Licchavi Lyceum


Licchavi Lyceum

UPSC Physics Optional Syllabus

We will discuss the UPSC Physics Optional Syllabus in this article. Choosing the right optional subject in the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) examination is a crucial step towards success. For candidates with a strong foundation in physics or a genuine interest in the subject, opting for Physics as the optional subject can be a strategic move. This article aims to provide an overview of the UPSC Physics Optional syllabus.


1. (a) Mechanics of Particles :
Laws of motion; conservation of energy and momentum, applications to rotating frames,
centripetal and Coriolis accelerations; Motion under a central force; Conservation of angular
momentum, Kepler’s laws; Fields and potentials; Gravitational field and potential due to spherical
bodies, Gauss and Poisson equations, gravitational self-energy; Two-body problem; Reduced mass;
Rutherford scattering; Centre of mass and laboratory reference frames.
(b) Mechanics of Rigid Bodies :
System of particles; Centre of mass, angular momentum, equations of motion; Conservation
theorems for energy, momentum and angular momentum; Elastic and inelastic collisions; Rigid
Body; Degrees of freedom, Euler’s theorem, angular velocity, angular momentum, moments of
inertia, theorems of parallel and perpendicular axes, equation of motion for rotation; Molecular
rotations (as rigid bodies); Di and tri-atomic molecules; Processional motion; top, gyroscope.
(c) Mechanics of Continuous Media :
Elasticity, Hooke’s law and elastic constants of isotropic solids and their inter-relation;
Streamline (Laminar) flow, viscosity, Poiseuille’s equation, Bernoulli’s equation, Stokes’ law and
(d) Special Relativity :
Michelson-Morely experiment and its implications; Lorentz transformations length
contraction, time dilation, addition of relativistic velocities, aberration and Doppler effect,
mass-energy relation, simple applications to a decay process. Four dimensional momentum
vector; Covariance of equations of physics.

2. Waves and Optics :
(a) Waves :
Simple harmonic motion, damped oscillation, forced oscillation and resonance; Beats;
Stationary waves in a string; Pulses and wave packets; Phase and group velocities; Reflection and
refraction from Huygens’ principle.

(b) Geometrial Optics :
Laws of reflection and refraction from Fermat’s principle; Matrix method in paraxial
optic-thin lens formula, nodal planes, system of two thin lenses, chromatic and spherical

(c) Interference :
Interference of light -Young’s experiment, Newton’s rings, interference by thin films,
Michelson interferometer; Multiple beam interference and Fabry Perot interferometer.

(d) Diffraction :
Fraunhofer diffraction – single slit, double slit, diffraction grating, resolving power; Diffraction
by a circular aperture and the Airy pattern; Fresnel diffraction: half-period zones and zone plates,
circular aperture.

(e) Polarisation and Modern Optics :
Production and detection of linearly and circularly polarized light; Double refraction, quarter wave plate; Optical activity; Principles of fibre optics, attenuation; Pulse dispersion in
step index and parabolic index fibres; Material dispersion, single mode fibers; Lasers-Einstein A
and B coefficients. Ruby and He-Ne lasers. Characteristics of laser light-spatial and temporal
coherence; Focusing of laser beams. Three-level scheme for laser operation; Holography and
simple applications.

3. Electricity and Magnetism :
(a) Electrostatics and Magnetostatics :
Laplace and Poisson equations in electrostatics and their applications; Energy of a system of
charges, multipole expansion of scalar potential; Method of images and its applications. Potential
and field due to a dipole, force and torque on a dipole in an external field; Dielectrics,
polarisation. Solutions to boundary-value problems-conducting and dielectric spheres in a
uniform electric field; Magnetic shell, uniformly magnetised sphere; Ferromagnetic materials,
hysteresis, energy loss.

(b) Current Electricity :
Kirchhoff’s laws and their applications. Biot-Savart law, Ampere’s law, Faraday’s law, Lenz’ law.
Self-and mutual- inductances; Mean and rms values in AC circuits; DC and AC circuits with R, L
and C components; Series and parallel resonance; Quality factor; Principle of transformer.

4. Electromagnetic Waves and Blackbody Radiation :
Displacement current and Maxwell’s equations; Wave equations in vacuum, Poynting theorem;
Vector and scalar potentials; Electromagnetic field tensor, covariance of Maxwell’s equations;
Wave equations in isotropic dielectrics, reflection and refraction at the boundary of two dielectrics;
Fresnel’s relations; Total internal reflection; Normal and anomalous dispersion; Rayleigh
scattering; Blackbody radiation and Planck ’s radiation law- Stefan-Boltzmann law, Wien’s
displacement law and Rayleigh-Jeans law.

5. Thermal and Statistical Physics :
(a) Thermodynamics :
Laws of thermodynamics, reversible and irreversible processes, entropy; Isothermal,
adiabatic, isobaric, isochoric processes and entropy changes; Otto and Diesel engines, Gibbs’ phase
rule and chemical potential; Van der Waals equation of state of a real gas, critical constants;
Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution of molecular velocities, transport phenomena, equipartition and
virial theorems; Dulong-Petit, Einstein, and Debye’s theories of specific heat of solids; Maxwell
relations and application; Clausius-Clapeyron equation. Adiabatic demagnetisation, Joule-Kelvin
effect and liquefaction of gases.

(b) Statistical Physics :
Macro and micro states, statistical distributions, Maxwell-Boltzmann, Bose-Einstein and
Fermi-Dirac Distributions, applications to specific heat of gases and blackbody radiation;
Concept of negative temperatures.


1. Quantum Mechanics :
Wave-particle duality; Schroedinger equation and expectation values; Uncertainty principle; Solutions of the one-dimensional Schroedinger equation for free particle (Gaussian wave-packet),
particle in a box, particle in a finite well, linear harmonic oscillator; Reflection and transmission by
a step potential and by a rectangular barrier; Particle in a three dimensional box, density of states,
free electron theory of metals; Angular momentum; Hydrogen atom; Spin half particles, properties
of Pauli spin matrices.

2. Atomic and Molecular Physics :
Stern-Gerlach experiment, electron spin, fine structure of hydrozen atom; L-S coupling, J-J
coupling; Spectroscopic notation of atomic states; Zeeman effect; Franck-Condon principle and
applications; Elementary theory of rotational, vibrational and electronic spectra of diatomic
molecules; Raman effect and molecular structure; Laser Raman spectroscopy; Importance of
neutral hydrogen atom, molecular hydrogen and molecular hydrogen ion in astronomy.
Fluorescence and Phosphorescence; Elementary theory and applications of NMR and EPR;
Elementary ideas about Lamb shift and its significance.

3. Nuclear and Particle Physics :
Basic nuclear properties-size, binding energy, angular momentum, parity, magnetic moment;
Semi-empirical mass formula and applications. Mass parabolas; Ground state of a deuteron,
magnetic moment and non-central forces; Meson theory of nuclear forces; Salient features of
nuclear forces; Shell model of the nucleus – success and limitations; Violation of parity in beta
decay; Gamma decay and internal conversion; Elementary ideas about Mossbauer spectroscopy;
Q-value of nuclear reactions; Nuclear fission and fusion, energy production in stars. Nuclear
Classification of elementary particles and their interactions; Conservation laws; Quark
structure of hadrons : Field quanta of electroweak and strong interactions; Elementary ideas about
unification of forces; Physics of neutrinos.

4. Solid State Physics, Devices and Electronics :
Crystalline and amorphous structure of matter; Different crystal systems, space groups;
Methods of determination of crystal structure; X-ray diffraction, scanning and transmission
electron microscopies; Band theory of solids—conductors, insulators and semi-conductors;
Thermal properties of solids, specific heat, Debye theory; Magnetism: dia, para and
ferromagnetism; Elements of super-conductivity, Meissner effect, Josephson junctions and
applications; Elementary ideas about high temperature super-conductivity.
Intrinsic and extrinsic semi-conductors- p-n-p and n-p-n transistors; Amplifiers and
oscillators. Op-amps; FET, JFET and MOSFET; Digital electronics-Boolean identities, De Morgan’s
laws, Logic gates and truth tables. Simple logic circuits; Thermistors, solar cells; Fundamentals of
microprocessors and digital computers.