PHYC30020 Classical Mechanics and Relativity

Academic Year 2023/2024

This core module for all physics degrees covers both advanced classical mechanics and special relativity, within a unified conceptual framework.

The first part of this module covers non-relativistic classical mechanics in terms of the Lagrangian framework, including an in-depth discussion of the Principal of Least Action, generalised coordinates and symmetries, degrees of freedom, the Euler-Lagrange equation of motion, Hamiltonian formulation and Hamilton's equation of motion. Various applications are given. We will make connections to other areas of physics, from electromagnetism and optics to quantum mechanics.

The second part of this module covers Einstein's theory of special relativity, with applications in particle physics, electromagnetism and astrophysics. Topics include the Michelson-Morley experiment, Einstein's postulates, Lorentz transformations, time dilation and length contraction, relativity of simultaneity and causality, four-vector formalism, relativistic energy-momentum-mass relationship, relativistic mechanics and Lagrangian formulation. We give an outlook to general relativity.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

Students will acquire an understanding of the foundations of classical mechanics and special relativity as well as their applications and uses in other areas of physics. Students will be able to analyse, understand and describe model systems and physical experiments, and be able to apply this knowledge to solve quantitative problems.

Indicative Module Content:

Lagrangian classical mechanics
Special Relativity and 4-vectors
Relativistic mechanics

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
The module comprises 36 hours of lectures, with 5 homework assignments followed by 5 problem classes, and a final exam. The theoretical underpinnings of the Lagrangian formulation of classical mechanics are presented, first showing equivalence to the Newtonian formulation, and then building up to sophisticated examples while making connections to other areas of physics. Special relativity is derived from scratch, motivated by experimental findings pointing to the failure of Newtonian mechanics. It is then elaborated systematically and combined with Lagrangian mechanics from the first part of the course. Principles are underlined by several relevant examples. Homework consolidates learning and prepares for the exam. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Examination: Written examination 2 hour End of Trimester Exam No Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Homework Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring Yes - 2 Hour
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback is given on homework assignments, which are fully graded, and a problem class on each assignment is given 1-2 weeks after submission. This prepares students for the final examination. Individual feedback can be provided to students directly from the lecturer if sought.

Name Role
Mr Emmanuel Bogacz Tutor
George Mihailescu Tutor
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Tues 11:00 - 11:50
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - Autumn: All Weeks Wed 10:00 - 11:50