2013-2014 Physics Courses
On the first night, we will look up and see the stars. By the last, we will know what makes them shine, how they came to be, and their ultimate fates. In between, we will survey the universe and humankind’s investigations of it—from ancient navigation to modern cosmology. In addition to the stars themselves, we will learn about solar-system objects such as planets, asteroids, moons, and comets; the comparative astronomy of different eras and cultures; the properties, lifetimes, and deaths of galaxies, nebulae, and black holes; and theories and evidence concerning the origin, evolution, and fate of the universe. In addition to readings and examination of multimedia material, students will conduct astronomical observation and experiments, at first with an astrolabe, then a simple telescope, and finally with the most powerful telescopes on and around the Earth. Comet ISON, a potential Great Comet appearing in the fall, will receive special attention! Emphasis will be placed on modes of scientific communication so that each student will keep a notebook, participate in debates, present posters, write papers, give oral presentations, and participate in the peer review process. Students will also experience famous astronomical debates through role-play. Conference projects may be dedicated to critically examining some topic in astronomy, conducting astronomical observation, or investigating the relationships between astronomy and other aspects of society and culture.
“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 inventions of our own devising. Appropriate attire will be de rigueur on certain class days, but fake British accents should be checked at the door.
Introduction to Mechanics (General Physics Without Calculus)
This course covers introductory classical mechanics, including dynamics, kinematics, momentum, energy, and gravity. Students considering careers in architecture or the health sciences, as well as those interested in physics for physics’ sake, should take either this course or Classical Mechanics. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including problem solving, development of physical intuition, computational skills, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. Seminars will incorporate discussion, exploratory, and problem-solving activities. In addition, the class will meet weekly to conduct laboratory work. A background in calculus is not required. This course or equivalent is required to take Introduction to Electromagnetism, Light, and Modern Physics (General Physics Without Calculus) in the spring. An optional course-within-a-course, preparing students for the MCAT, will be available for premed students and will count as part of their conference work.
Classical Mechanics (Calculus-Based General Physics)
The science of classical mechanics forms the basis upon which all physical science is built. This course is devoted to studying the motion of massive bodies in line with the foundational principles put forth in Newton's Principia (1687). We begin by discussing measurement and the variable motion of bodies. Next, we will look at the causes of changing motion, namely forces, and various ways of representing them and their action. Finally, we will cover the dynamics of many-body systems and their thermodynamic properties. Emphasis will be on mathematical problem solving, conceptual understanding, and effective communication using the standard modes of scientific publishing. A weekly laboratory session will also be conducted. Permission of the instructor is required. Students must have completed one year of calculus.
This course covers the major developments that comprise “modern” physics—the break from the classical, Newtonian models covered in the introductory study of mechanics and electromagnetism. Topics to be covered include Einstein’s special theory of relativity, wave-particle duality, Schrodinger’s equation, modern models of the atom, tunneling, nuclear physics and radioactivity, the structure of matter, and—if time permits—an introduction to particle physics. Emphasis will be on mathematical models and problem solving in addition to conceptual understanding. Seminars will include a mixture of discussion and mathematical problem solving. Students must have completed one year of calculus-based physics or have permission of the instructor.
Introduction to Electromagnetism, Light, and Modern Physics (General Physics Without Calculus)
This course covers the topics of electromagnetism, optics, special relativity, and quantum mechanics. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including problem solving, development of physical intuition, computational skills, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. Seminars will incorporate discussion, exploratory, and problem-solving activities. In addition, the class will meet weekly to conduct laboratory work. Calculus is not a requirement for this course. An optional course-within-a-course, preparing students for the MCAT, will be available for premed students and will count as part of their conference work. Students should have had at least one semester of physics (mechanics).
Electromagnetism and Light (Calculus-Based General Physics)
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 macroscopic and microscopic points 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 premed students and will count as part of their conference work. Students must have completed Classical Mechanics (Calculus-Based General Physics) or equivalent.