Coronavirus information for applicants and offer-holders

We understand that prospective students and offer-holders may have concerns about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The University is following the advice from Universities UK, Public Health England and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Read our latest coronavirus information

MPhys Physics with Astrophysics / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Mathematics of Waves and Fields

Unit code PHYS20171
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Department of Physics & Astronomy
Available as a free choice unit? No


Mathematics of Waves and Fields


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Mathematics 1 PHYS10071 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Vibrations & Waves PHYS10302 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Mathematics 2 PHYS10372 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


To introduce and develop the mathematical skills and knowledge needed to understand classical fields and quantum mechanics.

Learning outcomes

‘This course unit detail provides the framework for delivery in 20/21 and may be subject to change due to any additional Covid-19 impact.  Please see Blackboard / course unit related emails for any further updates.’

On completion successful students will be able to:

1. Solve partial differential equations using the method of separation of variables.
2. Define the term “orthogonality” as applied to functions, and recognise sets of orthogonal functions which are important in physics (e.g. trigonometric functions and complex exponentials on appropriate intervals, Legendre polynomials, and spherical harmonics).
3. Represent a given function as a linear superposition of orthogonal basis functions (e.g. a Fourier series) using orthogonality to determine the coefficients,
4. State how a Fourier transform differs from a Fourier series, and calculate Fourier transforms of simple functions.
5. Solve eigenvalue problems (differential equations subject to boundary conditions) either in terms of standard functions or as power series.
6. Use partial differential equations to model wave, heat flow and related phenomena.
7. Make basic use of Dirac notation.


1.  Wave problems in one dimension

Separation of variables
Normal modes of a string:  eigenfunctions and eigenvalues
General motion of a string


2.  Fourier series

Orthogonality and completeness of sines and cosines
Complex exponential form of Fourier series


3.  Other PDE’s 

Laplace’s equation
The heat-flow equation


4.  Integral transforms 

Fourier transform
Wave packets and dispersion


5.  Special functions  

Orthogonal sets of eigenfunctions
Series solution of differential equations
Legendre polynomials and related functions
Bessel functions


6.  Problems in two and three dimensions  

Normal modes of a square membrane; degeneracy
Wave guide
Normal modes of circular and spherical systems
Heat flow in circular and spherical systems
Laplace’s equation:  examples in cartesian and polar coordinates


7.  Dirac notation 
Vector spaces
Ket notation
Inner products and Bras
Hilbert spaces

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 90%

Feedback methods

Students will receive feedback on their work and performance in this module as a component of their weekly tutorial meeting with their academic tutor. 

Recommended reading

Boas, M.L. Mathematical Methods for Physical Sciences, 3rd edn. (Wiley, 2006)
Martin, B.R. & Shaw, G, Mathematics for Physicists. (Wiley 2015)
Riley, K.F. Hobson, M.P. & Bence, S.J. Mathematical Methods for Physics and Engineering, 3rd edn (Cambridge 2006) [Chapters 12 to 19]
Stephenson, G. Partial differential equations for scientists and engineers (Imperial College 1996)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 22
Tutorials 4
Independent study hours
Independent study 72.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Robert Appleby Unit coordinator
Roger Jones Unit coordinator

Return to course details