Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session

Course Curriculum: Vibrations and Waves

Mechanical Vibrations and Waves

  • Simple harmonic motion
  • Superposition
  • Forced vibrations and resonance
  • Coupled oscillations and normal modes
  • Waves in continuous media
  • Phase and group velocity

Electromagnetic Waves

  • Wave solutions to Maxwell’s equations in vacuum

  • Plane waves and polarization

  • Sources of EM waves: radiation, antennas

  • Wave solutions to Maxwell’s equations in conductors

  • Boundary conditions: transmission lines, wave guides, cavities


  • Wave solutions to Maxwell’s equation in dielectrics
  • Reflection and refraction
  • Multiple sources: interference
  • Diffraction
  • Gratings
  • The Doppler effect


French, A. P. Vibrations and Waves. Norton.

Bekefi, G., and A. H. Barrett. Electromagnetic Vibrations, Waves, and Radiation. MIT Press.

Supplemental Reading

Hecht, E. Optics. Addison-Wesley.

This book has sometimes been used as a primary textbook for 8.03, and is valuable for further reading.

Course Grade Distribution

Graded work/Grade percentage

Exam #1: 15%

Exam #2: 15%

Exam #3: 15%

Final Exam: 30%

Problem Sets: 25%

Take Home Experiments Missing = Incomplete

Homework Assignments

Homework assignments will typically consist of three to six problems. Problem set 1 and 6 cover three lectures instead of two and may be longer than usual. Some problems will be from the textbooks, some will be prepared by the lecturer. The solutions need to be readable. It is important for the graders to measure your understanding of the material. You need to include all important logical steps in the derivation of the answer. Check the “honesty” page (PDF) of how to work together with other students.

Worked Examples

Each homework assignment will be accompanied by a set of examples with solutions covering the same material. Most of these have been homework problems in previous years. You are expected to study and understand these examples. If there is any aspect that is not clear, raise it with your recitation instructor. When making up the exams, we will assume that you are as familiar with these examples as you are with the homework problems that you have worked on your own. In particular, they may form the basis, in whole or in part, for a question on the exam.

Take-Home Experiments

You will be provided with experiment kits and an instruction manual on doing several carefully designed experiments relevant to the course material at home. These kits will be available by the second week of classes. The purpose of these experiments is to give you a first hand knowledge of some of the simple physical phenomena associated with vibrations and waves. You will increase your understanding of each phenomenon by varying one or more parameters and observing the resulting changes. The key elements are that you do the experiment yourself and you see and think about the results. These experiments were not designed to teach you laboratory techniques or to train you in data analysis. None of the experiments requires an elaborate setup and in no case are you required to take and plot a set of data points.

The experiments are meant to be short. The experiments on the Fresnel equations and on the Moiré pattern simulation of interference phenomena can be done in a few minutes. A few require planning: the sealant used for the liquid prism and the scattering experiments requires 24 hours to set. Some, such as the polarization and transmission grating experiments you can carry in your pocket and try out on a variety of sources.

To do the experiments is a requirement for the course. The current experiments will be listed on your weekly homework assignments. If there is a homework problem related to an experiment, the answer has to be turned in on the homework due date. Staple the experiment report to the homework solutions! Otherwise, you should just do the experiment. Towards the end of the term you should turn in evidence that you have done the experiments. This could be a short description of your observations, suggestions for improving the experiments, including the instructions and explanation, suggestions for further experiments using the kit, or simply a photograph of your setup. No grades will be assigned for the experiments, but not delivering the evidence will result in a course grade of incomplete.

We hope to organize a photo contest with the take-home experiments. Take photographs of your experiments and submit them to the instructors. Your aethestically gifted and artistic 8.03 teaching staff will choose three winners for a TBD prize.

Computer Usage

Using computers to illustrate solutions of many equations encountered in 8.03 is highly encouraged. You can use any software, calculators etc. including symbolic math to help you visualize and understand the physics of waves and vibrations. It is also possible to voluntarily replace some of the take home experiments by MATLAB® projects. Talk to an instructor if you are interested in a MATLAB® or Mathematica® project.

Be sure you can do all of your calculations without electronic aids as well: there will be no access to MATLAB® or other computer programs during written exams!

In-class Exams

There will be three written exams and a Final. The exams will be based on the material presented in lecture, reading assignments and the problem sets. There are no makeup exams, the missed exams will normally count as zero. Under special circumstances, students may be excused by the lecturer, in which case the grade for that exam will not be counted in that student’s total score.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

notes Lecture Notes