Light and Matter module (PH12004)

Learn about light and matter, which form the foundations of modern physics.

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Module code


The properties of light and matter form the basis of modern physics and are a key starting point in your physics degree.

Optics is one of the first areas where several physical descriptions were developed, describing light as rays, waves, and particles. Geometric optics uses light as rays and describes systems of lenses including telescopes. The wave nature of light describes effects like interference and diffraction. Finally, the particle nature of light is necessary to explain effects like the photoelectric effect.

Particles also have these several descriptions where they can behave as waves and particles. The description of the atom is also a key foundation. The Bohr model of the atom introduces quantisation, which leads to the early stages of quantum mechanics.

What you will learn

In this module, you will:

  • learn about geometric optics and understand image formation
  • learn about the parallels between light and matter, which can behave like either waves or particles
  • explore special relativity, which has a constant velocity approaching the speed of light, and travels in one direction
  • develop an understanding of the foundations of quantum mechanics by looking at the Bohr model of the atom
  • undertake experiments looking at double-slit interference, geometric optics, and digital image analysis

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • describe geometric optics, interference, and photons
  • understand time dilation and length contraction in special relativity
  • describe quantisation in the Bohr model of the atom and the wave-like nature of light
  • design experiments to investigate geometric optics, interference, and digital image analysis
  • produce formal reports to a professional standard
  • understand health and safety risks, and complete simple risk assessments

Assignments / assessment

  • coursework (50%)
    • lab books
    • short homework assignments
  • exam (50%)

Teaching methods / timetable

You will learn through a combination of lectures and workshops, as well as several three-hour laboratory sessions where you design and undertake three different experiments.


This module is available on following courses: