Introduction to Subatomic Physics

This course (Physics 4E03) is an introduction to Subatomic Physics aimed at 3rd and 4th year undergraduates. The information given here is relevant to the Winter 2020 term.


The course contents are:

  • Some History and Review
    1.1 More than just atoms
    1.2 Units and scales
    1.3 Relativistic kinematics
  • Calculational Tools I
    2.1 Conserved quantities
    2.2 Decays: General properties
    2.3 Scattering: General properties
  • Calculational Tools II
    3.1 Classical two-body scattering
    3.2 Quantum potential scattering
    3.3 Perturbation theory and the Born approximation
  • Nuclear Structure
    4.1 Electrons, nucleons and quarks
    4.2 Inter-nucleon interactions and nuclear properties
    4.3 Nuclear models
    4.4 Isospin and pions in inter-nucleon forces
    4.5 Radioactivity
  • More Particles and the Standard Model
    5.1 Hadrons, hadrons, hadrons!
    5.2 Fermions and the Generation Puzzle
    5.3 Bosons and the four forces
    5.5 Electroweak unification
    5.6 Spontaneous symmetry breaking
  • Quantum Field Theory
    6.1 Creation and annihilation operators
    6.2 Second quantization
    6.3 Bosons and forces
    6.4 Relativistic quantum fields


A handout with this information is distributed at the first lecture and is also available in pdf format .


Lectures meet Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the afternoon from 1:30 to 2:20 in HH 102. Attendance to the lectures is certainly not compulsory, but if you come I do ask you to pay attention and not disrupt the class with personal conversation or social media. (My preference is to have our class be a laptop/smartphone-free zone.) I will do what I can to ensure that you do not have to gnaw your own arm off to stay awake.


The course textbook is Subatomic Physics, by Henley and Garcia, and has been ordered at the bookstore. I use this sometimes for assignments and as an alternative point of view to my own lecture notes, so it is not obligatory to buy.

A possible alternative reference often used for courses like this is Introduction to Elementary Particles by Griffiths, though this has more of a particle physics (as opposed to nuclear) spin. This book describes Feynman rules, but does so without quantum field theory and so does not really explain why they are what they are. I also sometimes draw material from my own book, The Standard Model: A Primer, which aims to use the Standard Model as a vehicle for introducing quantum field theory at a level appropriate to an introductory graduate class. For quantum field theory a book with a relatively light touch is Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell by Tony Zee, and David Tong has a good set of lecture notes (again at a graduate level) at his Cambridge University webpage.

Office Hours

A natural time to meet is right after class (right before the class is not so good since I am often trying to prepare for it). So either catch me in class and we can talk in HH or tell me there that you intend to meet me in my office afterwards. (I usually do not just hang about the office unless I know students are coming by, so it is best to let me know in advance if you intend to stop in.) Otherwise, feel free to arrange another time with me on an individual basis. (I will make a point of being in my office for scheduled appointments, sometimes coming in from off campus, so if you do set up an appointment, please show up!) Because I spend half my time at Perimeter Institute I may be hard to find in my office, so it is worth setting up any appointments in advance. I am happy to meet however, so if you see me there you are welcome to drop in (and don’t hesitate to make an appointment).


The course TA is David St. Amant-Farmer and meetings with him are probably best arranged by email at stamantd (at) The time and place of his office hours will be posted here once he tells me them.


The course work involves completing a (roughly) weekly assignment. Like any worthwhile subject, Subatomic Physic is a contact sport and so is only really learned by doing (as opposed to passively reading). It is very very strongly recommended to work the assignments even if you only audit the course.

We will set the due day for assignments during class, and once set they are due in class the same day the following week. If you do not hand them in then it is your own responsibility to get them to the TA (David), and it is his choice whether he marks work that is handed in late (or assesses a penalty for late work). Check out this term’s assignments here.

Mini Quizzes

The best way to stay abreast of the class is to read ahead in the lecture notes. To encourage this I will suggest sections to read and then have a short in-class mini-quiz about the content. This is meant to help motivate you to do the readings (I know you are all busy), since you get more out of the lectures (and can use them to ask questions) if you have given the material a little thought. It also allows me to focus in class either on special topics or on working through problems (and if you would like this to be done for specific problems, let me know).

Term Project

The term project is to summarize in your own words one of the classic papers of subatomic physics. Describe both what the paper’s intended point was, and why it was important (which are not always the same thing). You can work in groups if you wish, but if so when you submit your paper choice you should also submit a list of the others in your group.

Procedural details and a lengthy list of papers from which to choose are given here. Here are the deadlines (though do not wait for the deadlines before starting!):

Step one: choose a paper from the list (or you can choose one not on the list if you first get my approval for the paper you have in mind) and tell David which it is (and who your fellow group members are, if any) by Thursday March 5.

Step two: hand in your finished essay in class Monday April 6 (last lecture).

Midterm Exam

A midterm test will be held in class on Thursday, February 27, 2020. The midterm provides the best possible practice for the final exam, so it would be silly not to write it. Those who do not write the midterm for whatever reason can avail themselves of Option B below. Be there or be square.

Final Exam

The Final Exam will be held during the April examination session.

Marking Scheme

The course marks are completely based on the weekly assignments, the midterm test, the term project and the final exam. The term mark will be computed from these according to whichever of the following formulae maximizes your final mark:

  • A) Ass./Quz: 20% Midterm: 20% Term Project: 20% Final Exam: 40%
  • B) Ass./Quz: 20% Midterm: 0% Term Project: 20% Final Exam: 60%
  • C) Ass./Quz: 20% Midterm: 20% Term Project: 10% Final Exam: 50%
  • D) Ass./Quz: 20% Midterm: 0% Term Project: 10% Final Exam: 70%

Part of the reason for providing you this menu of alternatives is to allow you to accommodate the imponderables of your own life, such as unexpected illnesses and the like. The purpose of doing so is to make this flexibility open to everybody in the class, and not just to those who wish to make special arrangements with me, or with the Associate Dean. So this my preferred way to deal with MSAF applications in this class.

Additional Work and Supplemental Exam:

Additional work will NOT be available for students who might wish to improve their marks. The standard McMaster rules apply regarding the availability of supplemental exams.

Reading you your rights:

The Centre for Student Development offers free academic support.

Although hopefully it does not need saying, be warned that the University does not tolerate cheating, plagiarism and the like:


(see for more information).