Theodore A. Corcovilos

I teach undergraduate physics courses at Duquesne University.


This new class (for me) for Spring 2023 is targeted to students in Duquesne’s Mary Pappert School of Music. The students are a mixture of music composition, music performance, and music technology majors. The main theme of the course is connecting musical ideas with scientific concepts, particularly linking qualitative descriptions of sound with quantitative measurements. For their final project, the students build their own musical instruments, describe how they produce sound, and characterize the sound using math tools. Much thanks to Pappert School faculty Paul Miller and Paul Doerksen for helpful suggestions.

Physics for Life Sciences

I’ve only recently begun teaching this course: algebra-based physics for non-majors. Currently, we are using the Cutnell textbook, which isn’t really geared for this group of students. I’m hoping to update the course soon to better match the life sciences context. Colleagues in the school of Health Sciences have been very helpful in sharing how physics is used in their programs, so I hope we can better answer the when-will-I-ever-use-this questions that students often have.

General Analytical Physics

This is a new course for me in Fall of 2023. This is the introductory calculus-based physics class for non-physics majors (mostly other science and engineering students). My focus is on showing the students how physicists approach problem solving while giving them a solid foundation in Newtonian mechanics.


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 of the paraxial approximation. This lets me work basic linear algebra and matrices into the curriculum. I also put a bit more time into discussing imaging 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.


Sophomore course for physics majors with both a lecture and lab component. The emphasis is on basic problem solving and instrumentation. The underlying motivation is to treat this as an introduction to linear response theory while teaching basic research skills like documentation and data analysis.

Electromagnetism and Electrodynamics

This is 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 well is still a work in progress.

Quantum Mechanics and Advanced Quantum Mechanics

I use a spins-first approach along with David 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.