2014-2015 Physics Courses
Classical Mechanics (Calculus-Based General Physics)
Calculus-based general physics is a standard course at most institutions. As such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in the physical science, engineering, or the health fields. (Alternatively, the algebra-based Introduction to Mechanics will also suffice for premedical students.) But to our knowledge, no one has ever taught calculus-based physics in quite this way. Where most general physics classes approach their topic gradually, like a child dipping her toe into a pool, this class will start from the central concepts and work our way out to applications and ramifications. It is our hope that this will lead to a clearer understanding of the essentials, along with mitigating the frenetic pace that generally characterizes introductory courses in physics. This course will cover introductory classical mechanics, including dynamics, kinematics, momentum, energy, and gravity. 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. In addition to seminars, the class will meet weekly to conduct laboratory work. These laboratories will be held jointly with students taking the non-calculus-based general physics sequence. (If more than one laboratory section is listed in the schedule, you may choose either.) 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. Permission of the instructor is required. Students must have completed on year of calculus as a prerequisite. This course or equivalent is required to take Electromagnetism and Light (Calculus-Based General Physics) in the spring.
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 said, “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.
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. (If more than one lab section is listed in the schedule, you may choose either.) 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.
This course covers the physics of space travel from conservation of momentum to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Hands-on experience with model rockets will be a central feature. Participants will design and build their rockets, use equations and simulations developed in class to predict characteristics of their rockets’ flights, check the accuracy of their predictions by measurements made during actual launches, and work in a group to propose a future space mission. Conference projects could include more elaborate work with model rockets, proposals for new space vehicles, and studies of the history of rocketry.
Electromagnetism and Light (Calculus-Based General Physics)
This is the follow-on course to Classical Mechanics, covering topics from electromagnetism to optics. Please see the description of Classical Mechanics for further information on this sequence. Prerequisite: Successful completion of Classical Mechanics or the equivalent.