The University of Southampton

PHYS1011 Waves, Light and Quanta

Module Overview

It will arm students with a basic knowledge of optics, including ray propagation, polarization and diffraction, and introduce the dual wave and particle characteristics of light and matter. It provides a base for further study of optics, wave physics and quantum physics in subsequent courses.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

This module introduces the physics of wave motion and the formalism of wave behaviour in the context of physical optics and the foundations of quantum physics.

Learning Outcomes

Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Describe wave superposition and interference, Huygens' construction, Fermat's principle and their application
  • Apply the ray propagation model to mirrors, lenses and optical systems built from these, including analysing systems using propagation matrices
  • Describe polarisation effects and how to create and manipulate polarisation
  • Describe interference and diffraction for slits, gratings and interferometers
  • Discuss experiments showing that light and matter can both behave as waves or particles
  • Work with energy and momentum for photons and define a wavelength for a particle, both nonrelativistic and relativistic


- Basics of wave motion. - Rays and images: Huygens' construction and Fermat's principle, rays and propagation matrices. - Geometrical optics: mirrors, lenses, simple optical systemes (magnifier, telescope, microscope). - Dispersion and polarisation: prisms, rainbows, polarisation, polarisers, birefringence. - Wave phenomena: superposition and interference, diffraction; slits, gratings and interferometers. - Quanta and wave-particle duality: photon energy and momentum, de Broglie waves, electron diffraction, wavepackets and uncertainty, quantum wavefunction.

Special Features

Students need to be able work with complex numbers

Learning and Teaching

Preparation for scheduled sessions18
Follow-up work18
Completion of assessment task17
Wider reading or practice51
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

E. Hecht (2001). Optics. 

F. L. & L. S. Pedrotti (2006). Introduction to Optics. 


Assessment Strategy

Weekly course work will be set and assessed in the normal way, but only the best ‘n-2’ attempts will contribute to the final coursework mark. Here n is the number of course work items issued during that Semester. As an example, if you are set 10 sets of course work across a Semester, the best 8 of those will be counted. In an instance where a student may miss submitting one or two sets of course work, those sets will not be counted. Students will however, still be required to submit Self Certification forms on time for all excused absences, as you may ultimately end up missing 3+ sets of course work through illness, for example. The submitted Self Certification forms may be considered as evidence for potential Special Considerations requests. In the event that a third (or higher) set of course work is missed, students will be required to go through the Special Considerations procedures in order to request mitigation for that set. Please note that documentary evidence will normally be required before these can be considered.


MethodPercentage contribution
Exam  (2 hours) 70%
Mid-Semester Test 10%
Weekly Online Problem sets 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework marks carried forward %
Exam %

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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