Physics | General Physics 1
P201 | 3566-3567 | Baxter-Heinz

Course Information


General Physics 1 is the first semester of a two-semester sequence that
will introduce you to some of the most important ideas of classical
physics. One of the central topics in classical physics, Newtonian
mechanics, will form a large part of our study for the semester. We will
also discuss waves and oscillations, and touch briefly on the concepts of
heat and temperature.

In studying Newtonian mechanics we will use many words and ideas with which
you are familiar; but we warn you now to be wary of relying on your current
definitions and intuition regarding these ideas. It took humankind almost
two millennia (from Aristotle to Newton) to develop the ideas covered in
this course and many of the situations we consider are far more subtle than
they may first appear. By growing up in the modern world you have become
familiar with many of the words we will use and thus many of you can speak
a Newtonian language (using words like action and reaction, acceleration,
velocity, force etc.), but through your
interactions with the world in everyday life your instincts are far more
like those of Aristotle than you may care to believe. This can lead to
mistakes on homework problems and exams.

To paraphrase a great Jedi master "you will have to unlearn much that you
have learned." The reason for this is that our goal is to describe the
entire universe, not just the section of it we can interact with directly
through our senses in our everyday lives. To do this requires a framework
in which the surface of the Earth becomes a rather complicated place (with
nasty effects such as friction, gravity, and air resistance). Your
instincts already incorporate these effects into the natural order of
things, rather than seeing them as complications which obscure that natural
order. If you make a conscious effort to cast the problems you confront in
this course in
the ideal terms of the Newtonian world rather than relying solely on your
instincts you will do much better on the exams, and you will along the way
develop a deeper appreciation for one of the greatest intellectual
achievements of all time.

Studying physics thus involves much more than just learning a set of rules.
To "do physics" you must learn to think logically, and in the abstract, and
to develop new intuition about how the universe really works. Note that
this involves much more than just memorizing equations into which you plug
numbers! In this course you will be asked to solve problems in which you
are confronted with a new situation and must devise ways of using what you
have already learned to interpret it.

The quantitative application of physical laws to solving problems is a
major activity in the smaller, more interactive discussion sections. You
will also have the opportunity to perform simple laboratory experiments
that serve several purposes: to demonstrate some of the concepts covered in
the lectures; to expose you to techniques required to make reliable
measurements; and to give you some appreciation for the interplay between
experiment and theory in science.

You are encouraged to develop collaborations with other students. Such
collaborative efforts help you understand the relationships among different
approaches to the same situation and provide invaluable stimulation from
give-and-take in searching for solutions.

Though our lectures may sometimes give you the impression that physics is a
"finished" subject, you should be aware that many important questions are
still unanswered and the universe continues to hold many mysteries. To
advance our knowledge, physicists and other scientists need to develop new
equipment and carry out increasingly complex measurements. After all,
physics is ultimately an experimental science, and the only criterion for
elevating someone's idea of a physical "law" is that it is consistent with
all known observations and therefore represents our best guess as to how
the universe truly works.

Meeting all of the above objectives of this course will demand a lot of
work on your part. It is essential that you keep up with the work, because
each topic introduced and each skill taught will build upon all those
developed earlier in the course. If we do our jobs, then all of the work
should be accompanied by a lot of fun, intellectual challenge, and learning.


Physics Forum: A help session room has been provided for students in
undergraduate physics courses. It is in SW246 and is called the Physics
Forum. It will be staffed by graduate students and faculty and the staffing
schedule will be posted on the door.


Lab will be held beginning the first week of classes. You need to purchase
a Physics P201 Lab Manual. Mr. Dan Beeker (SW 115, 855-5903 email:, who is in charge of the labs for the Physics
Department, sets lab policy and assigns the final lab grades (to be figured
into your course grade as indicated below). You may miss one lab without an
excuse during the semester, as the lowest of your 13 lab grades will be
dropped in computing your final grade.  You must complete 10 of the 13 labs
to achieve a passing course grade.


Each discussion section will be divided into small groups of students, and
each group will work together on some problems from the homework assignment
due the following Monday, or similar problems. A representative from each
group will be chosen to present the group's solution to their assigned
problem on the blackboard for detailed discussion by the instructor and the

Exams: There will be 3 evening exams during the semester.  The exam
locations will be announced in lecture and will be posted on the P201 WWW
homepage.  Makeup exams will not be given. Absence from an exam can be
excused for documented medical reasons only.

Final Exam: The 2-hour Final Exam will be comprehensive, focusing on
problem formats analogous to those on earlier tests. There will be a slight
emphasis on that material covered after the third exam.

Course Grades: Final grades will be based on your scores on the lab
reports, homework, exams, and final exam. The relative weighting of each
contribution in the determination of your final grade is as follows:

Labs (best of 12 of 13):  20%
Homework on the WWW:  8%
Homework from Serway:  8%
3 Exams @ 16% each:  48%
Final Exam:  16%
Total:  100%