An Introduction to Computing in Physics

Physics 298 owl, Spring 2017

Loomis 276, Thursday afternoons, 4 pm - 5:50 pm

2 credit hours

News: the course is very similar to physics 199owl, which was offered for the first time last semester. We're tuning things based on what we learned, replacing a couple of overly-complicated units and clarifying others.

Feedback from the founding class of students was invaluable, and we are incorporating their suggestions into p298. In particular, we'll focus more on bringing students with no programming experience up to speed.
NASA: simulated collision of two neutron stars

The basics

Physics 298owl will teach you to be a fearless code warrior, exploring the behaviors of systems that are too complicated for analytic characterization.

Prerequisites: Physics 211, Math 231. Corequisites: Physics 225, Physics 212. No prior programming experience is required.

Two credit hours.

Required stuff

I will distribute a printed version of part of the semester's in-class and homework assignments on the first day. You must come to each class (including the first) with a Windows or Mac OS laptop. You'll need to have a couple of gigabytes of available disk space for the first-day installation of the version of Python that we'll be using. Please be sure to bring your power adapter too.

But really, now

You will learn to do remarkable things. By the end of the first week you will calculate the trajectory of a relativistic starship and confirm an insight of Ramanujan, the "Man Who Knew Infinity." A week after that you will generate diagrams of spacetime curvature around black holes. You will confirm that General Relativity is responsible for the non-Newtonian behavior of Mercury's orbit, and calculate π  using simulated grains of sand. There will be chaos, and pattern recognition in noisy environments.

And you will be pioneers: you are going to help us change the way we teach undergraduate physics at the University of Illinois.


Homework assignments are due in class at the start of class each week. Be sure you have answered the questions about time spent, online resources, and so forth.

There will be an in-class 30 minute quiz on February 9th and an in-class 90 minute final exam on April 27th.


For obscure reasons courses with numbers like 199 and 298 are classified as "independent study" even when they're not. The university requires us to append a three-letter code to the course number. Since the owl is the symbol of Athena—goddess of wisdom, inspiration, mathematics, strength, and other good things—"OWL" seemed like a sensible choice.

The owl of Athena