Course Syllabus

Contemporary Condensed Matter Physics

Physics 423

University of Washington
Winter Quarter 2016

Tuesday - Thursday 9:00 to 10:30

Room PAA A110


Office Hours and Contact Information

Prof. Marjorie Olmstead

  • Office:  PAB B433.  Phone:  206-685-3031.  Email:
  • Office Hour in PAB B433 (Office):
    • Tuesday after class (10:30 - 11:30) or by appointment.
  • UFA Office Hours in PAT C141 (Student Services)
    • Tues: 3 - 5; Wed: 9 - 11; Thur & Fri: 10:30 - 12:30.
    • Students with advising issues have priority over those with physics questions during UFA office hours.

 Teaching Assistant:  Jun Hui See Toh

  • Email:
  • Office Hour: Monday 5-6pm, PAB 235
  • Turn in homework to his mailbox (Jun Hui See Toh) by 5pm on Tuesday just outside Margot Nim's office in the department office complex. Any homeworks turned after 5pm on Tuesday will be marked late (10% point loss per day).

Course Goals and Content

This class covers an introduction to solid state physics, with examples taken from nanoscale physics and technology whenever appropriate.  The course starts with the thermal and electrical properties that are consequences of the existence of atoms and electrons in the solid, and then adds crystalline periodicity for the development of band structure in metals, semiconductors and insulators.  The course finishes with applications of this general material to the specific cases of semiconductor devices and magnetic materials.

The goal is to introduce students to the basic concepts of condensed matter physics and to give them enough vocabulary to read an article of interest in the current literature.

A list of topics and dates along with the relevant chapters in the text is available here.

Required Text

Oxford Solid State Basics, by Stephen Simon (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013)

This text, available in paperback, is appropriate for a one-quarter class.  It covers the basic "bonds and bands" properties of all solids, and contains only two "extra" topics, namely semiconductor devices and magnetism.  

Optional Texts:   If you have interest in pursuing condensed matter physics beyond this class, you should also get a copy of one of the more comprehensive texts by Kittel, Ashcroft and Mermin, Ibach and Luth, Hook and Hall, Marder, etc.  They all include the basics, although with differing mathematical detail, and they each have their own selection of chapters on topics such as dielectric properties, superconductivity, nano structures, theoretical methods, etc.  See this page for a brief description, as well as notes at the end of each chapter in Simon that refer you to these classic texts.  Most are available fairly inexpensively as used older editions, but pretty expensive to by new.


Homework will be assigned weekly (except for the week with the midterm) via this page, and due on Tuesdays by 5 pm in the TA Mailbox.  You can also scan your HW (as long as the file is legible) or type it, and upload it via Canvas.  If you choose to do a hybrid (some on paper, some on line), please make note of that on BOTH parts of your submission.

Homework will include both standard physics problems and qualitative questions (that may require you to read the literature or do some web-based research) on the previous week's material, with the ratio varying depending on the topic.  The TA will grade your homework, but limited TA support does not allow for full grading (we have ~15 minutes/wk/student).  One or two homework problems each week will be selected for in-depth grading, with spot-checking of the others.


There will be 2 examinations.  The first will be held during class on Thursday, February 9.  The second will be held during the final exam slot on Wednesday, March 15 at 10:30 am. Students have the option of replacing the second exam with a term paper.  

Optional Paper

In lieu of the second exam, students may write a paper any of the Nobel Prizes in chemistry or physics in the past 40 years that are relevant to this class (Contemporary Condensed Matter Physics).  Details may be found under Optional Paper Information.  If you would like W-credit for this class, you must arrange this with Prof. Olmstead early in the quarter and write a slightly longer paper than otherwise required.

Lectures and OLOs

Lectures will expand on material in the text and not repeat everything that is there.  You are responsible for all the material.  The relevant chapters should be read before class.  A short "on-line learning opportunity" (OLO) will be due via Canvas by 12:01 am each day there is a lecture, asking for a) what you think the main point of the reading is (in 2-3 sentences), b) an order of magnitude estimate of something relevant to that day's material, c) what aspects do/don't need further clarification in lecture, and d) any questions or comments on the previous lecture's material and/or the homework assignments.  The two primary purposes of these OLOs are 1) to help guide my lecturing about what is/is not covered well in the text and 2) to help you learn the material by being prepared for class.   Full credit is given for a thoughtful response.  Active participation in class or office hour can substitute for the 4th question.

Lecture notes and/or any powerpoint slides used will be posted after class, but they will likely only make sense if you have been to class.


There are 9 homework assignments, 18 OLOs, two exams and a paper.  Your best 8 HW sets are worth 28% of your grade, your best 15 OLOs are worth 6%, and each exam or paper is worth 33%.  You must take the first midterm, but you may choose whether to take the second exam or write a paper (see Optional Paper Information).  Late HW will lose 10% per day, and will only be accepted until the solutions are posted.


There is no lab or tutorial with this class. However, Physics 431 is offered simultaneously with this class and contains many really interesting experiments in contemporary condensed matter physics.  I highly recommend it.  I'll likely be teaching it next summer if you don't have room in your schedule this quarter.


Please don't even think about cheating.  It is a real pain for the professor to have to write letters to the dean to report cheating, but she has done it before and will do it again.  Your decision whether or not to pursue a technical career should neither be hastened by the abnormally low grade obtained if you are caught nor postponed by the uncharacteristically high grade you might obtain if you are not.


Any student who wishes to request academic accommodations should contact Prof. Olmstead during the first week of classes so that she can make appropriate arrangements.       

If you have already established accommodations from Disability Resources for Students, DRS usually emails the instructor with details, but you should check to make sure the correct information was transferred and arrange your accommodations with Prof. Olmstead.  If you will not be taking exams with the rest of the class, send a reminder email to Prof. Olmstead one week before each exam to arrange the time and place for your exam.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

If you are a student athlete or musician, and need accommodations for your practice and play or performance schedule, please contact Prof. Olmstead within the first week of classes, and bring a letter from your coach or conductor.

If you have other essential conflicts (e.g., presenting at a research conference, job interview, etc.), please make arrangements with Prof. Olmstead well before the expected conflict.

Safe  Campus

Preventing violence is a shared responsibility in which everyone at the UW plays a part. The SafeCampus website provides information on counseling and safety resources, University policies, and violence reporting requirements that help us maintain a safe personal, work, and learning environment.  For advice and resources, or to report a threat or concerning behavior, call 206-685-SAFE (7233).

Title IX

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities which receive Federal financial assistance. Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence or sexual assault, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. Retaliation against those who raise complaints or participate in the complaint investigation and resolution process is also prohibited. The following person has been designated to coordinate the University’s compliance with Title IX :

Kate Leonard, Title IX/ADA Coordinator

Box 354996

Phone: (206) 221-7932 TTY 206) 543-6452



Course Summary:

Date Details