Atomic and Molecular Physics (PHYS*4120)

Code and section: PHYS*4120*01

Term: Fall 2010

Instructor: Bernie Nickel


Course Information

The application of quantum theory to atomic and molecular structure, and the interaction between electromagnetic radiation and atoms and simple molecules.

Course Materials

  • Bound Notes by R.L.Brooks. On sale in SCIE1101A through Sept 13; after that in Physics office (MacN 207).
  • The “Quantum Mechanics” text by David Griffiths should also be useful.


Day Time Location
Tu Th 10:00-11:20 MacN 118

Course Topics

Part 1: Atoms (∼60%)

  1. Overview of atomic structure: Interaction and energy scales, qualitative effects of spin, Pauli principle. Some spectroscopic notation.
  2. Central forces and Angular momentum: Commutator relations, ladder operators, review of hydrogen atom solutions, spherical harmonics, spin angular momentum, addition of angular momentum.
  3. Dealing with many electrons: Pauli principle, anti-symmetrization. Variational principle with application to He, H-. Approximate treatment of more than two electrons – independent particle picture + perturbation treatment of e-e repulsion.
  4. Fine structure (spin-orbit coupling), hyperfine structure (nuclear spin and shape effects).
  5. External perturbations: Zeeman and Stark effects.
  6. Transition probabilities: Selection rules, Fermi’s golden rule for lifetimes.

Part 2: Molecules (∼30%)

  1. Born-Oppenheimer separation: Variational treatment of H2+. Molecular orbitals and qualitative treatment of H2 and first row diatomic molecules. Van der Waals forces.
  2. Vibration and rotation of diatomic molecules. Separation of variables, harmonic vibration and simple rotation. Anharmonic effects. Morse potential. Interpretation of molecular spectra, deduction of molecular constants. Selection rules, (nuclear) spin statistics. Thermal effects.

Part 3: Scattering theory (∼10%)

  1. Low energy atom-atom s-wave scattering and effective (pseudo) potentials with application to atomic traps.

Course Evaluation

Assessment Weight
Problem assignments 30%
Midterm 30%
Final 40%

Midterm to be scheduled in week 8 or 9 (to cover atoms)

I encourage discussion among students on assignments but whatever is submitted must be independently written up. I am available for consultation most days and most hours.


Familiarity with a quantum text of your choice is essential. Griffiths “Quantum Mechanics” covers some of the material in this course. Gerhard Herzberg’s “Atomic spectra and atomic structure” and “Molecular spectra and molecular structure, Vol 1” are gold mines of experimental information with wonderful qualitative discussions.

Course Policies

The Department of Physics requires student assessment of all courses taught by the Department. These assessments provide essential feedback to faculty on their teaching by identifying both strengths and possible areas of improvement. In addition, annual student assessment of teaching provides part of the information used by the Department Tenure and Promotion Committee in evaluating the faculty member's contribution in the area of teaching.

The Department's teaching evaluation questionnaire invites student response both through numerically quantifiable data, and written student comments. In conformity with University of Guelph Faculty Policy, the Department Tenure and Promotions Committee only considers comments signed by students (choosing "I agree" in question 14). Your instructor will see all signed and unsigned comments after final grades are submitted. Written student comments may also be used in support of a nomination for internal and external teaching awards.

NOTE: No information will be passed on to the instructor until after the final grades have been submitted.