Atomic and Molecular Processes: Fall 2014



TIME AND PLACE: MWF (9:00-9:50 am in Duane E-126) and Th (3:00-4:00 pm in Duane C-324)

PROFESSOR: Michael Shull,

OFFICE/PHONE: Duane D-235, (303) 492-7827


    This course is designed for first-year graduate students in astrophysics and planetary science, as well as interested physics students. It provides a survey of theory and applications of the processes that determine the physical characteristics of stars, planets, galaxies, quasars, and gas in the interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic medium. In a fourth hour (Wednesdays 3-4 pm), students will discuss the broader implications of physical processes in recent scientific papers, and gain experience in order-of-magnitude estimation. The detailed syllabus for this course can be found here.

  Course Highlights:

  • Introduction and Review of Applied Quantum Mechanics
  • Multi-electron spectroscopy of atoms and ions
  • Ionization, Excitation, Radiative Cooling
  • Radiative Transitions and Opacities
  • Emission and Absorption Lines, Level populations
  • Molecular Physics and Spectroscopy
  • Equilibrium Statistical Mechanics
  • Quantum Statistics (Fermi, Bose, photon gases; degenerate matter)

  Grading Policies:

    I will give regular (weekly) homework sets, which count for 50% of the grade. The final exam is 30%, a paper/presentation 10%, and the quality and regularity of class participation will count for 10%. I ask frequent questions of students during the classes, and I encourage you to participate fully. You will be regarded as professional junior colleagues, and I expect you to come to class prepared to discuss the lecture materials from your readings. I believe that questioning a subject's tacit assumptions and probing students' understanding is critical to this course, which reviews many aspects of your undergraduate physics training in an applied format. My probing may seem a bit intrusive at first, but after a few classes students get over their fears. You need not know the exact or right answer, but rather learn how to think your way to the answer. Students are encouraged to engage one another in the give-and-take that is part of critical thinking for professionals.

  Office Hours, Consultation:

    I also encourage students to come see me regularly, either after class or in my office. It's best to make an appointment, since with professional committees and travel, some of my schedule is not under my control. I am generally around between 8:30 am and 6:30 pm, except for meetings and commitments.

  Major Emphasis of the Course:

    The primary reason for this course is to understand "Spectrum Formation in Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences", with a broad view of all types of electromagnetic radiation. New ground-based telescopes and space observatories (Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, Herschel, ALMA, JWST) will provide new diagnostics in the far-infrared, sub-mm, and X-ray, as well as the traditional optical, ultraviolet, radio, and near-infrared. We will therefore cover such basic physical topics as Applied Quantum Mechanics; Radiative, Thermal, & Ionization Processes; Atomic and Molecular Spectroscopy; Radiative Transfer; and Statistical Mechanics. In the spring semester, the continuation of this course (ASTR 5120) covers dynamics, transport and kinetic theory, and radiative transfer, with applications to astrophysics and planetary science.


  • Physics of the Interstellar and Intergalactic Medium (Draine)
  • Statistical Mechanics (Pathria and Beale)
  • My copied course notes (proto-text)