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Unit of study_

PHYS3935: Electrodynamics and Optics (Advanced)

Semester 2, 2020 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

The development of electrodynamic field theory laid the foundation on which all of modern physics is built, from relativity to quantum field theory. Its application to electromagnetic waves and optics underpins all of modern telecommunications, but also some of the most delicate physics experiments, from gravitational wave detection to quantum computing. This is a core unit in the physics major, which has three components: electrodynamics lectures, optics lectures, and experimental lab. The advanced unit covers the same concepts as PHYS3035 but with a greater level of challenge and academic rigour, largely in separate lectures. You will apply Mawell's equations to derive properties of electromagnetic waves, the interaction of waves with matter, waveguides, radiation and Gauge transformations. This will lead to optics lectures in which you will investigate aspects of modern optics, using the laser to illustrate the topics covered, in combination with a discussion of the basic optical properties of materials, including the Lorentz model. You will investigate spontaneous and stimulated emission of light, laser rate equations, diffraction, Gaussian beam propagation, anisotropic media and nonlinear optics. You will design your own in-depth experimental investigations into key aspects of electrodynamics, optics, as well as other topics in physics, with expert tutoring.

Unit details and rules

Unit code PHYS3935
Academic unit Physics Academic Operations
Credit points 6
PHYS3035 or PHYS3040 or PHYS3940 or PHYS3941 or PHYS3068 or PHYS3968 or PHYS3069 or PHYS3969 or PHYS3080 or PHYS3980
Average of 70 or above in [(PHYS2011 OR PHYS2911 OR PHYS2921) AND (PHYS2012 OR PHYS2912 OR PHYS2922)]
Assumed knowledge

(MATH2021 OR MATH2921 OR MATH2061 OR MATH2961 OR MATH2067)

Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Catherine Stampfl,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam (Open book) Type C final exam Final exam
Type C
40% Formal exam period 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5 LO6 LO7
Tutorial quiz Quizzes
Multiple choice and short answer questions
20% Multiple weeks 20 minutes per quiz
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO7 LO6 LO5 LO2
Skills-based evaluation Experimental physics logbook
Lab skills assessment
15% Multiple weeks 4 hour sessions
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO7 LO6 LO5 LO4
Assignment Electrodynamics assignment
Written assignment
5% Week 07 5 pages
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6 LO7
Assignment Problem assignment
Written assignment
10% Week 10 10 pages
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO5 LO6 LO7
Presentation Experimental physics oral presentation
Oral presentation
10% Week 12 10 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO4 LO7 LO5
Type C final exam = Type C final exam ?

Assessment summary

  • Assignments: There are three coursework assignments in this unit, one per module and one larger problem assignment using aspects of both modules.
  • Quizzes: There will be 2 electrodynamics and 2 optics quizzes.
  • Experimental physics lab books: Every student will carry out two experiments. At least one experiment has to be from the advanced experiment pool.
  • Experimental physics oral presentation: Students will give a  presentation based on the material covered in their logbook.
  • Final exam: The final exam will have questions covering all coursework aspects of this course, and will be entirely paper based. 

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 and comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the unit material. A ‘High Distinction’ reflects exceptional achievement and is awarded to a student who demonstrates the ability to apply subject knowledge to novel situations.


75 - 84

At DI level, a student demonstrates an aptitude for the subject and a solid knowledge and understanding of the unit material. A ‘Distinction’ reflects excellent achievement and is awarded to a student who demonstrates an ability to apply the key ideas of the subject.


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 understanding of the unit material but has not fully developed the ability to apply the key ideas of the subject.


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 of the subject.


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
Week 01 Electrostatics: Dirac delta, divergence and Gauss’ law; curvilinear coordinates, Laplacian and method of images Lecture (3 hr)  
Lab induction Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 02 Magnetostatics: Vector potential, Poisson equation, Faraday’s law, Maxwell’s equation in vacuum and media Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 03 Electrodynamics: Aharamov Bohm effect; charge conservation; energy conservation; Poynting vector; wave equation in matter Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 04 Electrodynamics: complex notations for plane waves; energy velocity; boundary conditions; reflection and transmission at normal incidence; complex Poynting vector Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 05 Electrodynamics: reflection and transmission at oblique incidence; deriving Snell’s law; Brewster angle; total internal reflection and evanescent fields Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 06 Electrodynamics: Gauge invariance, Lorenz gauge, d’Alembertian, retarded potential, Lienard-Wiechert potentials, Dipole radiation and Larmor formula; Rayleigh scattering Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 07 Optics: the Lorentz atom, Lorentz Drude model, complex permittivity, line shapes; Kramers-Kronig relations; dispersion relations and group velocity Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 08 Optics: waveguides and modes; paraxial wave equation derivation Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 09 Optics: Fourier transform in optics, paraxial wave equation and solutions Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 10 Optics: Gaussian beams and Gaussian optics; diffraction at apertures Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 11 Optics: Einstein coefficients; three and four level lasers; laser rate equations Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  
Week 12 Optics: solving the rate equation; propagation in anisotropic media; refraction at anisotropic interfaces Lecture and tutorial (4 hr)  
Experimental physics lab Science laboratory (4 hr)  

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.

Required readings

All readings for this unit can be accessed through the Library eReserve, available on Canvas.

  • Electrodynamics: Griffiths, D.J., Introduction to electrodynamics, Pearson, 4th edition, ISBN-13: 978-0321856562.

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. demonstrate an understanding of key concepts in two foundation areas of physics - electrodynamics and optics
  • LO2. apply these concepts to develop models, and to solve qualitative and quantitative problems in scientific contexts, using appropriate mathematical and computing techniques as necessary
  • LO3. design experiments to measure specific effects
  • LO4. compare and critique experimental approaches and electrodynamic models
  • LO5. communicate scientific information appropriately, through written work and an oral presentation
  • LO6. analyse a physical problem in electrodynamics and optics and develop a formalism appropriate for solving it
  • LO7. demonstrate 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.

Removed one of the 4 Quizzes (weight 3.75 each) to have 4 Quizzes at weight 5%. Due to shortening of Semester by 1 week. The assessment change request has been signed by Boris Kuhlmey our associate head education, and sent to faculty for approval. Changed due date of one of the assigments from Week 11 to week 10; and another from Week 13 to Week 12. The learning activities now go to Week 12 (not week 13).

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.


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

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.