PX27515 Mathematical Methods for Physicists
Introductory description
The module reviews the techniques of ordinary and partial differentiation and ordinary and multiple integration. It develops vector calculus and discusses the partial differential equations of physics (Term 1). The theory of Fourier transforms and the Dirac delta function are also covered. Fourier transforms are used to represent functions on the whole real line using linear combinations of sines and cosines. Fourier transforms are a powerful tool in physics and applied mathematics. The examples used to illustrate the module are drawn mainly from interference and diffraction phenomena in optics (Term 2).
Module aims
To teach mathematical techniques needed by second, third and fourth year physics modules.
Outline syllabus
This is an indicative module outline only to give an indication of the sort of topics that may be covered. Actual sessions held may differ.
 Revision: functions of more than one variable, partial differentiation, chain rule, Taylor
series. Change of coordinates for functions of more than one variable. Revision of vectors,
the cross product and relationship of its modulus to parallelogram area. Vector areas for the
context of surface integrals.  Multiple Integrals: Line, surface and volume integrals. Length of curves, surfaces of
revolution. Change of variable and change of order.  Vector differentiation: Scalar and vector fields. Mathematical definition of grad and its
physical meaning  examples. The divergence defined mathematically and a physical
interpretation. Relationship with flux. The Laplacian, Solenoidal fields. Physics examples.  Gauss's Divergence Theorem: Demonstration of its validity for rectangular and
cylindrical volumes. Examples.  Stokes’s Theorem: The curl and its interpretation. Conservative fields, irrotational fields.
Stokes’s theorem and its derivation. Examples.  PDEs: The wave equation, Poisson's equation, Schrödinger's equation. The diffusion
equation and Fick's law. The role of boundary conditions. Separation of variables.
Examples.  Fourier Series (revision): Representation for function f(x) defined L to L; brief mention
of convergence issues; real and complex forms; differentiation, integration; periodic
extension  Fourier Transforms:
Fourier series when L tends to infinity. Definition of Fourier transform and standard
examples: Gaussian, exponential and Lorentzian.
Domains of application: (Time t  frequency w), (Space x  wave vector k).
Delta function and properties, Fourier's Theorem.
Convolutions, example of instrument resolution, convolution theorem.  Interference and diffraction phenomena:
Interference and diffraction: the HuygensFresnel principle. Criteria for Fraunhofer and Fresnel diffraction. Fraunhofer diffraction for parallel light. Fourier relationship between an object and its diffraction pattern. Convolution theorem demonstrated by diffraction patterns. Fraunhofer diffraction for single, double and multiple slits. Fraunhofer diffraction at a circular aperture; the Airy disc. Image resolution, the Rayleigh criterion and other resolution limits. Fresnel diffraction, shadow edges and diffraction at a straight edge.
Learning outcomes
By the end of the module, students should be able to:
 Deal with multiple integrals and know how to evaluate the length of a curve and the volume of a three dimensional object
 Define and calculate the gradient, divergence and curl of a vector field and understand Gauss’s and Stokes’ theorems
 Define a partial differential equation and solve the wave and diffusion equations using the method of separation of variables
 Represent simple functions using Fourier transforms
 Demonstrate a good understanding of diffraction and interference phenomena and solve problems involving Fraunhofer diffraction
Indicative reading list
KF Riley,MP Hobson and SJ Bence, Mathematical Methods for Physics and Engineering: a
Comprehensive Guide, Wadsworth, H D Young and R A Freedman, University Physics 11th
Edition, Pearson.
View reading list on Talis Aspire
Subject specific skills
Mathematical methods including: Vector calculus, separation of variables, Fourier transforms and their application to describe diffraction
Transferable skills
Analytical, communication, problemsolving, selfstudy
Study time
Type  Required 

Lectures  40 sessions of 1 hour (27%) 
Other activity  20 hours (13%) 
Private study  90 hours (60%) 
Total  150 hours 
Private study description
Working though lecture notes, solving problems, wider reading, discussing with others taking the module, revising for exam, practising on past exam papers
Other activity description
20 Example classes
Costs
No further costs have been identified for this module.
You do not need to pass all assessment components to pass the module.
Assessment group D1
Weighting  Study time  

Class Tests and Assessed Coursework  20%  
Class Tests/Assessed Coursework 

3 hour online examination (April)  80%  
Answer 4 questions

Assessment group R
Weighting  Study time  

2 hour online resit examination (September)  100%  

Feedback on assessment
Personal tutors, group feedback
Courses
This module is Core for:
 Year 2 of UPXAF304 Undergraduate Physics (BSc MPhys)
 Year 2 of UPXAF300 Undergraduate Physics (BSc)
 Year 2 of UPXAF303 Undergraduate Physics (MPhys)
 Year 2 of UPXAF3N1 Undergraduate Physics and Business Studies
 Year 2 of UPXAF3N2 Undergraduate Physics with Business Studies