UC Santa CruzUC Santa Cruz Department of Physics
View of the Bay from Campus

Physics 116A (Winter 2012): Mathematical Methods in Physics I

Course information

Instructor: Stefano Profumo
Office: ISB, Room 325
Phone Number: 831-459-3039
Office Hours: Wednesday 2:00PM - 3:30PM, or by appointment
E-mail: profumo AT ucsc.edu

Teaching Assistant: Tim Linden
Office: ISB, Room 320
Phone Number: 831-459-4762
Office Hours: Tuesday, 2:00PM - 3:30PM, or by appointment
E-mail: tlinden AT ucsc.edu

Homework Grader: Sheena Schier
E-mail: calieshe AT gmail.com

Click here to download the syllabus in PDF format

Class Hours

Lectures: MWF, 11:00 AM - 12:10 PM, Thimann 1

Discussion Section: Tue, 6:00 PM - 7:10 PM, PhysSciences 110

new!!! Special Midterm Prep Discussion Section: Thursday Feb 16, 4-6PM, ISB 231,

Course description


Required Textbook


Click here for updated errata

Other Textbooks

Course Outline

Topic Reading Period (tentative!)
Infinite Series, Power Series Boas, Chapter 1 Jan 9 - Jan 20
Complex Numbers Boas, Chapter 2 Jan 20 - Jan 30
Linear Algebra and Vector Spaces Boas, Chapter 3 Feb 1 - Mar 2
Special Functions Boas, Chapter 11 Mar 2 - Mar 12
Review Mar 14 - Mar 16

Course Grading and Requirements

Student evaluations will be based on their performance in the following three tasks. The tasks and their relative weights in determining the students' overall course grades are given below (see however below for special ``reward points''):

  • 35% Weekly Homework (9 problem sets)

  • 25% Midterm Exam (Friday February 17, 11 AM - 12:15 PM)

  • 40% Final Exam (Monday March 19, 12:00-3:00 PM)

Weekly Homework

Weekly homework assignments will be handed out each Wednesday and are due at the beginning of class on the Wednesday of the following week. The homework problem sets are (effectively) not optional, and will consist of a few problems from Boas' textbook. You are encouraged to discuss the class material and homework problems with your classmates and to work in groups, but all submitted problems should represent your own work and understanding. Late homeworks can be submitted to the grader, but will not contribute any points to the final grade. The Grader will grade each homework, and is responsible for the given grade. Grades for each homework set will consist of 2 points (mostly correct), 1 point (less than 50% correct) or 0 points (no homework returned in time). Homework solutions will be typically made available on the course website on the homework due date.

Discussion Section and Reward Points

Discussion Section will be typically devoted to discussing problems in the assigned homework. The discussion will be lead by TA Tim Linden, who will survey the audience and suggest which homework problems to examine at the beginning of the section. The problems will then be discussed at the board by "volunteers", who will be awarded "Reward Points" (at the discretion of the TA). Reward Points will be counted as an extra credit towards the final, overall course grade and can contribute up to 10% of the overall grade.

Midterm and Final

The midterm exam and the final exam will be held in the same classroom as the lectures. The midterm will be a 1 hour written exam in class (regular lecture time) on Friday February 17, on the material covered up to Friday February 15, while the final (Monday March 19, 12:00PM-3:00PM) will be three hours long and cover the complete course material. Both the midterm and the final will be open-book (you can bring with you any book or notes), but only non-graphical, non-programmable calculators will be allowed (it will be up to the discretion of the Instructor to decide whether a calculator is or not allowed). Laptop computers and cellular phones of any kind will not be allowed. A practice midterm and final will be handed out a week before the exams. You must take the final exam to pass the course.

The minimal score not to fail the class is 60%.

The final grade will follow the percent guideline below:

  • 60% to 70%: C range

  • 70% to 85%: B range

  • 85% to 100%: A range
Grade Chart

Homework exercises

Homework Set number (PDF) Due Date Solutions
HW Set #1 phys116A_HW01.pdf Wednesday January 18 Solutions to HW #1
HW Set #2 phys116A_HW02.pdf Wednesday January 25 Solutions to HW #2
HW Set #3 phys116A_HW03.pdf Wednesday February 1 Solutions to HW #3
HW Set #4 phys116A_HW04.pdf Wednesday February 8 Solutions to HW #4
HW Set #5 phys116A_HW05.pdf Wednesday February 15 Solutions to HW #5
Practice Midterm #1 midterm1.pdf Solutions to Practice Midterm #1
Practice Midterm #2 midterm2.pdf Solutions to Practice Midterm #2
Midterm midterm3.pdf Midterm Solutions
HW Set #6 phys116A_HW06.pdf Wednesday February 22 Solutions to HW #6
HW Set #7 phys116A_HW07.pdf Wednesday February 29 Solutions to HW #7
HW Set #8 phys116A_HW08.pdf Wednesday March 7 Solutions to HW #8
HW Set #9 phys116A_HW09.pdf Wednesday March 14 Solutions to HW #9
Practice Final #1 Final from 2007 [2007 Instructor: Haber] Solutions of 2007 Final
Practice Final #2 Final from 2008 [2008 Instructor: Profumo] Solutions of 2008 Final
Practice Final #3 Final from 2009 [2009 Instructor: Profumo] Solutions of 2009 Final and Solution to Problem #5
Practice Final #4 Final from 2011 [2011 Instructor: Haber] Solutions of 2011 Final
Practice Final #5 Practice final from 2009 [2009 Instructor: Profumo]
Practice Final #6 2012 Practice final [This is the (almost) real thing] Solutions of 2012 Practice Final
Final 2012 Final Solutions of 2012 Final

Midterm results

The average (and median) midterm score was 69% (12.5 points out of 18).
The score per problem was as follows (3 points per problem):
  • Problem #1: 2.0 (66%)
  • Problem #2: 1.6 (52%)
  • Problem #3: 2.5 (82%)
  • Problem #4: 1.7 (57%)
  • Problem #5: 2.3 (76%)
  • Problem #6: 2.7 (89%)
The distribution of grades is shown in the chart to the right.
Midterm Chart



Galileo's Corner

La filosofia e' scritta in questo grandissimo libro che continuamente ci sta aperto innanzi a gli occhi (io dico l'universo), ma non si puo' intendere se prima non s'impara a intender la lingua, e conoscer i caratteri, ne' quali e' scritto. Egli e' scritto in lingua matematica, e i caratteri son triangoli, cerchi, ed altre figure geometriche, senza i quali mezzi e' impossibile a intenderne umanamente parola; senza questi e' un aggirarsi vanamente per un oscuro laberinto. (Galileo Galilei, Il Saggiatore, 1623)

Philosophy (Knowledge) is written in that great book which ever lies before our eyes (I call it the Universe), but we cannot understand it if we do not first learn the language and grasp the symbols in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word; without knowledge of those, it's a useless wandering in a dark labyrinth.