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Department of Physics

Noteworthy New Courses

Our faculty members continue to innovate not just in research, but in our course offerings too.  We bring you news of two of our new courses here.  Professor Marusa Bradac has a new general education course, taught last year for the first time, called "The Physics of California."  Professor John Rundle is creating the department's first foray into "econophysics" with his course of the same name available as an upper division undergraduate and graduate course to be taught this winter.  

The Physics of California

Physics of California

Professor Bradac has blended her love of living in California and physics into this new general education course.  As its name suggests  the course is organized around phenomena students experience while living in California.   The syllabus includes: Physics of Surfing, Skiing, and Scuba Diving, Oceanography, Seismology, Climate Change, Weather Forecasting and Global Warming and other topics.  The course addresses questions such as why do we have to worry about earthquakes? Why can we surf and ski in the same day? What enables skiiing, what allows us to turn, what makes our skis go fast? Why can we scuba dive and why do they always tell us not to hold our breath? Why is surfing in California better in winter than it is in the summer? And why do waves push us forward making surfing such a fun experience in the first place? 

Taught for the first time in the 2011-2012 school year, Professor Bradac appears to be succeeding in passing on her love of physics to non-science majors.  Student comments include, "...having never taken physics before, I am now much more interested in the overall subject" and "Great topic, great professor. Thank you for such an enjoyable experience."  

Econophysics

Econophysics is the application of ideas from statistical mechanics to the financial markets. Markets are complex self-adapting systems that are observed to undergo sudden transitions such as “booms” or “bubbles” and “busts” or “crashes”. Transitions in system dynamics are associated with the nucleation and growth of fluctuations, together with a threshold in the state space of the system. Models of phase transitions, such as those used for thermal and magnetic systems, are important for use in understanding complex market dynamics. Markets are also observed to obey scaling dynamics, an interesting example being the existence of the Pareto distribution of wealth among populations.

In Professor Rundle's course the dynamics of markets will be introduced from a physics and systems perspective. Models for first and second order phase transitions will be described and used to construct simple models for the markets. Discussion topics will include the statistical distributions of returns, the phase dynamics of prices, and models for the markets. Specific markets will also be analyzed, including the equity stock markets (NYSE/Euronext, NASDAQ), the fixed income (bond) markets (Government and Municipals), and the commodities markets (CME and Futures). Professor Rundle will also introduce time-dependent models for equity valuations such as the Black-Scholes equation that are used in options pricing. Students will be expected to contribute actively to discussions, as well as complete a project using financial data and analysis.

Next: Alumni Seminar Series