T C 357 • Physics Of National Security
TTH 930am-1100am RLM 7.112
This course has a writing flag.
This new Plan II junior seminar concentrates on the physical principles that underlie technical issues in national and global security. The course is aimed at students interested in security matters who have a background in quantitative methods. The relevant physical principles will be developed in class and reading, and applied to modern security problems involving such topics as nuclear weapons, space, surveillance, and communications. The purpose is to provide analytical tools and experience for students to understand and to be able to critically evaluate the technical facts that underlie important national policy issues.
Scientific topics to be covered include:
- Applications of Newton's laws to rockets, earth-bound satellites and missile defenses
- Applications of Einstein's special relativity to clocks, radar, the global positioning system and nuclear energy
- Other topics as time permits
Familiarity with calculus is recommended.
Readings will include reports on specific national security matters, such as the recent American Physical Society report on missile defense (http://prola.aps.org/abstract/RMP/v76/i4/p1307_1), the AAAS report on new nuclear weapon designs (http://cstsp.aaas.org/files/RL32929.pdf), the Garwin Archive at the Federation of American Scientists (http://www.fas.org/rlg/) and textbooks such as Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller and Megawatts and Megatons: The Future of Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons by Richard L. Garwin and Georges Charpak.
The seminar will consist of lectures and discussion with regular problem assignments and quizzes on the physics material developed in class. The second major effort in the seminar will be the preparation of a term paper and a class presentation on the scientific basis, credibility and outstanding questions related to some national security issue or technical approach that could be applied to national security. 50% of the grade will be based on the term paper, presentation, and participation in class; 25% will be based on problem assignments and 25% on quizzes.
About the Professor
Dr. Roy Schwitters, S.W. Richardson Professor of Physics, received his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1971. He currently works in experimental high energy physics and large scale detectors.
T C 357 • Physics Of National Security
TTH 1100-1230pm RLM 7.112
TC 357 – Plan II Junior Seminar in Applied Science
The Physics of National Security
Class Meetings: Tues, Thur. at 11 AM – 12:30 PM in RLM 7.112
Unique #: 43810
Purpose: This seminar concentrates on the physical principles which underlie technical issues
in national and global security. The course is aimed at students interested in security matters
who have a background in quantitative methods. The relevant physical principles will be
developed in class and reading, and applied to modern security problems involving such
topics as nuclear weapons, space, surveillance, and communications. The purpose is to
provide analytical tools and experience for students to understand and to be able to critically
evaluate the technical facts that underlie important national policy issues.
Instructor: Professor Roy Schwitters
Office: RLM 9.320, tel. 471-9962
Office hours: Tuesdays 9 - 10:30 AM, Wednesdays 10:30 AM - noon.
Class web info.: UT Blackboard
Texts: “Innumeracy” by John Allen Paulos, Hill and Wang, 2001.
“An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise”, Second Ed.
by John R. Pierce, Dover Publications, 1980.
“Physics for Future Presidents: the Science Behind the Headlines” by Richard A.
Muller, W.W. Norton, 2008.
“Principles of Data Analysis” by Prasenjit Saha, which is available for free on the
web (http://www.physik.uzh.ch/~psaha/pda/) or can be purchased in book form as:
Web resource: The Garwin Archive at the Federation of American Scientists:
Lectures and Discussions: Each class period will typically be divided between lecture and
discussion. The goals of the discussion period are to clarify lecture material, explore the
relevance of lecture material to specific national security issues, and to develop ideas for the
term paper and presentation.
Term paper and presentation as alternative to final exam: Each student will prepare a
term paper on some technical subject related to national security and present the results of the
paper to the class for discussion.
Homework: A total of seven homework assignments will be given during the term.
Typically, homework problems will be given out at the Thursday lecture and they will be due
the following Thursday at the beginning of class. Late homework will be accepted for one
additional week. Late homework will receive a maximum of one-half credit; homework more
than one week overdue will receive no credit.
Exams: Two quizzes will be given during class hours. No makeup tests will be given. The
quizzes will be closed-book; a single 8 1/2” x 11” page of your notes and calculators may be
Grading: The final grade will be based on work performed during the semester according to
the following weights:
Term paper and class presentation 50%
Two quizzes 25%
Homework assignments 15%
Class participation 10%
TC 357 Class Schedule
Class Date Topic
1 Th 27-Aug Introduction
2 T 1-Sep Quantifying the world
3 Th 3-Sep Describing the world: 1 Einstein handout
4 T 8-Sep Space, time, and events
5 Th 10-Sep What is information? 2
6 T 15-Sep "
7 Th 17-Sep How we sense the world: 3 Handouts
8 T 22-Sep Photons and more
9 Th 24-Sep Quiz 1
10 T 29-Sep
11 Th 1-Oct
Quantifying uncertainty (Term
paper proposal due) 4
Saha: Principles of
12 T 6-Oct Energy
Muller: "Physics for
13 Th 8-Oct contd. 5
14 T 13-Oct Nukes
15 Th 15-Oct contd. 6
16 T 20-Oct Getting to space
17 Th 22-Oct "Navigating" when up there 7
18 T 27-Oct Review
19 Th 29-Oct Quiz 2
20 T 3-Nov Applications
21 Th 5-Nov More applications
22 T 10-Nov " (First draft of term paper due)
23 Th 12-Nov "
24 T 17-Nov "
25 Th 19-Nov Student presentations
26 T 24-Nov "
27 T 1-Dec "
28 Th 3-Dec General discussion (Term paper due)