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Durham University

Faculty Handbook Archive

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2018-19. The current handbook year is 2019-20

Department: Physics


Type Open Level 4 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2018/19 Module Cap Location Durham


  • Foundations of Physics 2A (PHYS2581) and Foundations of Physics 3B (PHYS3631) and Advanced Physics 3 (PHYS3641).


  • Condensed Matter Physics 4 (PHYS4??1) if Advanced Physics 3 (PHYS3641) has not been taken in Year 3.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It builds on the Level 3 modules Foundations of Physics 3B (PHYS3631) and Advanced Physics 3 (PHYS3641) and introduces students to some of the key topics in the area of soft matter and biological physics, provides a knowledge of the physical properties of zero, one and two dimensional materials (nanostructures) and of the properties and production of optical devices at an advanced level appropriate to Level 4 physics students.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Soft Matter and Biological Physics: Advanced material building on concepts from soft matter and biological physics covering phase transitions, membranes and liquid crystals in a biological context where appropriate. The course will focus on: the kinetics of phase transitions including the mechanisms of liquid-liquid demixing phase separation; self-assembly of micelles and membranes; liquid crystals; and soft and biological systems out of equilibrium.
  • Low Dimensional Solids: Definition of low dimensional solids, relevant length and energy scales for manifestation of quantum confinement. Physical realisation of low dimensional structures: brief overview of the production of quantum dots, wires, nanotubes, graphene and semiconductor heterostructures. Zero dimensional solids: density of states in zero dimensions; optical properties of metallic and semiconducting quantum dots; electronic transport in zero dimensions: Coulomb blockade, Kondo effect, superconducting dots; applications of zero dimensional solids (emphasis on electronic/optical properties, e.g. single electron transistor, semiconductor nanocrystals as biological labels). One dimensional solids: density of states in one dimension: subbands and van Hove singularities, periodic boundary conditions in nanotubes; the special case of the 1D Fermi surface: Coulomb interaction and lattice coupling in 1D metals (breakdown of Fermi liquid behaviour, Peierls distortion); transport in one dimension: transport regimes, phase coherence, Landauer formula, resonant tunnelling, universal conductance fluctuations, localisation; quantised vibrations, heat capacity and thermal transport in one dimension; applications of one dimensional solids. Two dimensional solids: density of states and the Fermi surface in two dimensions; confinement in two dimensions: graphene and real (finite-depth) potential wells in semiconductor heterostructures; transport in two dimensional solids: conductivity of a two dimensional electron gas, subband filling; magneto-transport in two dimensions: resistivity and conductivity tensors, Büttiker-Landauer formalism, integer quantum Hall effect; applications of two-dimensional solids.
  • Optical Devices: Review of the general theories of light/matter interaction: classical and quantum. Correspondence of the quantised nature of confined light-wave modes with one-dimensional matter wave solutions to the Schrödinger equation. Optical properties of materials, particularly doped semiconductors. Semiconductor (p-n) junctions. Optoelectronic devices using the semiconductor p-n junction: Photovoltaic/photoconductive detectors; Solar cell; Light emitting diode, (Franz Keldysh effect) Electro-absorption modulator. Optical waveguide devices: Passive devices (power splitters/combiners); Active devices (electro-optic/thermo-optic modulators, attenuators).

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module students will understand the kinetics of phase transitions including the mechanisms of liquid-liquid demixing phase separation, self-assembly of micelles and membranes, liquid crystals, and soft and biological systems out of equilibrium.
  • They will be able to explain the observed behaviour of electrons in solids (including transport and optical phenomena) when the electrons are confined in one or more directions.
  • They will be able to use the classical and quantum models for the macroscopic and microscopic polarisation response functions of materials to show how active and passive devices useful for consumer and civil technology products can be engineered.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the acqusition of subject knowledge, students will be able to apply knowledge of specialist topics in physics to the solution of advanced problems.
  • They will know how to produce a well-structured solution, with clearly-explained reasoning and appropriate presentation.
Key Skills:

    Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

    • Teaching will be by lectures.
    • The lectures provide the means to give a concise, focused presentation of the subject matter of the module.
    • The lecture material will be explicitly linked to the contents of recommended textbooks for the module, thus making clear where students can begin private study.
    • When appropriate, lectures will also be supported by the distribution of written material, or by information and relevant links on DUO.
    • Regular problem exercises will give students the chance to develop their theoretical understanding and problem solving skills.
    • Students will be able to obtain further help in their studies by approaching their lecturers, either after lectures or at mutually convenient times.
    • Student performance will be summatively assessed through an examination and formatively assessed through problem exercises.
    • The examination will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acqusition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem-solving skills.
    • The problem exercises provide opportunities for feedback, for students to gauge their progress and for staff to monitor progress throughout the duration of the module.

    Teaching Methods and Contact Hours

    Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
    Lectures 39 2 per week 1 hour 39
    Preparation and Reading 161
    Total 200

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Examination Component Weighting: 100%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    one three-hour written examination 100%

    Formative Assessment:

    Problem exercises and self-assessment.

    Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University