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Student and tutor module reviews

Electromagnetism

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  • Points: 30
  • Code: SMT359
  • Level: 3

Student reviews

Good course. Difficult though. Watch out for vector calculus and make sure you have done either MST209 or MST210 before hand. Brush up online integrals, surface and volume integrals. I really can't stress that enough. If you can't calculate integrals and derivatives with ease, then you'll struggle. I also suggest doing ALL the exercises available in the exercise booklets. This is the only way to do well in the exam. If you can manage that, then it makes for a satisfactory course experience.

Anthony McGlone

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: October 2011

A good course - my favourite level 3 physics course. The course builds the concepts of electromagnetism from the ground up, using and extending mathematical skills. As opposed to the other physics courses, which can be conceptually very challenging, this course seems a great deal more 'graspable' - there are no major surprises about the way that nature works (notwithstanding some very satisfactory insights!). There are those who will say that, for this reason, the course is not so exciting as the other physics offerings, but in my experience, it is a welcome relief.

My main criticism is that there are areas in the course (most notably the medical imaging) which go into great and lengthy detail about applications which I did not find incredibly interesting. I'd have preferred more exposition of the theory in its place (or more study of applications that are interesting to me, of course, eg circuits or radio transmission).

I would recommend this course and have come away feeling I now have a very good grasp of classical electromagnetism.

Course starting: February 2008

Review posted: December 2009

SMT359 is the Open University's third-level undergraduate course on the classical theory of electromagnetism. Book 1 is a journey to Maxwell's four equations, covering electrostatics (Gauss's law), magnetism (the Biot-Savart and Lorentz force laws), Faraday's law covering magnetic induction and the Ampere-Maxwell law covering magnetic fields due to currents and so-called displacement currents. There is also a hefty chapter on vector calculus for those who have forgotten their divs, grads and curls.

Book 2 puts the focus on electromagnetic fields. We spend a lot of time looking at electromagnetism in bulk materials (permittivity and permeability, D and H fields) and investigating the concepts of field potential and energy. The final two chapters take a detailed look at superconductivity in a classical context, and the unification of the electric and magnetic fields within special relativity (magnetism is a relativistic effect).

Book 3 is focused on electromagnetic waves. Maxwell's equations may have resulted in the triumphal prediction of electromagnetic radiation, but it's surprisingly hard to derive the specific equations for the radiation from an antenna. We then move on to consider dispersion and absorption of radiation in bulk materials, which turn out to be the consequence of a complex (real + imaginary), frequency-dependent permittivity. The course closes by looking at plasma physics (think fusion reactors) and an essay on why the cornea of the eye is actually transparent.

SMT359 is a generally well-structured, solid, maybe even somewhat conservative course. It covers the core syllabus of introductory classical electromagnetism and doesn't go substantially beyond it. In my opinion, this is not a course which can be skimmed. As you progress through it, it feels like a vast jigsaw puzzle - a lot of stuff has to be understood and be in your head before it has a chance to gel. I think, however, this is inherent in the structural complexity of classical electromagnetism.

I would have welcomed somewhere in the course a little peek ahead into what is covered both in more advanced treatments of classical electromagnetism, and in how Maxwell's equations emerge as a limiting case from the quantum theory of electrodynamics. Perhaps a session on this might work at the summer school, SMXR359 ( which, by the way, it's essential to attend to really anchor the concepts). Overall, SMT359 is an excellent course.

Nigel Seel

Course starting: February 2008

Review posted: December 2008

Very intense, but for that enjoyable course. Needs a good grasp of maths, with an interest in physics. Course books very well put together, TMAs were challenging but focused you on what had been learnt. Would highly recommend SMT359 unless you were looking for an easy course.

Brian Dolan

Course starting: February 2006

Review posted: January 2007

The presentation of this course is encapsulated in three superbly produced text books. The easy style of writing helped enormously in understanding the difficult concepts in Electromagnetism and tackling the TMA questions.

It is a difficult course but, with the texts for reference, it is possible to do quite well in the continuous assessment component of the course. Where the challenge lies is in consolidating the basics of the course, which revolve around Maxwell's equations. The only way to attain this is to tackle all the problems available. Sufficient problems was the one thing not available in the early part of the first presentation, but I'm sure will be remedied in future presentations.

You really need to know your stuff for the exam where, in my opinion, Maxwell's equations and their applications are the key to a good pass.

Dennis Mcgrellis McCaffery

Course starting: February 2006

Review posted: January 2007

Faculty response

Additional problems for all chapters of the course will be available from the start of the course in subsequent presentations.

This was the first presentation of this course; it predecessor being SMT356. This course improved on the it's predecessor by avoiding the need for a set book; instead this course uses three beautifully presented texts. What's noticeable is the complete absence of any circuit theory: SMT359 is all about fields. The consequence of all of this is that the backbone of the course is vector calculus, with a great emphasis on symmetry arguments to solve problems. My advice is to master these symmetry arguments ASAP, and don't leave getting to grips with them until revision time.

I'm a maths graduate and this would count as probably the most challenging maths course that I have taken. Your powers of visualization are really stretched!

This course was one of the most rewarding that I have taken with the OU.

Course starting: February 2006

Review posted: January 2007

Please note

Each of the views expressed above is an individual's very particular response, largely unedited, and should be viewed with that in mind. Since modules are subject to regular updating, some of the issues identified may have already been addressed. In some instances the faculty may have provided a response to a comment. If you have a query about a particular module, please contact your Regional Centre.

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Module satisfaction survey

The figures below are taken from a survey of students who sat the exam/completed the end-of-module assessment for the October 2016 presentation of SMT359. The survey was carried out in 2017.

60 students (a response rate of 25.6%) responded to the survey covering what they thought of 10 aspects of the module.

Please note that if the percentage of students who responded to this module survey is below 30% and/or the number of responses is below 23 it means that only a small proportion of students provided feedback and their views as shown here may not be fully representative of all students who studied the module.

See this page for the full text of questions and more information about the survey.

% Count
Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of this module 85 51
Overall, I am satisfied with my study experience 79.3 46
The module provided good value for money 70.7 41
I was satisfied with the support provided by my tutor/study adviser on this module 91.4 53
Overall, I was satisfied with the teaching materials provided on this module 78.3 47
The learning outcomes of the module were clearly stated 91.5 54
I would recommend this module to other students 78.3 47
The module met my expectations 79.7 47
I enjoyed studying this module 78.3 47
Overall, I was able to keep up with the workload on this module 80 48
Faculty comment: "The module team would like to thank all those students who were able to take the time to take part in this survey and to give their feedback. We're pleased that the majority of respondents were happy with the support they received on the module. We've made additional preparation materials and support available, which we hope will allow students to be better prepared and able to manage the workload of the course."
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