This Course at MIT

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 8.421 Atomic and Optical Physics I as it was taught by Professors Wolfgang Ketterle and Isaac Chuang in Spring 2014.

This graduate-level course is the first of a two-semester subject sequence that provides the foundations for contemporary research in selected areas of atomic and optical physics. Special attention is paid to topics relating to the interaction of radiation with atoms.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

The purpose of this two-semester subject sequence is to introduce graduate students to the concepts of atomic physics and to prepare them for cutting-edge research.

Possibilities for Further Study/Careers

Cold atoms are often used to address problems of condensed matter physics, so many students who take this subject sequence go on to take 8.511 Theory of Solids I and 8.512 Theory of Solids II. Some students take a course, taught by Eugene Demler at Harvard, called This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.Special Topics in Condensed Matter Physics (PDF). Others go on to take courses in quantum computation.

 

Instructor Insights

In the following pages Wolfgang Ketterle describes various aspects of how he teaches 8.421 Atomic and Optical Physics I.

 

Curriculum Information

Prerequisite

8.05 Quantum Physics II

Requirements Satisfied

This course may be applied toward a doctoral degree in physics with the approval of the candidate’s committee.

Offered

Atomic physics is taught every spring semester, alternating between 8.421 Atomic and Optical Physics I and 8.422 Atomic and Optical Physics II. Depending on when they matriculate, students begin with either 8.421 or 8.422. It is somewhat more logical to go from fundamental concepts to more advanced topics, but the reverse sequence also works well.

The Classroom

  • Classroom with rectangular tables and chairs arranged in tiered rows. A small brown table is positioned at the front of the room. It sits in front of two chalkboards.

    Lecture

    Lectures were held in this classroom, which seats 64 students. The room featured moveable furniture tables and chairs in a tiered layout. A/V equipment was available.

 

Assessment

The students' grades were based on the following activities:

The color used on the preceding chart which represents the percentage of the total grade contributed by problem sets. 33% Problem Sets
The color used on the preceding chart which represents the percentage of the total grade contributed by the midterm quiz. 33% Midterm Quiz
The color used on the preceding chart which represents the percentage of the total grade contributed by the term paper. 34% Term Paper
 

Instructor Insights on Assessment

Wolfgang Ketterle discusses how he assesses students’ writing.

Student Information

On average, 42 students take this course each time it is offered.

Breakdown by Year

Predominantly graduate students

Breakdown by Major

Predominantly physics majors

Ideal Class Size

The class should include at least 10-15 students to allow for active discussions. 

 

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In Class/Lecture

3 hours per week
  • Met 2 times per week for 1.5 hours per session; 25 sessions total; voluntary attendance.
  • Lectures typically began with a brief summary of previously covered content, an introduction to the focus of the current lecture, and a preview of what would be covered next.
  • Lectures consisted of instructor-led presentations and questions from students.
  • Clicker questions were often used to gauge students’ understanding during lectures.
 

Recitation

1 hour per week
  • Met 1 time per week for 1 hour per session; 13 sessions total; voluntary attendance.
  • Teaching assistants presented advanced topics and additional connections to research.
  • Students received help with problem sets.
 

Out of class

8 hours per week
  • Students completed readints, problem sets, and a term paper.
 

Semester Breakdown

WEEK M T W Th F
1 No classes throughout MIT. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled. Office hours scheduled. No session scheduled.
2 Lecture session scheduled. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled. Office hours scheduled. Lecture session scheduled.
3 No classes throughout MIT. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled. Office hours scheduled. No session scheduled.
4 Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled. Office hours scheduled. Lecture session scheduled.
5 Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled. Office hours scheduled. No session scheduled.
6 Lecture session scheduled. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Office hours scheduled. Lecture session scheduled.
7 Lecture session scheduled. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Office hours scheduled. No session scheduled.
8 No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT.
9 Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled. Office hours scheduled. No session scheduled.
10 Lecture session scheduled. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Office hours scheduled. No session scheduled.
11 Lecture session scheduled. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Office hours scheduled. Lecture session scheduled; exam held.
12 No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Office hours scheduled. Lecture session scheduled.
13 Lecture session scheduled. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Office hours scheduled. No session scheduled; assignment due.
14 Lecture session scheduled. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Office hours scheduled. No session scheduled.
15 Lecture session scheduled. Recitation session scheduled. Lecture session scheduled; assignment due date. Office hours scheduled. No classes throughout MIT.
16 Exam held; no classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT.
Displays the color and pattern used on the preceding table to indicate dates when classes are not held at MIT. No classes throughout MIT
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when lecture sessions are held. Lecture session
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table to indicate dates when assignments are due. Assignment due date
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table to indicate dates when exams are held. Exam
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when no class session is scheduled. No class session scheduled
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when recitation sessions are held. Recitation session
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table to indicate dates when office hours are held. Office hours
 

Course Team Roles

Lead Instructor (Prof. Wolfgang Ketterle)

  • Developed and delivered lectures
  • Assessed students’ term papers
  • Held office hours for consultations

Instructor (Prof. Isaac Chuang)

Online problem sets for the course were developed by Professor Chuang.