Coolest Class: Advanced Principles of Physics III (PHYS163)

emily-2013 Viterbi Class 0 Comments

Around November of my sophomore year, I registered for PHYS163 on the registration website and dubiously considered the information posted for the class:

Interference and diffraction of waves, special relativity, quantum mechanics, atomic physics, condensed matter physics, elementary particles

ISBN: 9780471873730
New: $144.50
Used: $108.40


After 2 long semesters of Newton’s Equations, heat transfer, electric and magnetic fields, sound waves, circuit theory, and other fun topics, all of the other departments move on biology or chemistry, leaving we AME and ASTE students to continue on to the third semester of physics. At 6pm on the first Tuesday of classes, I walked into a small, auditorium seating lecture hall and took my customary place in the 3rd row aisle seat. I brought my impressively titled book, my notebook, and my entire assortment of colored felt pens.

I had taken the previous two semesters with Professor Gene Bickers (, and I consider him to be one of the best lecturers at USC. I was ready with my pens when he outlined an semester pf challenging topics and jumped right into the material. I took detailed, color-coded notes, because I frequently left class feeling stuffed with information that wouldn’t process until I started the homework sets. My favorite lecture of the class was the day when we talked about moving near the speed of light and the Twin Paradox.

The Twin Paradox is a hypothetical scenario where one twin is sent on a spaceship near the speed of light to go out x lightyears and come back. Since time slows at relativistic speeds, if you are the twin on Earth, you will observe yourself aging much faster than your twin on the spacecraft. However, if you are the twin on the spacecraft, your perspective indicates that EARTH is moving at relativistic speeds and therefore perceive that YOU are the one aging faster. Therefore, when the spacecraft returns to Earth, what are the relative ages??? The answer actually is that in decelerating and recelerating on the turnaround and approaching Earth, time figures out that you have cheated, and reasserts that the Space traveler is actually the younger one.

The homework sets that I did for this class took literally hours. maybe 5-10 on average, but they gave me a huge sense of accomplishment, and it was worth it to feel like a genius after calculating the frequency of my body represented as a matter wave. Also, I learned how to think logically about very difficult theoretical problems and persevere until I’ve solved it. Thankfully, Professor Bickers’ office was always open for a quick question or a long explanation on his whiteboard.

If you are a big nerd that likes arguing about things like whether the hologram technology in Star Wars is really feasible and whether the Higgs Boson will really tell us how the universe was created, I recommend this class!


Want to learn more? Here's the best place to ask: