MMath&Phys Mathematics and Physics

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Atomic Physics

Course unit fact file
Unit code PHYS40642
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 4
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Department of Physics & Astronomy
Available as a free choice unit? No


Atomic Physics 


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Wave Optics PHYS20312 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Statistical Mechanics PHYS20352 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Applications of Quantum Physics PHYS30101 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Mathematical Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics PHYS30201 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Electromagnetic Radiation PHYS30141 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Electrodynamics (M) PHYS30441 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


This course will discuss the physics of atoms and their interactions with radiation, and how these processes are measured. The historical evolution of atomic physics will initially be described, by discussing key experiments and theoretical developments that have lead to our modern understanding of atoms and their structure. New methods in atomic physics will then be discussed, including how they are excited and ionized, and how they can be trapped and cooled to very low temperatures. The application of cold atoms for metrology and for possible future quantum computing will then be detailed.

Learning outcomes

On completion successful students will be able to:

1. Describe the structure of atoms, and how these are determined in experiments.
2. Detail the processes used to excite and ionize atoms using radiation.
3. Describe how atoms are cooled and trapped to very low temperatures.
4. Explain how cold atoms can be used to measure fundamental constants to high precision.
5. Discuss how cold atoms might be used in future quantum computers.


1. Historical overview of the evolution of atomic physics from early spectroscopy to the modern day. Key experiments and theoretical developments that have led to our present understanding of atoms and their structure. (3 lectures)
2. Interactions of atoms with radiation, and with charged particle beams. (3 lectures)
3. Excitation & ionization processes & how they are measured & described. (2 lectures)
4. The theoretical framework used to describe atom-laser interactions. (4 lectures)
5. Atomic cooling and trapping processes & techniques used for production of cold atoms. (4 lectures)
6. Applications of cold atoms to precision measurements & for future quantum computing. (6 lectures)

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback will be available through worked examples during the lectures, with answers available through web pages, and through separate examples & solutions given throughout the course

Recommended reading

Corney, A, Atomic & Laser Spectroscopy
Blum, K., Density Matrix Theory and Applications
Metcalf J.M. & van der Straten P, Laser Cooling & Trapping
Foot C.J., Atomic Physics

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 76.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Andrew Murray Unit coordinator

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