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Atomic Physics


Contents   [subject index]

These notes cover my half of our 3rd year module ph327 Probing Atoms and Molecules. In the first half of the semester, I will cover the Atomic Physics part of the course, and Chris Finlayson will do the Molecular Physics part later. Both have in common that we will be looking at the structure of atoms or molecules as derived from quantum mechanics as well as spectroscopic techniques used to probe these structures experimentally.

There will be two one-hour lectures each week throughout semester 2. There are also two problem sheets (one in Atomic and one in Molecular Physics) worth 10% each, approximately weekly quizzes on Blackboard for a total of 10%, and a two-hour exam for 70% at the end. There are also exercises interspersed in the notes, which should give students an opportunity to reflect on the material and test their appreciation of it without the pressure to get it right at once for credit.

Please note that theses notes are meant to help you revise. However, I may include additional material in the lectures or not cover all of the material listed here.

Further reading

These recommendations are for the Atomic Physics part of the module, although some of the textbooks also cover Molecular Physics to a variable extent.

Christopher J Foot's Atomic Physics comes from a quantum-mechanical angle and builds up the complexities of atomic structure by adding successive perturbations to the quantum-mechanical solution of the hydrogen atom. We'll draw on this in much of the formal, mathematical part of the lecture, but it goes substantially beyond the content of this module. There are a number of hardcopies in the Physical Sciences library, and the full text is also available online via AU institutional subscription. The book contains some useful examples, and the author has a website with further information on some of them. [Primo]

Despite its title, Molecular Quantum Mechanics by Peter W Atkins and Ronald S Friedman covers atomic physics to a useful extent before moving on to molecular physics. It introduces the maths necessary for the subject at a more gentle pace, which contrasts nicely with other texts where intermediate steps are sometimes glossed over or taken for granted. The atomic physics part of this book covers much of the content of this lecture along with the necessary maths. There are plenty of examples with solutions in it, too. [Primo]

Finally, Tim P Softley's Atomic Spectra deals more with the practical side of atomic physics and concentrates on spectra and the various insights into atomic structure that can be derived from experimental data. While it gives important practical background, it does not cover the theory of atomic structure sufficiently to be used as the main text on its own for study for this module. Again, there are a number of copies in the Physical Sciences library. [Primo]


To get started, let's define the field of Atomic Physics and highlight some important topics within it.