PHYS 460 :: Physics Illinois :: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Welcome to Physics 460, Spring 2024!

The goal of this course is to set the foundation for future coursework and research in condensed matter physics. We will cover topics such as electronic structure of crystalline systems, metals, semi-conductors, magnetically ordered materials, and possibly more advanced topics such as low-dimensional systems and superconductors. The hope is that this course will lay the conceptual framework needed by all experimentally and theoretically minded students to understand the basics of condensed matter physics, in particuar develop an intuition for crystals, reciprocal space, electronic bands, and other wonders of quantum phenomena in solids.

Lectures will be every Tuesday and Thursday in Loomis 136 from 3:30 pm to 4:50 pm 

Discussion section will be every Thursday in Loomis 222 from 7 pm to 7:50 pm

First Lecture is on Tuesday January 16th

Instructor: Fahad Mahmood,, Office: MRL 202, Office hours: Fridays 11 am to noon, in-person in MRL 202

Discussion section TA: Yinchuan Lu, 

Grader: Yingkai Liu

Required Text Book: The Oxford Solid State Basics by Steven Simon. The book will not be strictly followed and extra material will be included in the lectures for which students are responsible. Lecture summaries will be posted after each week on the Schedule page. There will be additional readings necessary for answering the prelecture questions. PDFs of these will be posted on the Schedule page. 

Recommended Supplementary Texts: Introduction to Solid State Physics by Charles Kittel and Solid State Physics by Ashcroft and Mermin

Prerequisites: PHYS 435; PHYS 485 or PHYS 486. Quantum mechanics is a required pre-requisite for a reason and will be used. If you don’t have this pre-requisite make sure you are comfortable enough with the material before the drop date


Component Percentage Number of assignments
Checkpoint questions 5 13 (3 lowest will be dropped)
Homework 30 6
Midterm Exam 25 1
Final Exam 40 1


Partial credit will be given on homework and exams if and only if the work is coherent. A random scattering of thoughts will not be awarded points. Simple numerical errors will not be strongly punished, however errors which give incorrect physical results will be. The steps to receiving partial credit are: (i) write your solution neatly and coherently using equations and words to describe what you are doing (ii) checking your answer for consistency e.g. are units correct, does the solution behave correctly in known limits. When writing solutions on homework or exams the best mindset to have is that you are explaining your method to a fellow classmate at your same level. That will require that you show your steps logically and lead the grader/reader through your solutions. This way of communicating your results will be beneficial for both yourself and the grader. 

The course will not be graded on a predetermined curve. If the class as a whole shows unusual mastery of solid state physics, the grades will be unusually high. Since we use absolute rather than relative standards, a student cannot lower their grade by helping classmates understand the material. Indeed, the process of explaining difficult concepts generally helps clarify and solidify one’s own understanding.

Weekly checkpoint questions

These are short-answer questions that will be posted evey week by Monday evening, and are due by 12 PM every Thursday. You might need to read the relevant readings as outlined in the Schedule page before you answer these questions. These questions will not be graded for correctness, only whether there is a good-faith effort in answering them. The goal is to have you read about some big-picture ideas and/or ponder over concepts and experimental data a little before the lecture and also give me usefull feedback on the course material. We might also include some fun, bonus activities in the form of checkpoint questions!

Weekly checkpoint questions will be handed in, graded and returned using Gradescope (link on the left).


 Each homework will be posted two weeks before it is due. Homeworks will typically be due on Tuesdays by 8 am for homeworks before spring break and on Wednesdays by 8 am for homeworks after spring break. I recommend that you look at the homework well in advance of its due date and ask questions during class and during office hours.

Late homework can be turned in till 2 days after it is due for upto 50% credit (except for the last homework). After that no credit will be given.

Homework will be handed in, graded and returned using Gradescope (link on the left).


There will be a midterm exam (as indicated on the Schedule page) and a final exam. Both exams will be in-person and will be handed in on paper.

Additional Notes

Academic Integrity

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Student Code should also be considered as a part of this syllabus. Students should pay particular attention to Article 1, Part 4: Academic Integrity. Read the Code at the following URL: Academic dishonesty will result in a sanction proportionate to the severity of the infraction, with possible sanctions described in 1-404 of the Student Code ( Every student is expected to review and abide by the Academic Integrity Policy as defined in the Student Code: As a student it is your responsibility to refrain from infractions of academic integrity and from conduct that aids others in such infractions. A short guide to academic integrity issues may be found at Ignorance of these policies is not an excuse for any academic dishonesty. It is your responsibility to read this policy to avoid any misunderstanding. Do not hesitate to ask the instructor(s) if you are ever in doubt about what constitutes plagiarism, cheating, or any other breach of academic integrity.

Anti-Racism and Inclusivity Statement

The Grainger College of Engineering is committed to the creation of an anti-racist, inclusive community that welcomes diversity along a number of dimensions, including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity and national origins, gender and gender identity, sexuality, disability status, class, age, or religious beliefs. The College recognizes that we are learning together in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, that Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous voices and contributions have largely either been excluded from, or not recognized in, science and engineering, and that both overt racism and micro-aggressions threaten the well-being of our students and our university community. The effectiveness of this course is dependent upon each of us to create a safe and encouraging learning environment that allows for the open exchange of ideas while also ensuring equitable opportunities and respect for all of us. Everyone is expected to help establish and maintain an environment where students, staff, and faculty can contribute without fear of personal ridicule, or intolerant or offensive language. If you witness or experience racism, discrimination, micro-aggressions, or other offensive behavior, you are encouraged to bring this to the attention of the course director if you feel comfortable. You can also report these behaviors to the Bias Assessment and Response Team (BART) ( Based on your report, BART members will follow up and reach out to students to make sure they have the support they need to be healthy and safe. If the reported behavior also violates university policy, staff in the Office for Student Conflict Resolution may respond as well and will take appropriate action.

Disability-Related Accommodations

To obtain disability-related academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids, students with disabilities must contact the course instructor and the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) as soon as possible. To contact DRES, you may visit 1207 S. Oak St., Champaign, call 333-4603, e-mail or go to If you are concerned you have a disability-related condition that is impacting your academic progress, there are academic screening appointments available that can help diagnosis a previously undiagnosed disability. You may access these by visiting the DRES website and selecting "Request an Academic Screening" at the bottom of the page.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Any student who has suppressed their directory information pursuant to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) should self-identify to the instructor to ensure protection of the privacy of their attendance in this course. See for more information on FERPA.

Religious Observances

Illinois law requires the University to reasonably accommodate its students religious beliefs, observances, and practices in regard to admissions, class attendance, and the scheduling of examinations and work requirements. You should examine this syllabus at the beginning of the semester for potential conflicts between course deadlines and any of your religious observances. If a conflict exists, you should notify your instructor of the conflict and follow the procedure at ( to request appropriate accommodations. This should be done in the first two weeks of classes.

Sexual Misconduct Reporting Obligation

The University of Illinois is committed to combating sexual misconduct. Faculty and staff members are required to report any instances of sexual misconduct to the University's Title IX Office. In turn, an individual with the Title IX Office will provide information about rights and options, including accommodations, support services, the campus disciplinary process, and law enforcement options. A list of the designated University employees who, as counselors, confidential advisors, and medical professionals, do not have this reporting responsibility and can maintain confidentiality, can be found here: Other information about resources and reporting is available here: