr Shepherd-Themistocleous (30 replies, 11, 11, 11, 2, 1, avg=2.2)

The course handouts were felt to be quite hard to follow as they contained too many abbreviations and incomplete sentences, and also because notation was not explained and was inconsistent with notation used on the examples sheet. It would also be helpful if the handouts were more structured. The lecturer sometimes seemed unenthusiastic and unwilling to answer questions. Too much previous knowledge of nuclear physics and maths was assumed. Making use of both overhead projectors would improve lecture presentation. Some of the questions on the examples sheet were not well related to the lectures themselves.

Particle Physics, Dr Gibson (26 replies, 0, 0, 14, 11, 1, avg=3.5)

An interesting and well lectured course, with clear handouts. More explanation of Feynman diagrams would be useful. It wasn't clear how much of the experimental detail should be learnt. The examples sheet was felt to be hard. It would be helpful if more use was made of both overhead projectors and if summaries could be left up for longer.

Fluids, Dr Warner (26 replies, 0, 1, 10, 9, 6, avg=3.8)

An interesting course, enthusiastically lectured. The demonstrations and videos were excellent. The overheads were hard to read and often unclear - more words of explanation to accompany the pictures would be helpful. The printed notes were good, but quite brief. The problems were hard, and more worked examples at about the same level would be useful. The web page for the course was very good.

Concepts in Physics, Prof. Longair (25 replies, 1, 0, 7, 10, 7, avg=3.9)

A very well lectured course. Some of the material had been seen before (in IA) but it was helpful to see it again. The lectures on non-linear physics and chaos were particularly useful.

TP2, Prof. Littlewood and Dr Rajagopal (12 replies, 0, 0, 4, 4, 4, avg=4.0)

A well lectured course. The handouts and examples classes were very good, though the handouts were not always ready on time. There were a large number of problems on the examples sheet, though having solutions available right from the start helped. It would help to know which questions should be given priority. The demonstrator ratio was better for later classes as attendence fell off during the term.

Physics in Action, Prof. Brown and Dr Ansorge (2 replies, 0, 0, 2, 0, 0, avg=3.0)

The lectures by the external speakers were very informative, but the lecture by Prof. Brown was felt to be not well prepared. The project work was useful and enjoyable, especially the group work, but very little guidance was available (e.g. how to make and print posters, how to use Powerpoint etc). Very little guidance was given for the essay also. The poster marking scheme had caused a lot of concern, as students had to mark each others posters and the marks given were clearly visible to all other students. High marks were therefore given all round. It was pointed out however that the same marking system had been used for several years without problem, and that the marks are carefully moderated; the student marks are always found to correlate well with the HoC marks.

Experiments E2 and E3, Dr Scott and others (14 replies, 1, 5, 6, 2, 0, avg=2.6)

The availability and performance of the HoC and demonstrators varied markedly between the different experiments; some were very good but others were never seen. It would be useful if uniform guidelines could be produced.

General Comments

The questionnaire return rate was low - about half that of last year; better advertising is needed.

Additional ventilation in the Pippard lecture theatre was requested. The ventilation is too noisy to run during the lectures themselves, but could perhaps be switched on between lectures.

6. Part IB Advanced

Optics, Dr Hughes (91 replies, 0, 18, 40, 31, 2, avg=3.2)

A generally well received course, which produced a full range of views from ``interesting'' to ``dry''. The handouts contained a lot of algebra and it would help if important results could be highlighted. Demonstrations, and worked examples, would be useful.

Electromagnetism, Dr Gull (92 replies, 6, 26, 33, 15, 12, avg=3.0)

This course was enjoyed by most students. The worked solutions and the summary sheets were much appreciated. It would be helpful if more words of explanation on the physics could be added to suplement the equations. There were gaps in the algebra in the handouts, but this was covered well in the lectures. The intermissions on geometric algebra were interesting, but a bit overwhelming. The computer crashed too often (once per lecture).

Thermal Physics, Prof. Howie (101 replies, 22, 49, 25, 5, 0, avg=2.1)

Students had generally found it hard to follow the material in this course, in part because mistakes were often made while writing notes in the lectures. The lecture notes tended to be removed too quickly, before students had time to write the material down. The handout was very concise and it would help if key points could be highlighted.

Practicals, Dr Butcher and others (100 replies, 3, 8, 54, 31, 4, avg=3.3)

The practicals had generally been found to be useful, and students felt that they had learnt something from them. They were usually too long however. The changes made to the wave tank practical were good and it could now be finished on time. Demonstrator marking was felt to be inconsistent. The lab manual was often unclear and could do with revising.

Examples Class in Mathematical Physics, Prof. Littlewood and others (49 replies, 0, 2, 15, 22, 10, avg=3.8)

Those attending these classes had found them to be very useful, though a bit too long in general. Many students had commented that they could not attend due to clashes with supervisions, sporting events etc. It would be useful if the example sheets could be handed out further in advance. Prof. Longair emphasised that the classes were very important for those students intending to take mainly theoretical options in later years. The classes needed to be given additional publicity in future.

7. Part IB

Quantum Physics, Dr Linfield (13 replies, 0, 1, 3, 7, 2, avg=3.8)

The feedback on this course was very positive, and the lecturer one of the best so far. The summaries at the start and end of each lecture were a good idea but were too long. It was requested that numerical answers be provided with the examples sheet, and that more worked examples be included in the lectures.

Practicals, Dr Warner (13 replies, 2, 6, 2, 2, 1, avg=2.5)

The practical sessions on Friday had gone well, but there had been problems with the Tuesday and Thursday sessions. Only one relatively inefficient demonstrator had been available for these, so that students ended up with many checkpoints unfinished. The practicals were generally found interesting, though with no link to the lectures. It would be useful to have an introductory talk for each practical.

General Comments

Very little guidance had been given for the Literature Review, and many students found the exercise pointless.

Most students would prefer an extra practical to the lab visit.

8. Part IA

Oscillations and Waves (course A), Dr Gibson (63 replies, 0, 5, 12, 35, 11, avg=3.8)

A well received course. The mathematical level of the course was fine, but there were gaps in the mathematical working in places. The examples sheet was felt to be hard and a big jump up from the lectures. More worked examples in the lectures would be useful. The demonstrations were very good and informative.

Oscillations and Waves (course B), Dr Batley (109 replies, 0, 1, 32, 56, 20, avg=3.9)

Similar comments apply as for the 'A' course above. The material on L,C,R was covered too quickly for many.

Practicals, Dr Jones and others (145 replies, 6, 22, 72, 40, 5, avg=3.1)

(The average scores for the Digital Electronics, Electrical Resonance and Operational Amplifier practicals were 3.0, 3.0 and 3.4 respectively). Many problems with demonstrators were reported, particularly concerning inconsistency between demonstrators. Some students had also been very upset by the superior attitude of certain demonstrators.

Schools vary greatly in the level of practical facilities available; some students arriving in Cambridge have a wide experience of electronics, some hardly any. It was suggested that students could be divided between the two IA practical labs according to their level of prior experience, so that the help given could be tailored more to students' needs.

10. Any Other Business

A tour of the Cavendish lab was supposed to be arranged during the first IA practical session of the Michaelmas Term, but these did not seem to have taken place.

11. Next Meeting

The next Consultative Committee meeting will be on Thursday 25th May 2000 at 09:30 in the Committee Room.

JRB, 9th May 2000