Physics
&
Astronomy


Fall '98
Courses

Whirlwind Tour of Physics

Jim Mahoney (mahoney@marlboro.edu)

Greetings and welcome to the Whirwind Tour of Physics!

During the term we will explore the entire range and depth of physics, from Newton and Einstein to Fermi Lab and the SuperConducting SuperCollider, looking for the basic concepts and ideas. My goal in this course is to give you an overview of the major physics theories, with a bit of the culture of physics, a sense of how physicists think, and a smattering of the historical context in which these various ideas grew.

Subjects covered will include Newton's Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Electromagnetism, Einstein's Relativity, Quantum, and a bit of modern Field Theory, along with some ideas of what an experiment is, how to think about big and little numbers, and why skepticism is a "good thing."

You'll be graded on two quizes, one paper or project on a topic of your choice, as well as written questions on the assigments and a few open-ended experiments. A rough outline is given below.

We only have one thin text, but that will be supplemented with online and reserve readings. This is definitely a "get-out-of-it-what-you-put-into-it" course, so please do give me feedback on what does or doesn't feel like too much work. See you in class.


General Info

Time
Mon, Thurs 1:30 - 3:00
Place
SciBldg 217 (may change)
Credits
3 (note change from course list)
Text
Spielberg and Anderson's Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe,
other resources online (see below) and on reserve

Rough Syllabus

 - - - - Spring 1999: - - -   - topic - - - - - -   due - - - - - - -

** Sept ****                |			  |
   1 - 2   Intro Classes    |
 (Fri) 3  regular schedule  + Powers of 10        |
                            |    - units          |
  6 - 10   week 1           +    - experiments	  | ques 1
                            | 			  |
  13 - 17       2           + Newton's Mechanics  | exp 1
                            |    - F = m a	  |
  20 - 24       3           +    - energy	  | ques 2
                            |			  |
  28 -  2       4           + Thermo/Stat Mech:	  | - Quiz I -
** Oct ****                 |    - heat, entropy  |
   4 -  8       5           +    - probability	  | exp	2
      mid-term grades       |    - engines	  |
  11 - 15       6           + Electricity	  | ques 3
                            |    - circuits	  |
  18 - 22       7           +    - magnetism	  | ques 4
        (18,20 Hendricks)   |    - light, waves	  |
  25 - 29       8           + Relativity	  | paper topic
** Nov ****                 |    - special	  |
   1 -  5       9           +    - general	  | - Quiz II -
                            | 			  |
   8 - 12       10          + Quantum		  | ques 5
                            |    - bohr atom	  |
  15 - 19       11          +    - interference	  | ques 6
  23 - 24 (25-27 Thanks.)   |    - bell's ineq.	  |
  29 -  3       12          +    - other?	  |
** Dec ****                 | Field Theories      |
   6 - 8 (Wed)  13          + 	 - future   	  | - Quiz III -
                            |			  |
  11(Sat) - 14(Tu) exams    |			  | paper due
                            |			  |
  14  final grades due      |			  |
                            |			  |


Assignments

  1. due Thurs Sept 9
    1. Watch "powers of 10" video
    2. Read chap 1 in "Seven Ideas"
    3. Play with Interactive Physics (computer program in lab)
    4. Peruse the "Flying Circus" (reserve)
    5. Read first few chapters of Great Experiments in Physics (reserve)
    6. Browse library/web for stuff on Newton and late 1600s background (see links below)
  2. due Thurs Sept 16
    1. Reading:
      * Galileo and Newton in Great Experiments in Physics (on reserve)
      * start "Energy" chapter in Great Ideas
      * Browse "Mechanics" in Conceptual Physics (reserve)
    2. Try the following estimation/units questions:
      * How many grains of sand are there in the Sahara desert? How's that compare to the number of molecules in a liter of air? (about 3*1022) ? * If you stacked up the US annual budget in $20 bills, how high would the pile be? (see A View from the Back of the Envelope)
      * As a unit of force, what is a "Newton"? a "pound"? Is a "kilogram" a unit of force, and if so, how does it compare to the other two? (see Conceptual Physics or do an online search).
    3. Discussion questions:
      * Newton's laws of mechanics are built around the ideas of "inertial mass", "force", and "acceleration". Consider the example of a hockey puck which is slapped by a hockey stick - what are the forces on the puck? What is the acceleration? And what determines it's inertial mass?
      * Does a car which goes around a corner at a constant speed of 30 mph experience an acceleration? Do the passengers in the car feel this acceleration? Explain.
      * Why do comets swinging around the sun go faster when they get closer to the sun?
      * A flashlight is placed in empty space, far from any planets, and switched on. Will it move? Why or why not?
  3. due Mon Sept 27
    1. Read about energy in Seven Ideas and Conceptual Physics (reserve)
    2. Try the following discussion questions:
      * What is your intuition for what energy is?
      * If you store up the energy it takes to raise a 1 kg mass 1 meter in the air, do you have enough energy to light a 100 Watt bulb? Explain.
    3. Perform an experiment to test an idea from class. This is an open-ended assignment - the sky is the limit. Your experiment can be simple or sophisticated. It need not be amazingly accurate. It does need to involve numbers and a measurement of some kind. Be clear about what you actually measure, what you're tring to test, and what your conclusion is. Sketches and/or graphs are highly recommended.
  4. due Thurs Oct 4
    1. Read about electricity and magnetism in Conceptual Physics
    2. Describe in your own words what "entropy" is, and what it's for.
    3. When we run a heat engine backwards (forcing in the piston where it's hardest to put in, at the hot end, letting it come out at the cold end) what kind of machine do we have? Is entropy increasing or decreasing? Explain.
    4. Check out the website http://www.entropysystems.com/Product.htm - what do you think?
    5. Compare the following amounts of energy and/or power:
      * amount of energy you get by eating a chocolate bar,
      * amount of energy it takes you to run up the stairs,
      * power exerted to run up the stairs (compare with hp, horsepower),
      * $1.00 from power company (5 kWatt hrs),
      * amount from sunlight on your roof ( 1kWatt/(square meter) if full sunlight, 100% effienciency of conversion)
  5. due Mon Oct 25
    1. Do an experiment related to electricity and/or magnetism. (Suggestions in class.)
    2. In "The Flying Circus", discuss problems 6.21, 6.11, 6.23, 6.26
    3. In your own words, what is the electric field, and describe an apparatus to (1) make one, and (2) measure one.
    4. Answer the same question for the magnetic field.
  6. due Mon Nov 1
    1. Finish reading about Special Relativity from our text.
    2. Read some more on relativity from the reserve books, either the "Theory of Relativity" appendix in "Great Experiments", the first chapter in "Mr. Thompkins in Wonderland", or Einstein's popular text on the subject. Or peruse the library for other materials; we have many books on relativity at a variety of levels.
    3. In your own words, how can it be that two people each see the other's clocks as ticking more slowly than their own? Isn't this a contradiction?
    4. Relativity claims that nothing with a finite rest mass can travel as fast as light. Explain what this means, why it should be so, and what you would measure and experience if you had a really nice spaceship and tried anyway.
  7. due Mon Nov 22 or thereabouts
    1. Finish reading the quantum parts from our text.
    2. Peruse at least one reserve source on quantum, such as Mr. Thompkins or the Einstein/Bohr debates.
    3. Describe in your own words a quantum experiment, and the interpretation of what's going on. Suggested choices discussed in class are: an electron "wave" orbiting a nucleas, the double-slit interference experiment, or Bell's inequality. Be clear about what is or isn't probablistic, and what is "wavelike" or "particlelike" about the system's behavior.

Online Resources

General

Mechanics, Units, Powers of 10

Field Theory



Physics & Astronomy at Marlboro | Jim's Schedule

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