Physics 227, Spring 2019


Marcel den Nijs

Office: PAB B429
Department of Physics
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195

1:30 pm - 2:20 pm
Mo, Tu, Th, Fr
PAA A118


This is the first quarter of the Physics elementary mathematical physics course.

This course covers topics from chapter 1-7 of "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences" by Mary Boas, augmented with additional Physics oriented applications. This includes infinite series and power series, complex numbers and complex functions, linear algebra and eigenvalue problems, partial differentials and multiple integrals, vector analysis and line integrals, and finally Fourier series and Fourier transforms. In other words, the course stacks-up a lot of topics, and this tower could easily collapse into you unless you shield yourself by not falling behind.

One purpose of this course is to present basic mathematics from a more applied and physics point of view compared to the Mathematics Department offered courses you might have taken already or will take soon. Another purpose is to become sufficiently fluent in using these mathematical tools before taking the next level physics courses such that you can better focus then on physics concepts, e.g., in quantum mechanics, electro magnetism, and statistical physics.

The background and preparation of the students taking this course is typically quite varied, and depends heavily on which Math courses you took already as well as your high school experience. Students seated near you might seem to have a hard time or to know it all, but that more likely reflects preparation instead of ability. You might want to volunteer to help them or ask them questions yourself. Explaining material to others is one of the best methods to deepen ones own understanding.

This course meets 4 times each week in lecture style mode, Mo-Tu-Th-Fr. It also meets on Wednesdays in optional tutorial mode led by the TA's, focussed on the homework due the next day and on learning to use the Mathematica software.


All course materials will be posted inside the Canvas tools provided by the UW. These are accessible to every student signed up in class. These include the homework assignments, homework solutions, the solutions to the weekly quizzes and the 2 midterms, example Mathematica codes, specific lecture notes, and other documents for this course. Canvas includes discussion options to encourage communication among students.

The lectures will use mostly the blackboards. The lectures will not be taped. Taking photographs of the blackboards is encouraged, and I expect and intend such photo's to be posted in the Canvas discussion section, but you, the students, need to arrange among yourselves for that to happen and actually do it.


You need to have a hard copy or an e-book version of "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences" by Mary Boas.

You need to have easy access to the Mathematica software. This is different from software platforms such as MathLab, that support pure numerical data analysis type operations. Mathematica does algebra for you.

Desktop computers with Mathematica are available in, e.g., the Physics Study Center (located in PAA below the lecture halls). The UW site license allows students free installation of Mathematica on their laptops. For instructions on how to download the software and how to install it, look for "Software for the UW" under IT Connect inside MyUW. Ask fellow students or the TA's during the first week Wednesday tutorial for help. Example codes are posted inside Canvas.

In this class we use Mathematica only for basic useful tasks, like performing simple but tedious algebra, plotting functions to easily visualize them, and to look-up items that required thirty years ago thick books listing tables and integral identities, to answer irrational questions such as "what is the value of the golden mean plus pi "?

Mathematica is powerful and its code is compact, but its grammar is unguessable at times. Therefore it pays to build a library of codes and start each new task by modifying a previous one. Adding Mathematica to your toolbox is very useful in your future Physics courses and for research. That is why the Physics department requires this in this course. I provide example codes with all hw problems that require Mathematica such that only minor adjustments in the codes will be required.


Weekly Homework (HW) assignments are posted on Canvas. They are due each Thursday in class in paper format, starting the first week of instruction (a short one). No HW is due during the weeks of the 2 midterms (see below). Electronic submission of HW is possible in special circumstances but requires approval by the course instructor. Homework will be graded by the TA's. Each HW assignment is worth 10 points. Unfortunately it is impossible for the TA's to grade everything in detail. Therefore they will spot grade the HW. You will receive up to 5 points for "volume" and one randomly chosen question will be graded in detail for the remaining 5 points.

Every Monday, we have a short Quiz at the start of the lecture, 15 minutes long. (The quiz takes place on Tuesday in case Monday is a holiday). Each quiz will be graded in full detail and is worth 10 points. Each quiz is based on the Homework that was due or the Midterm that took place on the Thursday before. Solutions of that homework/midterm will be posted after class before Friday morning.

The first of two Midterms takes place on Thursday April 25 and the second one on Thursday May 23.
Each Midterm counts for 100 points.

The Final exam takes place on Monday, June 10, 2019, 2:30-4:20 pm, in PAA A118.
The final is comprehensive and counts for 150 points.

All quizzes and exams are closed book tests. Calculators are not needed and not allowed during quizzes and exams. All internet connectivity must be turned off and unaccessible.

For each Midterm and the Final you prepare and bring one sheet with formula's or what ever you like to write onto it. I do not care about the size of your note sheet nor the font you use (you can bring a magnifying glass), as long as size and reading it does not interfere with your neighbors and their space. Information retrieval is a core feature of these notes; write too little and you do not have it; write too much and you can not find it.

Students who require special accommodations or encounter special (un)expected circumstances during the quarter must contact me as early as possible so we can work out the details and/or alternatives in a timely fashion.


Office hours are on Monday and Thursday morning at 11:00 am -12:30 pm. This is not rigid. You are invited to come to my office at any time (room B429) with questions, comments, and suggestions, or whatever; provided I am not preoccupied with something urgent. There are quiet study areas near my office on the fourth floor. You can always e-mail me.


To qualify for credit in this course you must participate in the two midterm exams, and also take the final exam. Failing to do so results into an automatic 0.0 grade. I will honor and accommodate special circumstances of course, but you need to inform me in a timely manner.

All HW and test scores will be posted on Canvas in terms of points scored only.

Your course grade will be determined from the combined scores in each category, approximately as follows: The total HW score minus your lowest HW score. HW counts for 15%. The total score of all Quizzes minus your lowest score. The Quizzes count also for 15%. Each Midterm counts for 20%, and the Final for 30% of your grade. These relative weights come close to simply adding-up all your posted scores.

The course grade calculation is more complex than a simple linear function of the total score. In the middle of the quarter I will announce in class what will be required to earn at least a 2.0 grade, and also what scores will likely lead to a 3.0 and 4.0.


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