Bryn Mawr College, Department of Physics

Physics 101-1:  Introductory Physics I (Postbac Section), Fall 2015

Michael Schulz
Office:  340 Park Science Center
E-mail:  mbschulz at brynmawr dot edu
Office phone:  (610) 526 - 5367


Lecture (243 Park Science Center):

Monday, Wednesday, Friday  10:10–11:00am

Recitation (243 Park Science Center):

Tuesday  5:30–6:30pm*
Thursday  5:30–6:30pm

* No Tuesday recitation section 9/15, 9/22, 9/29, 10/6.

Office hours (339 Park Science Building, times tentative)

Monday  12:10–1:00pm*
Wednesday  12:10–1:00pm*
Thursday  12:10–2:00pm
Friday  1:10–2:00pm

* No Monday office hours 9/14, 9/28, 10/5.  No Wednesday office hours 9/23.

Course webpage:

Course description:

A tentative schedule can be found on the calendar and assignments webpage.

Physics 101-2 is the fall semester of a two semester course in introductory physics. This section is for students in the postbaccalaureate premedical program only. The other section, Physics 101-2 is for undergraduate students.

Learning goals:

With a broad brush, here's an outline of our goals in this course:

Part I: Force and Motion (8 weeks).  We begin the course with the problem of motion: velocity and acceleration, motion in one and two dimensions, force, and Newton's Laws. Our first goal is to learn to describe the motion of objects (cars, projectiles, people, animals) without asking why the objects move as they do. This subject is called kinematics. We then turn to the why problem, called dynamics. Since antiquity, natural philosophers have thought about why objects move the way they do, but the first really useful predictive framework was given by Isaac Newton. To this day, it remains unsurpassed in simplicity and predictive power within its regime of validity: at distances larger than atomic scale, at speeds smaller than the speed of light, and away from strong gravitational fields like those of black holes. Within the framework of Newtonian Mechanics, our goal is to be able to identify the forces that act on objects and to predict their motion, or vice-versa, in realistic situations we are likely to encounter or read about in our lives.

Part II: Conservation Laws (3 weeks).  Once we have understood how to apply Newton's Laws to a variety different types of forces and motion (as well as the generalization of these laws to rotational motion), we turn next to conservation laws: the conservation of momentum and the conservation of energy. These tools can be used to dramatically simplify problems of motion, particularly when the number of objects involved is two or more. Our goal is to be able to apply energy and momentum conservation, as well as the related concepts of work and impulse, to realistic problems that boil down to relating initial and final states, when we are not concerned with the details of motion at intermediate times.

Part III: Properties of Matter (2 weeks).  New simplifications occur in systems comprised of many atoms or molecules. The conservation of energy leads naturally to an investigation of the thermal properties of matter. Newton's Laws lead to a description of the motion of fluids.

Quantitative and Conceptual Reasoning. Physics is a powerful approach to understanding the world around us. It is a precise and intensely analytical subject that exercises our logical and quantitative mental muscles. However, physics is also the deeply human endeavor of confronting and intuitively understanding the universe in which we find ourselves through observation and reflection. It's about the real world, and not a game of plugging into formulae. Our conceptual goal in this course is to gain a heightened intuition for the way the real physical world behaves—to reconcile our physical intuition with the framework of Newtonian Mechanics (and especially the many demonstrations we will do), and to explain in ideas rather than computations the behavior of physical objects in Newtonian terms. Ideally, the thinking part of solving physics problems is the conceptual part—the intuitive set-up that we could subsequently hand off to a machine to calcluate. We will learn explicit problem solving strategies that emphasize qualitative analysis steps we can use to clarify and organize a problem. Our quantitive goal in this course is simply to gain proficiency performing the precise calculations that "get the details right," after we've already understood more or less how things will work out from our conceptual analysis. To foster these goals, all problem sets and exams will contain a mixture of conceptual and quantitive problems.

Transferrable Goals. There's a good chance you are in this course because someone has required you to take it. Why? Physics is great practice for developing the ability to tackle complex problems by (i) making simplifying assumptions that transform intractably complex problems into simpler models embodying their most relevant features and (ii) systematically breaking these problems into smaller more managable pieces. Mostly likely, this course was required to help hone your analytical skills through this rigorous approach to problem solving characteristic of physics.

For those of you in the life sciences, physics is rich in applications:

Why is physics useful for medicine? Our bodies—our skeletons, muscles, organs, circulatory and nervous systems, the lenses in our eyes, and cochlea in our ears—all obey the laws of physics. Their motion and electrical properties are a direct application of the ideas of this course, and we will try to make these connections explicit whenever possible. The instruments used in medicine frequently originate in physics as well, for example, diagnostic imaging like x-rays and MRI. 

For more on the interplay between physics and medicine, see the following articles from Physics World

The impact of physics on biology and medicine, H. Varmus, Physics World, 09/03/99,
Physics in Medicine, Physics World, 11/01/98,

as well as the following more recent articles from The Lancet:

Physics and Medicine—two tips for a long and happy marriage, P. Knight, The Lancet, 04/21/12,
Physics and Medicine 1: a historical perspective, S. Keevil, The Lancet, 04/21/12,
Physics and Medicine 2: diagnostic imaging, P. Morris, A Perkins, The Lancet, 04/21/12,
Physics and Medicine 3: the importance of physics to progress in medical treatment, Melzer et al., The Lancet, 04/21/12,
Physics and Medicine 4: future medicine shaped by an interdisciplinary new biology, P. O'Shea, The Lancet, 04/21/12,
Physics and Medicine 5: the importance of quantitative systemic thinking in medicine, G. West, The Lancet, 04/21/12.


Knight, Jones, and Field, College Physics: A Strategic Approach, 3rd ed., Pearson Addison-Wesley (2009), ISBN 0-321-87972-4.

We began using the first edition of this book eight years ago and have received overwhelmingly positive student feedback. The official textbook for both the postbaccalaurate and the undergraduate section of the course this year is the third edition. The textbook incorporates the best practices from physics education research, and one of the authors writes MCAT problems. The website ActivPhysics Online provides a suite of interactive applet-based tutorials that reinforce the ideas in the textbook. (The link points to the companion website of Knight's calculus-based textbook, but most of the applets should be helpful for our algebra-based textbook as well.)

On reserve in Collier Library:

In addition to the required text, an assortment of other introductory physics textbooks is on reserve in Collier Library. You might find it useful to consult these textbooks for a different perspective. You might also find inexpensive books like Schaum's Outline of College Physics and ExamKrackers (the latter designed specifically for the MCAT) to be worth purchasing if you need additional problem-solving practice (although their problems may be at a bit lower level than ours).


Lecture.  We will adopt the philosophy that class time is best spent bringing the material in your textbook to life through discussion of concepts, problem solving, and demonstrations. I'll try to restrict lecturing to hitting the highlights of your reading assignments and to "big picture" ideas. For that reason, it will be very important for you to stay on top of the reading, and to read the textbook before the material is discussed in class.

Reading Quizzes.  Brief reading quizzes will be given on a roughly weekly basis through Moodle, to provide added incentive to keep up to date on the reading. They should only take about ten minutes each to complete and are open book.

Recitation.  The recitation sections will be used to reinforce what we've learned in class each week. They will be devoted to working through additional example problems or conceptual questions, and to difficulties that have come to light on the homework problems. As needed, the recitation sessions will also review math that has become rusty.

Laboratory.  The laboratory is run independently, but is a required part of this course. You must successfully perform all of your assigned labs in order to pass the course.

Homework.  Weekly homework problems—some to be graded, some just for practice—will be assigned throughout the course. Homework is due each week on Friday 10:10am at the start of lecture.

Exams.  There will be two 90-minute midterm exams and one 3-hour scheduled final exam. The midterm exams will be held outside of class 7:30–9:00am Friday 9 October 2015 and 7:30–9:00am Friday 20 November 2015 in Park 243. The final exam will be held 9:30am–12:30pm in Park 25.

In the event that you are on the border between two grades, class participation, engagement during lab, and other indications of effort throughout the course will help to justify the higher grade.


Homework: 25%
Reading quizzes: 5%
Midterm exams: 20% + 20% = 40%
Final exam: 30%

I hope that there will be much discussion both inside and outside of class. You are allowed (and encouraged!) to work on the problem sets together and to form study groups. The solutions you submit must of course be prepared yourself and not be reproductions of other people's work.


Students who think they may need accommodations in this course because of the impact of a learning, physical, or psychological disability are encouraged to meet with me privately early in the semester to discuss their concerns. Students should also contact Deborah Alder, Coordinator of Access Services (610-526-7351 or, as soon as possible, to verify their eligibility for reasonable academic accommodations. Early contact will help to avoid unnecessary inconvenience and delays.

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