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Introduction to Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics

Course Code: PHYS 2250
Faculty: Science & Technology
Department: Physics
Credits: 3.0
Semester: 15 weeks
Learning Format: Lecture
Typically Offered: Fall
course overview

This course is an introduction to modern physics. The first part will focus on special relativity: Lorentz transformation, relativistic kinematics and dynamics, and conservation laws. The second part will focus on quantum mechanics: matter waves, early quantum models as well as the experimental evidence for quantization, a qualitative discussion of the concepts of quantum mechanics and their application to simple systems.

Course Content

Special Relativity

  • Galilean relativity
  • Events, measurements and simultaneity
  • Consequences of Special Relativity
  • Spacetime diagrams and paradoxes
  • Relativistic dynamics
  • Massless particles

Quantum Mechanics

  • Quantization of charge and light energy
  • Atomic spectra and the nuclear atom 
  • Wave packets and wave functions
  • Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
  • The Schrödinger Equation
  • Applications of the Schrödinger Equation in one-dimension
  • Tunnelling and reflections
  • Hydrogen atom
  • Applications of Quantum Mechanics

Methods of Instruction


May include some online assignments.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy. The instructor will present a written course outline with specific evaluation criteria at the beginning of the semester. Evaluation will be based on the following:

In class and online assignments  10-30%

Tests (minimum of two during the semester)  30-50%

Final exam  30-40%

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

Special Relativity

  • explain what is meant by the principle of relativity, and give examples that appear to contradict this principle
  • describe how Einstein's postulates of Special Relativity lead to the relativity of simultaneity
  • transform spacetime coordinates and velocities between inertial reference frames using Lorentz transformations and velocity transformation
  • describe and calculate the relativistic effects of time dilation, length contraction, and the relativistic Doppler effect
  • use spacetime diagrams to graphically represent processes involving relativistic velocities
  • resolve common paradoxes such as "the twins paradox" and the "pole in the barn" paradox 
  • analyze dynamical processes using relativistic dynamics including particle decay and collisions
  • explain the relations between mass, energy and momentum in relativity and describe the consequences of these relations to massless particles

 Quantum Mechanics

  • explain the experimental evidence for the quantization of charge and light energy
  • give qualitative predictions and explanations of the behaviour of simple quantum systems, such as the distribution of electrons in atoms and the spectrum of light emitted and absorbed by atoms
  • explain the probabilistic interpretation of the wave function, and use the wave function to determine the expectated value of a measurement and the probability of various outcomes in simple quantum systems  
  • explain how a wave packet can be generated using a quantum superposition of eigenstates and apply the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to determine the time evolution of a wave packet
  • state the Schrödinger equation and the time-independent Schrödinger equation and explain how these equations govern the time evolution of wave functions
  • verify solutions of the Schrödinger equation for a free particle and 1D potentials such as the infinite square well, the finite square well, the step potential and finite barrier (tunnelling) 
  • qualitatively describe solutions to the 3D Schrödinger equation for the hydrogen atom (Coulomb potential), and the quantization of angular momentum


  • demonstrate an understanding of popular science articles on current research in physics by the ability to answer questions about modern physics from curious friends and relatives
  • value gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of quantum mechanics and special relativity

course prerequisites

PHYS 1110, PHYS 1210, and MATH 1220 

Recommended prerequisites: MATH 2232 Linear Algebra and MATH 2321 Calculus III. 


Recommended co-requisite: MATH 2421 Ordinary Differential Equations.

curriculum guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester/year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

course schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.