I primarily teach upper-level undergraduate physics courses at Duquesne University.

  • Physics 302, Optics (Fall 2013, 2015, 2017)
  • Physics 473, Electrodynamics (Spring 2014, 2016, 2018)
  • Physics 474, Quantum Mechanics (Fall 2014, 2016)
  • Physics 475, Advanced Quantum Mechanics (Spring 2015, 2017)

Optics

Sophomore course for physics majors using the textbook by Pedrotti, with a bend towards applications. I teach geometric optics by emphasizing the ray-trace matrix formalism in the paraxial approximation. This lets me work basic linear algebra and matrices into the curriculum. I also put a bit more time into discussing cameras than most of my colleagues. In the section of the course on wave optics, I put extra emphasis on polarization, using the Jones vector formalism. Although the students are apprehensive of using complex numbers at first, I feel that the practice here is good preparation for discussing spin in quantum mechanics.

Electrodynamics

This is the second semester of a two-semester sequence taught out of Griffiths’ textbook. One of my goals in this course is to drive home vector calculus. The students have already had a multivariable calculus class, math methods in physics class, and the first semester electrostatics, but they still enter this course having only a survival-level understanding of the math. So, we practice a lot. I do a fair bit on the radiation sections of Griffiths, focusing on oscillating fields. Here complex algebra returns. Unfortunately, Griffiths struggles here in my opinion, falling back on hand-waving derivations that aren’t satisfying. However, looking at the analogous sections in Jackson’s tome, it’s clear that the material is beyond the level of the students (polarization potentials, anyone?). Figuring out how to efficiently teach this is still a work in progress.

Quantum Mechanics and Advanced Quantum Mechanics

I use a spins-first approach along with McIntyre’s textbook. I really like this way of thinking about quantum because the students get to learn the axioms of quantum mechanics using linear algebra, which is easier in my opinion than trying to learn quantum mechanics and solving wave equations simultaneously. This way, the physics concepts and the math they employ are more easily distinguished. This also appeals to my background in atomic physics, where almost everything can be approximated as a few-level system. Once we do get to wavefunctions, we work primarily with atomic physics examples, doing a detailed deconstruction of the hydrogen atom. I also plug one of my favorite rants in here: the silliness of anthropomorphic units.