Physics 150 ---- Fall 2003

Course Information

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I. Outline of Course:

Physics 150 is a course for non-scientists that emphasizes the conceptual foundations of physics and the role of science in the modern world. The possibilities and limitations of scientific knowledge are explored in historical context, beginning with ancient Greek and Islamic science, and moving to the Renaissance and the 18th-19th century world view embodied in Newtonian mechanics.  The great ideas that have emerged, such as the conservation of energy and the second law of thermodynamics, have become parts of our cultural heritage. The great scientific revolutions of the 20th century - relativity and quantum mechanics - have changed our world view and greatly affected the course of the modern world. Through these revolutions we have examples of how science actually works. The last part of the course is an introduction to current understanding of elementary particles, quantum physics, and the view of our universe revealed by modern physics and astronomy.

II. Instructors:

Prof. Richard Martin  2129 ESB         phone.  333-4229

Office Hours: After class, MW 10:30 - 11AM (may continue longer) or by appointment

Teaching Assistant:  Joseph Jun, 4129 ESB  phone: 333-4736

Office Hours: TBA  Also by appointment

III. Course Meetings:

The regularly scheduled class meetings are Monday & Wednesday from 9:00 to 10:20AM in 151 Loomis. These meetings will be devoted to a lecture (45 - 60 minutes) and active learning exercises. Your attendance at these meetings is recommended and your participation in discussions, demos, etc., is strongly encouraged.

IV. Exams and Grades:

There will be 2 exams given during the regularly scheduled class meetings, each counting 15% of the final grade. A comprehensive final exam will be given during finals week that will count for 30% of the final grade. The report will account for 20% of the grade.  The remaining 20% of the final grade will be determined from homework quizzes and class participation.

V. Report:

There is a required report to be handed in before the end of the semester. Details for writing this report will be discussed during the semester. Each student will choose a person, persons or subject matter (theme) from an area of physics, and discuss the conceptual basis and development of the corresponding physical ideas. The effect of these ideas on physics, related sciences and culture should be considered, and a historical context (scientific as well as cultural) should be provided. Ideas and material for the paper will be available on the web site.  Before starting the report, each student should consult with the instructor about the choice of the topic.

VI. Text and References:

The required texts for this course are: Physics for Poets, Robert H. March, 5th  ed., and Great Ideas in Physics by Alan Lightman.  We will also refer to parts of Six Easy Pieces by R. Feyman during  the course. Many other references are on reserve in the Physics Library, 204 Loomis; the list is given in the link of "Books on Reserve".  Many others are available in bookstores and Prof. Martin will make available his copies of books that may be used for the report

VII. Web Resources:

Much of the class material will be available at

The Home Page contains current information, with links to other information, homework, gradebook, and the entire syllabus.  There are also links to many Web sites that are excellent resources for history, concepts and ideas, beautiful and instructive images of natural phenomena, working Java demonstration programs, etc.