All entries for Wednesday 29 June 2005

June 29, 2005

Modular Thinking

Got an e-mail last night informing me of the new structure of the second year of my physics course.

The revamp, such as it is, appears to have been designed to alleviate concerns that many modules flew by too quickly (3 lectures a week for five weeks for a typical 6 CATS module). So now we'll be getting 7.5 CATS modules with 2 lectures a week for ten weeks.

This reform applied to the core modules has resulted in a relative decrease in the importance of the lab work + essay (now all in one "Physics Skills" module worth a still weighty 30 CATS), but a moderate increase in the importance of the Matheamtics modules (now worth 22.5 CATS total). That's good and bad news from my perspective respectively, but overall it's probably good news. The rest of the core has also seen changes from last year – the new Quantum Mechanics module is now worth a chunky 15 CATS (used to be 6) which should be interesting, and the Electromagnetism and Optics modules have been combined and reduced into one 7.5 CATS module (used to be a total of 12), which seems a bit of a shame. The Thermal Physics module completes the list, having merely been coverted from 6 to 7.5 CATS .

The optional modules are all 7.5 CATS, which means for a normal load I need to pick five of them. There are eight to choose from (unless you want to do outside options like Business studies or languages, and I don't), and while the full details of what each incoporates are not yet available, I'll post my first thoughts on each here.

"Physics of Fluids" – The new Intro to Fluids. Looks like a lot of partial differential equations, which I'm OK with. Moderate interest level.

"Geophysics" – As lectured by my personal tutor, Dr Bell, whom I like. Parts sound interesting, other less so. Unsure of what mathematical demands will be placed.

"Hamiltonian Mechanics" – Sounds fascinating if a bit mathematically dense. I want to take it because I find the weirdness appealing.

"Stars" and "Galaxies" – Two seperate modules here. I'm never quite sure whether I find astrophysics boring or interesting – it seems to osciallate wildly depending on precise topic and mood. Certainly some very fascinating questions are being tackled, but there seems also to be a strong (and necessary) tradition of extremely patient measurement and calculation which I admire, but also bores me to tears.

"C Programming" – No longer Fortran, it seems. I've a little experience with coding (in C++) and generally love all things computers, so this module seems a natural fit for me. If the syllabus is similar to the one for Fortran I shouldn't have much trouble at all. Definite take.

Then there are two entirely new modules (as opposed to the above options which are going to be moinor variations on the ones that were avilable last year). These I know nothing about beyond the module titles:

"Global Warming" – Ugh. I asuume this is a sexed-up name for a module that will give a basic grounding in the physics of weather and climate in general. Not really grabbing my attention off the bat.

"Physics of Electrical Power Generation" – Sounds profundly dull, but then many things in physics do before you get into them. Still, also not grabbing my attention.


Neglecting the two new modules, then, and assuming I take C Programming, I'm left with four modules to choose out of five – in short, I've got to drop one of:

Hamiltonian Mechanics
Physics of Fluids

I could do an overload and take them all, but I'm not sure that's so great an idea after my somewhat shaky perfomance in the first year.

Any other physicists out there puzzling over their new options? Any third or fourth years who want to reccomend modules to take or avoid? Course lecturers are also welcome to sell me on any of the above courses if they wish (especially the new two, which I know nothing about) :) .

Advice is greatly appreciated.

June 2005

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