Bryn Mawr College, Department of Physics

Physics 101-2:  Introductory Physics I (Undergraduate Section), Fall 2012

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  9:10–10:00am

PLI (337 Park Science Center, led by Orsola Capovilla-Searle & Leigh Schaefer):

Tuesday  6:10–7:00pm
Thursday  7:10–8:00pm

Office hours (340 Park Science Center):

Monday  10:10–11am
Tuesday  5:30–6pm & 7–7:30pm  (before and after PLI)
Wednesday  1:10–2pm
Thursday  3:10–4pm
Friday  1:10–2pm

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 undergraduate students. The other section, Physics 101-1 is for students in the postbaccalaureate premedical program.

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 provided 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 turn intractably complicated 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. 

See the following articles from Physics World (and links therein) for more on the interplay between physics and medicine:

The impact of physics on biology and medicine (written for the 100th anniversary of the American Physical Society), H. Varmus, Physics World, 9/3/99.
Physics in Medicine, Physics World, 11/1/98.


Knight, Jones, and Field, College Physics: A Strategic Approach, 2nd ed., Pearson Addison-Wesley (2009), ISBN 0-321-59549-1.

We began using the first edition of this book five years ago and have received overwhelmingly positive student feedback. This year we have moved to the second edition. The textbook incorporates the best practices from physics education research, and one of the authors writes MCAT problems. The companion website, ActivPhysics Online, provides a suite of interactive applet-based tutorials that reinforce the ideas in the textbook.

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'll 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.

PLI.  The PLI sessions 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 PLI 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. The two numerical components of your lab grade are pre-lab assignments (3% of course grade) and lab summaries (3%). For additional information, please consult the lab syllabus.

Homework.  Weekly homework problems—some to be graded, some just for practice—will be assigned throughout the course. Homework is due each week on Wednesday at 5pm in the box outside of my office, except for weeks preceding exam weeks, when it is due Wednesday in lecture.

Exams.  There will be two 90 minute midterm exams (see Calendar and Assignments page for dates) and one 3 hour self-scheduled final exam. Each midterm exam will be available at the reserve desk in Collier Science library for 1 week, during normal operating hours, the first midterm from Friday to Friday, and the second from Wednesday to Wednesday. The exam will be available beginning after lecture at 10:00 am and I will collect all of the exams in the morning when the library opens, one week later.

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: 23%
Reading quizzes: 5%
Laboratory: 6%
Midterm exams: 19% + 19% = 38%
Final exam: 28%

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 Stephanie Bell, 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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