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Unit of study_

PHYS2011: Physics 2A

Semester 1, 2022 [Normal day] - Remote

In combination with two semesters of Junior Physics, this unit of study continues a first pass through the major branches of classical and modern physics, providing students with a sound basis for later Physics units or for studies in other areas of science or technology. Hence, this unit suits students continuing with the study of Physics at the Intermediate level, and those wishing to round out their knowledge of physics before continuing in other fields. The modules in this unit of study are: Optics: The wave nature of light, and its interactions with matter; applications including spectroscopy and fibre optics. Thermodynamics: The thermal properties of matter. Computational Physics: In a PC-based computing laboratory, students use simulation software to conduct virtual experiments in physics, which illustrate and extend the relevant lectures. Students also gain general skills in the use of computers to solve problems in physics. An introductory session of MATLAB is held in the first three lab sessions for students who are not familiar with programming. Practical: Experimental Physics is taught as a laboratory module and includes experiments in the areas of electrical circuits, optics and the nature of light, the properties of matter, nuclear decay, astrophysics and other topics. Assessment is based on mastery of each attempted experiment. At the end of the semester students prepare a short report on one experiment.

Unit details and rules

Unit code PHYS2011
Academic unit Physics Academic Operations
Credit points 6
PHYS2911 or PHYS2921
(PHYS1901 or PHYS1001 or PHYS1002 or PHYS1903) and (PHYS1902 or PHYS1003 or PHYS1004 or PHYS1904)
Assumed knowledge

(MATH1X21 or MATH1931 or MATH1X01 or MATH1906 or MATH1011) and (MATH1X02) and (MATH1X23 or MATH1933 or MATH1X03 or MATH1907 or MATH1013) and (MATH1X04 or MATH1X05)

Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Scott Croom,
Laboratory supervisor(s) Scott Croom,
Pulin Gong,
Lecturer(s) John O'Byrne,
Shelley Wickham,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam (Record+) Type B final exam Final examination: Optics/Thermodynamics
Written exam
40% Formal exam period 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO5 LO7
Small continuous assessment Optics/Thermodynamics continuous assessment
Optics and thermodynamics, short quizzes and other submitted work.
5% Ongoing approx 1hr per week
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO7 LO5 LO2
Assignment group assignment Experimental lab report
Experimental lab report on one experiment from the semester.
10% STUVAC 4 pages (+references and reflection)
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO4 LO5 LO7
Assignment Optics - Assignment
written assignment submitted online
2.5% Week 06 Variable
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO4
Tutorial quiz Thermodynamics - Quiz
Held during thermodynamics lecture
2.5% Week 12 20 min
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO7 LO5 LO4 LO2
Tutorial quiz Computational lab test
test of Matlab and computational lab skills.
11% Week 12 1 hour
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO7 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Assignment group assignment Draft experimental lab report
draft of lab report.
2% Week 12 4 pages (+ references and reflection)
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO4 LO5 LO7
Small continuous assessment group assignment Experimental Physics
practical classes.
18% Weekly 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO7 LO6 LO5 LO4
Small continuous assessment Computational Lab
Computational physics in-class assessment
9% Weekly 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO7 LO5 LO2
group assignment = group assignment ?
Type B final exam = Type B final exam ?

Assessment summary

  • Optics/Thermodynamics continuous assessment: quizzes and other submitted work (e.g. problem sets) that will be available weekly and/or within lectures.
  • Optics Assignment: Assignment questions will be available from the Canvas site. Students submit individual (not group) responses to assignments.
  • Thermodynamics Quiz: This is a quiz with multiple questions to be completed individually, through Canvas. It will occur during your regular lecture. The questions will test conceptual understanding and ability to calculate quantities.
  • Experimental Physics: Assessment in the laboratory is based on successful completion of two experiments, and for one chosen experiment writing a report.  Students will work in pairs.  For each experiment you will be graded using a rubric which assesses several aspects of your experimental work, including how well you prepared, your experimental procedure, logbook keeping skills, data analysis, and the results that you obtained.  For the report, you will also be required to submit a draft report, so that feedback can be provided. 
  • Computational Lab: The total mark for the computational physics lab module is out of 20 marks: 11 marks will be for an in-lab exam and 9 marks for participation in labs. All codes you use in the labs will be provided in the test and exam, and specimen papers will be provided on the Canvas site.
  • Final examination: Optics/Thermodynamics: It consists of two parts: Section A is on Optics and Section B is on Thermodynamics.  Lists of Physical Constants and Formulas needed are provided in the paper. Past papers are available for review.  If a second replacement exam is required, this exam may be delivered via an alternative assessment method, such as a viva voce (oral exam). The alternative assessment will meet the same learning outcomes as the original exam. The format of the alternative assessment will be determined by the unit coordinator.

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

At HD level, a student demonstrates a flair for the subject as well as a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the unit material. A ‘High Distinction’ reflects exceptional achievement and is awarded to a student who demonstrates the ability to apply their subject knowledge and understanding to produce original solutions for novel or highly complex problems and/or comprehensive critical discussions of theoretical concepts.


75 - 84

At DI level, a student demonstrates an aptitude for the subject and a well-developed understanding of the unit material. A ‘Distinction’ reflects excellent achievement and is awarded to a student who demonstrates an ability to apply their subject knowledge and understanding of the subject to produce good solutions for challenging problems and/or a reasonably well-developed critical analysis of theoretical concepts.


65 - 74

At CR level, a student demonstrates a good command and knowledge of the unit material. A ‘Credit’ reflects solid achievement and is awarded to a student who has a broad general understanding of the unit material and can solve routine problems and/or identify and superficially discuss theoretical concepts.


50 - 64

At PS level, a student demonstrates proficiency in the unit material. A ‘Pass’ reflects satisfactory achievement and is awarded to a student who has threshold knowledge.


0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Multiple weeks Optics, weeks 1-7 Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Thermodynamics, weeks 7-13 Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Computational Physics Computer laboratory (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Week 01 Experimental lab introduction and registration Practical (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Weekly Experimental physics lab Practical (2 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. understand the key concepts in two foundation areas of physics - optics and thermodynamics
  • LO2. apply these concepts to develop models, and to solve qualitative and quantitative problems in scientific and engineering contexts, using appropriate mathematical and computing techniques as necessary
  • LO3. understand the nature of scientific measurement, and skills in the measurement of physical quantities and the handling of data
  • LO4. find and analyse information and judge its reliability and significance
  • LO5. communicate scientific information appropriately, both orally and through written work
  • LO6. engage in team and group work for scientific investigations and for the process of learning
  • LO7. develop a sense of responsibility, ethical behaviour and independence as a learner and as a scientist.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

Reduced number of individual assignments and expanded continuous assessment. Peer review of lab draft reports replaced with tutor feedback.

The optics lecture will cover the following topics:

  • Geometrical optics – revision
  • Two Source Interference
  • Diffraction from single and multiple slits and circular apertures
  • Interference and Diffraction 
  • Coherence of light
  • Interference in Thin Films
  • Interferometers - Michelson and Fabry-Perot Interferometers
  • Polarisation
  • Birefringence

Thermodynamics lectures will cover the following topics:

  • Revision of ideal gas law, internal energy and equipartition
  • First law and heat engines
  • Second law
  • Probabolistic approach to entropy and thermodynamics
  • The Sackur – Tetrode equation for the entropy
  • Equilibrium & the first law of thermodynamics identity
  • Chemical potential & extended first thermodynamic identity
  • Thermodynamics of black holes
  • Enthalpy & Helmholtz & Gibb free energy
  • Thermodynamic potentials & the second law
  • Phase diagrams & phase transitions
  • Osmotic pressure & related aspects

Work, health and safety

We are governed by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 and Codes of Practice. Penalties for non-compliance have increased. Everyone has a responsibility for health and safety at work. The University’s Work Health and Safety policy explains the responsibilities and expectations of workers and others, and the procedures for managing WHS risks associated with University activities.

General Laboratory Safety Rules

  • No eating or drinking is allowed in any laboratory under any circumstances
  • A laboratory coat and closed-toe shoes are mandatory
  • Follow safety instructions in your manual and posted in laboratories
  • In case of fire, follow instructions posted outside the laboratory door
  • First aid kits, eye wash and fire extinguishers are located in or immediately outside each laboratory
  • As a precautionary measure, it is recommended that you have a current tetanus immunisation. This can be obtained from University Health Service:


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

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