PHYSICS 19: Introduction to Theoretical Physics

Course Description: A comprehensive introduction to the foundations of theoretical physics, with a first-principles approach to its five main areas: analytical dynamics, fields, statistical mechanics, relativity, and quantum theory. Specific topics and examples will include Newtonian mechanics, chaos, celestial mechanics, electromagnetism, the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations, the connection between symmetries and conservation laws, relativistic gravitation, black holes, and quantum information. In-class discussions will regularly address relevant issues in the history and philosophy of physics, as well as the conceptual implications of our modern physical theories for making sense of the world around us.

Course Notes: This course is intended for students from a variety of backgrounds, especially newcomers to physics who are considering further study in the subject, and is an alternative option for students who may be considering Physics 15A or Physics 16. The course is also meant for undergraduate and graduate students in other disciplines—such as math, philosophy, astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer science, and engineering—who are interested in developing a better understanding of theoretical physics either to serve the needs of their academic work or as a first step toward switching their area of study to physics. Cooperation and diversity strengthen our academic community, so the course will prioritize collaboration and aim to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for students with diverse identities and backgrounds. The instructor will help students form study groups as needed.

Recommended Prep: This course will assume a working knowledge of single-variable differential and integral calculus at least at the level of Mathematics 1A, as well as a high comfort level with abstract concepts, but will not assume previous coursework in physics or multivariable calculus. The course will cover relevant topics from vector calculus, complex analysis, linear algebra, and other areas of mathematics as needed, so a prior familiarity with these subjects, while helpful, will not be required.