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Program Learning Outcomes

Program Learning Outcomes

The Physics Department has developed a comprehensive set of Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) that address both the disciplinary content and skills/ways of thinking that students should obtain when they complete and undergraduate degree in physics. Below the PLOs are briefly discussed within the context of addressing key concepts and disciplinary ways of thinking. After each PLO is introduced we will briefly list the courses that will address the PLO.

PLO 0 – Analytical Techniques

Sub-categories of this PLO include: 

  • Differential and integral calculus
  • Linear algebra
  • Differential equations
  • Integral transformations
  • Problem Solving
  • Modeling

This is listed as PLO 0 because our department views these techniques as the necessary foundation that students must build on to obtain a mastery over the subjects they will encounter in their undergraduate careers (and beyond). This PLO includes the mathematical topics students will need to succeed in physics as well as the “tools” (Problem Solving and Modelling) students will need to use throughout the curriculum. Essentially these tools are the beginning of helping students “think like physicists” and introduce them to common ways in which physicists approach topics and problems within the discipline.

Year 1: Calculus I & II, Tools for Physicists, General Physics I
Year 2: Applied Linear Algebra, Multivariable Calculus, Modern Physics
Year 3: Mathematical Methods of Physics, Computational Physics
Year 4: Quantum Mechanics (only required for B.S.), Senior Thesis or Observational Astronomy

PLO 1 – Theoretical Physics

Sub-categories of this PLO include: 

  • Mechanics
  • Electricity & Magnetism
  • Thermal & Statistical Mechanics
  • Special Relativity
  • Quantum Mechanics
  • Advanced Topics 

This PLO addresses the key concepts (essentially main topics) that students should encounter as part of a comprehensive physics degree program. This PLO incorporates the topical subject matter that all students will encounter in their courses and the upper division electives (Advanced Topics) that will provide students with a breadth of subject knowledge.

Year 1: General Physics I
Year 2: General Physics II, Modern Physics
Year 3: Mathematical Methods of Physics, Classical Mechanics, Electricity & Magnetism, Statistical and Thermal Physics
Year 4: Electricity & Magnetism II (only required for B.S.), Quantum Mechanics (only required for B.S.)

Additionally B.S. students will be required to have at least 9 units of upper division electives and B.A. students will be required to have at least 6 units of upper division electives.

PLO 2 – Experimental & Computational Physics

Sub-categories of this PLO include: 

  • Perform experiments
  • Design experiments
  • Analyze results
  • Draw meaningful conclusions
  • Electronics and scientific instrumentation
  • Computational techniques 

This PLO is designed to build the experimental and computational skill sets that are applicable to a wide range of courses, topics, and career paths in physics (and beyond). This will help us achieve our goal of having students graduate with a well-rounded STEM skill set that complements the subject knowledge they have gained in the program.

Year 1: General Physics I Laboratory
Year 2: General Physics II Laboratory, Introduction to Electronics
Year 3: Computational Physics, Intermediate Physics Lab
Year 4: Senior Thesis or Observational Astronomy

PLO 3 – Communication

Sub-categories of this PLO include: 

  • Writing for a variety of professional settings
  • Information literacy as applied to physics
  • Professional practices and ethics
  • Oral communication
  • Teamwork
  • Diversity & Inclusion

With this PLO we aim to address skills and practices that may not be obvious as disciplinary practices but which, in reality, are necessary skills for practitioners to have. Communication skills are important parts of nearly any STEM career, requiring people to effectively disseminate results and procedures in technical, scientific, and non-expert settings. The ability to communicate and work as part of a team is vital in any career path. Additionally, it is important that students understand diversity and equity issues at play in physics and other STEM fields.

Written and oral communication skills will be addressed throughout the curriculum. As our department has transformed the pedagogy in introductory physics courses, students are tasked in nearly every class meeting to communicate their thought processes and understanding of physical situations to their peers in an informal manner. This begins to get them acclimated to discussing the field in both technical and non-technical manners. Writing skills will be developed in instructional laboratory courses, where students will write lab reports at an appropriate level for the course. During these assignments, students will also be engaged in learning professional practices realistic to STEM disciplines. Students will engage with technical texts, from textbooks to journal articles, understanding both how the scientific process works in practice and building their information literacy with realistic examples. Overall, some of the major goals for students in this learning outcome include: having students view themselves as people that can“do” physics and have an idea of post-graduation plans; having students understand contemporary diversity and equity issues in the field and the role they can play in these issues; an understanding of the role of diversity in the history of the field.

While this PLO will be touched upon in almost every course in the curriculum, it will be assessed in the following courses. 

Year 1: Tools for Physicists, General Physics I Laboratory
Year 2: General Physics II Laboratory
Year 3: Intermediate Physics Lab
Year 4: Senior Thesis or Observational Astronomy

 

PLOs in Physics Courses

Below we list the specific PLOs assessed in each of our core physics courses.

PHYS 1500 - Tools for Physicists

  • Goal 0 - Analytical Techniques
    • Problem Solving & Modeling
      • Students demonstrate a systematic approach to solving problems
      • Students have the ability to relate mathematical equations to physical systems.
      • Students apply dimensional analysis to problems and preform basic tests of validity of solutions.
  • Goal 2 - Experimental & Computational Physics
    • Computational Techniques
      • Students have the ability to use introductory coding techniques to build physical models and solve problems. 
      • Students have the ability to work with spreadsheets to analyze data.
  • Goal 3 - Communication
    • Writing for a Variety of Professional Settings
      • Students can present experimental results in a short laboratory report following a prescribed format.
    • Information literacy as applied to physics
      • Students gain experience reading and understanding a variety of sources, including textbooks, popular media, and academic literature. 
      • Students begin to think critically about sources of information.
    • Professional Practices and Ethics
      • Students understand career paths in physics.
      • Students understand some of the major research areas in physics.
      • Students understand what constitutes plagiarism.
    • Oral Communication
      • Students have an ability to discuss problem solving strategies and physics topics in an informal manner.
    • Teamwork
      • Students will work with peers in structures grouper in both lecture and laboratory courses. 
      • Students will be encouraged to form a cohort with their peers in the same year of the major. 
    • Diversity & Inclusion
      • Students have the knowledge that physics is done globally by diverse scientists.
      • Students can picture themselves as a physicist regardless of background.

PHYS 2500 - General Physics I

  • Goal 0 - Analytical Techniques
    • Differential Equations
      • Students can solve first order separable equations.
      • Students have the ability to verify a solution.
  • Goal 1 - Theoretical Physics
    • Mechanics
      • Students have a conceptual and mathematical understanding of Newton's Laws, relative motion, momentum, angular motion, oscillations, energy, and gravitation.
      • Students have the ability to solve problems using both kinematics/forces and energy.
  • GE requirements

PHYS 2500L - General Physics I Lab

  • GE requirements

PHYS 2510 - General Physics II

  • Goal 1 - Theoretical Physics
    • Electricity & Magnetism
      • Students have the ability to solve electro- and magneto-statics problems in two dimensions, with limited ability to apply Gauss' law in symmetric cases.
      • Students have knowledge of how frame of reference determines whether we observe/measure electric and/or magnetic fields. 
    • Special Relativity
      • Students have a conceptual understanding of the Doppler effect.

PHYS 2510 - General Physics II Lab

  • Goal 2 - Experimental & Computational Physics
    • Perform Physics Experiments
      • Students have the ability to successfully carry out an experimental procedure when given guidance and introductory level equipment.
      • Students are beginning to develop approaches to troubleshooting.
    • Design an Experiment
      • Students have the ability to design basic experimental procedure when given a hypothesis or experimental goal.
    • Analyze Results of Experiments
      • Students have the ability to apply basic algebraic and statistical reasoning to quantitatively interpret results.
      • Students produce and analyze simple graphs as instructed.
      • Students begin to apply physics formulas to model data. 
      • Students have the ability to apply qualitative error analysis and consider the role of error and uncertainty in an experiment.
    • Draw Meaningful Conclusions from Results
      • Students have the ability to draw quantitative conclusions and connect those results to qualitative understanding. 
      • Students have the ability to connect results to introductory physics topics. This includes a relative high level of guidances from instructors and laboratory materials.
    • Electronics and Scientific Instrumentation
      • Students have the ability to use common, introductory level laboratory measurement and test equipment.
      • Students have the ability to build basic analog circuits and test electronic components.
      • Students have knowledge of and can implement safe laboratory practices.

PHYS 2600L - Introduction to Electronics

  • Goal 0 - Analytical Techniques
    • Integral Transforms
      • Students have the ability to both calculate and invert Fourier and Laplace Transforms.

PHYS 2700 - Modern Physics

  • Goal 0 - Analytical Techniques
    • Differential Equations
      • Students have the ability to solve linear differential equations with constant coefficients. 
      • Students can solve the basic classes of second order ordinary differential equations (ODEs).
      • Students understand how boundary conditions drive the choice of physics solution.
    • Problem Solving & Modeling
      • Students have the ability to identify the underlying principles that will be relevant to solving problems drawing from techniques, and mathematical skills learned in relation to a topic.
      • Students will have the ability to express physical systems mathematically.
      • Students are able to effectively troubleshoot in laboratory settings.
  • Goal 1 - Theoretical Physics
    • Special Relativity
      • Students understand and can apply Lorentz transformations, the space-time interval, relativistic energy, and relativistic momentum.
    • Quantum
      • Students understand the evidence for the quantum picture of the Universe (e.g. Bohr atom, Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, wave-partial duality, one-dimensional Schrödinger equation)

PHYS 3100 - Mathematical Methods of Physics

  • Goal 0 - Analytical Techniques
    • Differential Equations
      • Students have the ability to solve both ordinary and partial differential equations using special functions and/or computational techniques.
    • Single and Multivariable Calculus
      • Students can use multivariable calculus and have the ability to transform between coordinate systems as necessary for problem solving.
    • Integral Transforms
      • Students have a physical understanding of transforms, both Fourier Transforms as applied to time-frequency spectral analysis, and Laplace Transforms as used for a classification of system dynamics.

PHYS 3200 - Classical Mechanics

  • Goal 1 - Theoretical Physics
    • Mechanics
      • Students have a conceptual and mathematical understanding of central forces, coupled oscillations, rigid body motion, non-internal reference frame, Lagrangians, and Hamiltonians.

PHYS 3300 - Computational Physics

  • Goal 2 - Experimental & Computational Physics
    • Computational Techniques
      • Students have the ability to develop and perform numerical modeling of complex systems.

PHYS 3400 - Electricity & Magnetism

  • Goal 1 - Theoretical Physics
    • Electricity & Magnetism
      • Students have the ability to solve electro- and magnetostatics problems in three dimensions.
      • Students have the ability to recognize and apply symmetry to problem solving.
      • Students have the ability to recognize and apply the most efficient approach to solving problems.

PHYS 3500 - Statistical and Thermal Physics

  • Goal 1 - Theoretical Physics
    • Thermal & Statistical Mechanics
      • Student understand and can apply the laws of thermodynamics, specific heat, latent heat, ideal gas law, Maxwell speed distribution, entropy, and Carnot cycle. 
      • Some students understand and can apply partition functions and their related ensembles, Maxwell relations, and quantum statistics.

PHYS 3800 - Intermediate Physics Lab

  • Goal 2 - Experimental & Computational Physics
    • Perform Physics Experiments
      • Students have the ability to successfully carry out an experimental procedure when given less guidance and with more advanced instrumentation.
      • Students have the ability to troubleshoot common issues.
    • Design an Experiment
      • Students have the ability to formulate a hypothesis when given some guidance towards an experimental goal or outcome.
      • Students have the ability to design an experiment to test that hypothesis.
    • Analyze Results of Experiments
      • Students demonstrate a more independent ability to select appropriate methods to approach analysis.
      • Students have the ability to analyze more sophisticated problems graphically.
      • Students are able to use more advanced quantitative models and approaches.
      • Students have the ability to apply quantitative error analysis.
    • Draw Meaningful Conclusions from Results
      • Students have the ability to draw qualitative and quantitative conclusions from experiments with a low level of "prompting" from an instructor or laboratory materials.
      • Students have the ability to understand the validity of these results when accounting for experimental uncertainty.
    • Electronics & Scientific Instrumentation
      • Students have the ability to work with contemporary, research-level equipment and instrumentation.
      • Students have the ability to assess what equipment and instrumentation is appropriate for carrying out measurements. 
  • Goal 3 - Communication
    • Writing for a Variety of Professional Settings
      • Student have the ability to write a comprehensive laboratory report in a specified, professional format.
      • Students can write experimental proposals.
    • Information Literacy as applied to Physics
      • Students understand how to search for relevant literature and properly cite sources.
      • Students will begin to read and discuss journal articles.
    • Professional Practices and Ethics
      • Students keep a comprehensive laboratory notebook. 
      • Students performa a guided peer review process for laboratory reports.
      • Students understand scientific ethics.
    • Oral Communication
      • Students give a talk in a contributed format about a standard experiment or introductory physics topic.
    • Teamwork
      • Students have the ability to work collaboratively on selected assignments without oversight from faculty.
    • Diversity & Inclusion
      • Students can articulate how they might be involved in physics post-graduation.
      • Students are sensitive to use of inclusive language in profession situations.

PHYS 4400 - Electricity & Magnetism II

  • Goal 1 - Theoretical Physics
    • Electricity & Magnetism
      • Students have the ability to solve electro- and magneto-dynamics problems, including an understanding of waves and radiation.
      • Students have a command of Maxwell's Equations.
    • Special Relativity
      • Students understand and can apply 4-vectors, relativistic scattering, and collisions.

PHYS 4700 - Quantum Mechanics

  • Goal 0 - Analytical Techniques
    • Linear Algebra
      • Students are ability to map general linear transformations into matrix problems and to determine the eigenmodes. 
      • Students can create and use orthonormal basis sets in Hilbert spaces.
  • Goal 1 - Theoretical Physics
    • Quantum
      • Students have the ability to apply Dirac formalism.
      • Students understand the quantum description of the hydrogen atom, scattering, and perturbation theory. 

PHYS 4800 - Senior Thesis

  • Goal 0 - Analytical Techniques
    • Problem-solving & Modeling
      • Students have the ability to draw from principles and mathematical techniques learned across the curriculum.
      • Students can give clear, logical explanation for choices made in approach to solving the problem.
      • Students recognize when approximation is appropriate.
  • Goal 2 - Experimental & Computational Physics
    • Perform Physics Experiments
      • Students have the ability to successfully carry out an experimental procedure when given minimal guidance with potentially unfamiliar equipment. 
      • Students have the ability to diagnose and troubleshoot most problems.
    • Design an Experiment
      • Students have the ability to independently research a problem and form a hypothesis. 
      • Students have the ability to design an advanced-level experiment to test that hypothesis.
    • Analyze Results of Experiments
      • Students independently select appropriate methods to analyze an experiment. 
      • Students perform mathematically comprehensive analysis of data. 
      • Students perform comprehensive error analysis.
      • Students understand and isolate systematic error.
    • Draw Meaningful Conclusions from Results
      • Students have the ability to independently connect experimental results and theoretical background to reach qualitative and quantitative conclusions.
      • Students have the ability to analyze those conclusions within the context of experimental error and uncertainty.
      • Students have the ability to work with contemporary, research-level equipment and instrumentation.
      • Students have the ability to assess what equipment and instrumentation is appropriate for carrying out measurements. 
    • Electronics & Scientific Instrumentation
      • Some students have the ability to construct experimental apparatuses or design experimental systems using available instrumentation and equipment.
  • Goal 3 - Communication
    • Writing for a Variety of Professional Settings
      • Students will be able to write a comprehensive lab report, including a background section with a literature review, following a format they see as appropriate for their research.
      • Students will write in other technical formats such as for a scientific journal.
      • Students will gain experience writing for non-technical outlets (e.g. blogs, magazines, social media) in plain language.
    • Information Literacy as applied to Physics
      • Students will be able to understand the validity of the physics presented in various forms of media.
      • Students will be able to read and comprehend journal articles about previously unfamiliar subjects.
    • Professional Practices and Ethics
      • Students will be able to perform peer review on independent research that they are not completely familiar with.
      • Students demonstrate ethical practices in all aspects of work.
    • Oral Communication
      • Students give a professional level research presentation in both oral and poster formats about an advanced physics topic or independent research project.
    • Teamwork
      • Students will be able to work in a group to design and perform experiments, self-managing how responsibilities are assigned and carried out.
    • Diversity & Inclusion
      • Students are exposed to diverse students and scientists.
      • Students bring physics to the community through outreach.
      • Students have knowledge of how diverse identities have shaped the history of science.
      • Students understand contemporary issues of diversity and inclusion in physics.

ASTR 4000 - Observational Astronomy

  • Goal 2 - Experimental & Computational Physics
    • Perform Physics Experiments
      • Students have the ability to successfully carry out an experimental procedure when given minimal guidance with potentially unfamiliar equipment. 
      • Students have the ability to diagnose and troubleshoot most problems.
    • Design an Experiment
      • Students have the ability to independently research a problem and form a hypothesis. 
      • Students have the ability to design an advanced-level experiment to test that hypothesis.
    • Analyze Results of Experiments
      • Students independently select appropriate methods to analyze an experiment. 
      • Students perform mathematically comprehensive analysis of data. 
      • Students perform comprehensive error analysis.
      • Students understand and isolate systematic error.
    • Draw Meaningful Conclusions from Results
      • Students have the ability to independently connect experimental results and theoretical background to reach qualitative and quantitative conclusions.
      • Students have the ability to analyze those conclusions within the context of experimental error and uncertainty.
      • Students have the ability to work with contemporary, research-level equipment and instrumentation.
      • Students have the ability to assess what equipment and instrumentation is appropriate for carrying out measurements. 
    • Electronics & Scientific Instrumentation
      • Some students have the ability to construct experimental apparatuses or design experimental systems using available instrumentation and equipment.
  • Goal 3 - Communication
    • Writing for a Variety of Professional Settings
      • Students will be able to write a comprehensive lab report, including a background section with a literature review, following a format they see as appropriate for their research.
      • Students will write in other technical formats such as for a scientific journal.
      • Students will gain experience writing for non-technical outlets (e.g. blogs, magazines, social media) in plain language.
    • Information Literacy as applied to Physics
      • Students will be able to understand the validity of the physics presented in various forms of media.
      • Students will be able to read and comprehend journal articles about previously unfamiliar subjects.
    • Professional Practices and Ethics
      • Students will be able to perform peer review on independent research that they are not completely familiar with.
      • Students demonstrate ethical practices in all aspects of work.
    • Oral Communication
      • Students give a professional level research presentation in both oral and poster formats about an advanced physics topic or independent research project.
    • Teamwork
      • Students will be able to work in a group to design and perform experiments, self-managing how responsibilities are assigned and carried out.
    • Diversity & Inclusion
      • Students are exposed to diverse students and scientists.
      • Students bring physics to the community through outreach.
      • Students have knowledge of how diverse identities have shaped the history of science.
      • Students understand contemporary issues of diversity and inclusion in physics.