2012-2013 Physics Courses
First-Year Studies: Physicists Are People, Too
When someone introduces him/herself as a physicist, the most frequent response is, “Oh, you must be smart!” But is that all there is to it? Is it, even as a general rule, true? In this class, we will study physicists past and present, real and fictional, from Galileo to Meitner to Feynman. To learn more about physicists—and how to think like they do—we will read technical works and popularizations, as well as plays, biographies and memoirs, and science fiction. We will design and conduct our own experiments—and even compete to have our ideas for a grand project funded. And for those who think the threat of torture may have been a better motivator than the promise of money, we will recreate the trial of Galileo and take on roles as members of the Inquisition! This course does not require prior physics experience.
Crazy Ideas in Physics
Time travel. Cold fusion. Tesla’s death ray. Free energy. Variable speed of light. A nuclear reactor at the Earth’s core. These are all exotic concepts that contradict conventional scientific theories. Those who assert their existence are making truly extraordinary claims. But, as Carl Sagan “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This course will examine radical physical theories by asking students to distinguish potentially revolutionary scientific ideas from the work of crackpots and frauds. Students will be asked to choose a “crazy” idea of this type and try to convince the class that it is scientifically plausible. The class will then try to evaluate just how unscientific the theory is. For conference projects, students could construct a nonsense theory and present it as science or take an established scientific theory and disguise it as the ravings of a madman.
Classical Mechanics (With Calculus)
This course covers topics in classical physics, including kinematics (uniform and accelerated motion), dynamics (forces in the universe), and associated conservation laws of matter (mass and energy), momentum and angular momentum. We will discuss all kinds of motion conceptually and mathematically using extensive graphical analytical methods. Emphasis will be on mathematical problem solving, as well as conceptual understanding. The principle of conservation of matter will be an integral core theory for this course. A weekly laboratory session will also be conducted. An optional course-within-a-course, preparing students for the MCAT, will be available for pre-med students and will count as part of their conference work. Open to any interested student. Permission of the instructor required. Students must have completed one year of calculus. It is also desirable that students have a basic knowledge of fundamental particles, much like those commonly covered in an intro chemistry course. Open to any interested student. Permission of the instructor is required. Students must have completed one year of calculus.
“Love the machine, hate the factory.” That's a central motto of steampunk, the literary, social, and fashion movement that re-imagines the Victorian era as a time of creative technology and personal independence. But if you’re going to love the machine—really love it—then you need to know how it works. In this class, our gears aren’t just glued on; and our airships really fly. We will use vintage sources to learn about the science and technology of the time (topics include optics, mechanical advantage, energy sources, and buoyancy), and then use that knowledge to create wonderful things of our own devising. Appropriate attire will be de rigueur on certain class days, but fake British accents should be checked at the door.
Electromagnetism and Light (With Calculus)
This course covers topics in classical physics. We begin by discussing fields—specifically, the electric field. What causes it? What does it look like? What does it do? We then use our knowledge of electric fields to understand current flow and simple circuits. From there, we discuss magnets and magnetic fields. Again, we’ll cover how magnetic fields are formed, what they look like, and what they do. After talking about electricity and magnetism separately, we will bring them together—electromagnetism—and see how they relate to light. We’ll talk about light from both a macroscopic and microscopic point of view, as well as optical devices such as cameras, microscopes, telescopes, and the eye. Emphasis will be on mathematical problem solving, as well as on conceptual understanding. A weekly laboratory session will also be conducted. An optional course-within-a-course, preparing students for the MCAT, will be available for pre-med students and will count as part of their conference work. Permission of the instructor is required. Students must have completed Classical Mechanics (With Calculus).