Physics

Physics—the study of matter and energy, time and space, and their interactions and interconnections—is often regarded as the most fundamental of the natural sciences. An understanding of physics is essential for an understanding of many aspects of chemistry, which in turn provides a foundation for understanding a variety of biological processes. Physics also plays an important role in most branches of engineering; and the field of astronomy, essentially, is physics applied on the largest of scales.

As science has progressed over the last century or so, the boundaries between the different scientific disciplines have become blurred, and new interdisciplinary fields—such as chemical physics, biophysics, and engineering physics—have arisen. For these reasons, and because of the excellent training in critical thinking and problem-solving provided by the study of physics, this subject represents an indispensable gateway to the other natural sciences and a valuable component of a liberal-arts education.

2018-2019 Courses

Physics

The Quantum World

Open , Seminar—Fall

Quantum physics revolutionized our understanding of the physical world almost a century ago, and today concepts from it (“Schroedinger’s cat,” “Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle,” “parallel universes,” “entanglement”) can be found all over popular culture—often in confused and distorted ways. In this open course, we will explore the true meaning of quantum theory in a way that does not require physics or mathematics prerequisites. The course will cover the historical process that led to the development of quantum physics, the conceptual meaning of the theory, the ways it is applied in modern physics and technology, and the ongoing philosophical debates about its implications for the nature of reality.

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Introduction to Mechanics (General Physics Without Calculus)

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course or equivalent is required to take Introduction to Electromagnetism, Light, and Modern Physics (General Physics Without Calculus) in the spring.

This course covers introductory classical mechanics, including dynamics, kinematics, momentum, energy, and gravity. Students considering careers in architecture or the health sciences, as well as those interested in physics for physics’ sake, should take either this course or Classical Mechanics. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including problem-solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. Seminars will incorporate discussion, exploratory activities, and problem-solving activities. In addition, the class will meet weekly to conduct laboratory work. A background in calculus is not required.

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Classical Mechanics (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Open , Seminar—Fall

Permission of the instructor is required. Students must have completed one semester of calculus as a prerequisite. It is strongly recommended that students who have not completed the second semester of calculus enroll in Calculus II, as well. Classical Mechanics or equivalent, along with Calculus II or equivalent, is highly recommended in order to take Electromagnetism and Light (Calculus-Based General Physics) in the spring.

Calculus-based general physics is a standard course at most institutions; as such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in physical science, engineering, or the health fields. (Alternatively, the algebra-based Introduction to Mechanics will also suffice for premedical students). The course will cover introductory classical mechanics, including kinematics, dynamics, momentum, energy, and gravity. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including: problem-solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. The best way to develop scientific skills is to practice the scientific process. We will focus on learning physics through discovering, testing, analyzing, and applying fundamental physics concepts in an interactive classroom and in weekly laboratory work.

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Time to Tinker

Open , Seminar—Spring

Do you enjoy designing and building things? Do you have lots of ideas about things that you wished existed but do not feel you have enough technical knowledge to create it yourself? This course is meant to give an introduction to tinkering, with a focus on learning the practical physics behind basic mechanical and electronic components and providing the opportunity to build things yourself. We will have weekly, three-hour workshops in the physics lab, along with individual biweekly conference meetings. The course will be broken down into multiple units, including tools of the trade, mechanics, 3D printing, simple electronics, introduction to Arduino, and the engineering design process. Each unit will include a small group project to demonstrate the new skills that you have acquired. In addition, there will be weekly homework assignments, where you will need to create or bring in something related to the topic at hand. For your individual conference project, you will be developing your own engineered piece, with a report on its design and desired function, as well as any necessary material required for others to replicate the results (within desired copyright restrictions).

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Introduction to Electromagnetism, Light, and Modern Physics (General Physics Without Calculus)

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

Calculus is not a requirement for this course. Students should have had at least one semester of physics (mechanics).

This course covers electromagnetism and optics, as well as selected topics in modern physics. Students considering careers in the health sciences, as well as those interested in physics for physics’ sake, should take either this course or Classical Mechanics. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including problem-solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. Seminars will incorporate discussion and exploratory and problem-solving activities. In addition, the class will meet weekly to conduct laboratory work. A background in calculus is not required.

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Quantum Mechanics

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisites: Students must have completed one year of calculus, as well as one year of general physics.

Quantum mechanics, which describes physics at small scales, requires an entirely different set of principles, concepts, and mathematical techniques than the classical physics covered in introductory courses. In this course, we will introduce the basic principles of quantum theory and discuss their applications in atomic and subatomic physics—including, among others, the meaning and computation of particle wave functions, the energy levels of atoms, and the properties of quantum angular momentum (spin). This is an intermediate course recommended for students interested in pursuing physics, physical chemistry, or engineering.

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Electromagnetism and Light (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisites: Completion of Classical Mechanics or equivalent, along with Calculus II or equivalent.

This is the follow-on course to Classical Mechanics, where we will be covering waves, geometric and wave optics, electrostatics, magnetostatics, and electrodynamics. We will use the exploration of the particle and wave properties of light to bookend our discussions and ultimately finish our exploration of classical physics with the hints of its incompleteness. Seminars will incorporate discussion, exploratory, and problem-solving activities. In addition, the class will meet weekly to conduct laboratory work.

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Atoms, Molecules, and Reactions: An Introduction to Physical Chemistry

Open , Seminar—Fall

In this course, we will think about the most fundamental question in chemistry: Why do chemical reactions happen? To answer this, we will first discuss the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which determines whether any change in the universe can occur. Before we can apply the Second Law of Thermodynamics to chemical systems, we will need to investigate the structure of atoms and the ways in which individual atoms can bond to one another to form molecular structures of increasing complexity. Once we have mastered the modern, quantum mechanical theories of chemical bonding, we will be able to look at different types of chemical reactions, their rates, and the ways in which chemical equilibria may be established and influenced. In the laboratory section of the course, we will put these ideas into practice: building molecules with different structures and then exploring their physical properties and chemical reactivity. Chemistry plays a pivotal role in all the natural sciences. Accordingly, this course will be useful for any students with an interest in the physical, biological, and medicinal sciences and for pre-engineering students.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open , Lecture—Fall

Mathematical prerequisite: basic high-school algebra and geometry.

Correlation, regression, statistical significance, and margin of error...you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they important? And what exactly fueled the failure of statistical polls and projections leading up to the 2016 US presidential election? An introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Conference work will serve as a complete practicum of the theory learned in lecture: Students working closely in small teams will conceive, design, and fully execute a small-scale research study. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue graduate work and/or research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Calculus I: The Study of Motion and Change

Open , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisites: the minimum required preparation for study of the calculus is successful completion of study in trigonometry and precalculus topics. Students concerned about meeting the course prerequisites are encouraged to contact the instructor as soon as possible. This course is also being offered in the spring semester of this academic year.

Our existence lies in a perpetual state of change. An apple falls from a tree; clouds move across expansive farmland, blocking out the sun for days; meanwhile, satellites zip around the Earth transmitting and receiving signals to our cell phones. The calculus was invented to develop a language to accurately describe and study the motion and change happening around us. The Ancient Greeks began a detailed study of change but were scared to wrestle with the infinite; so it was not until the 17th century that Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, among others, tamed the infinite and gave birth to this extremely successful branch of mathematics. Though just a few hundred years old, the calculus has become an indispensable research tool in both the natural and social sciences. Our study begins with the central concept of the limit and proceeds to explore the dual processes of differentiation and integration. Numerous applications of the theory will be examined. For conference work, students may choose to undertake a deeper investigation of a single topic or application of the calculus or conduct a study of some other mathematically-related topic. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or sciences, students preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, and any student wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind.

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Calculus II: Further Study of Motion and Change

Open , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisites: one year of high-school calculus or one semester of college-level calculus. Students concerned about meeting the course prerequisites are encouraged to contact the instructor as soon as possible. This course is also being offered in the fall semester of this academic year.

This course continues the thread of mathematical inquiry following an initial study of the dual topics of differentiation and integration (see Calculus I course description). Topics to be explored in this course include the calculus of exponential and logarithmic functions, applications of integration theory to geometry, alternative coordinate systems, infinite series, and power series representations of functions. For conference work, students may choose to undertake a deeper investigation of a single topic or application of the calculus or conduct a study of some other mathematically-related topic. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or sciences, students preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, and any student wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind. The theory of limits, differentiation, and integration will be briefly reviewed at the beginning of the term.

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Eco-Poetry

Open , Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the Earth—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder and to utterly contemporary poets such as Brenda Hillman and Chase Twitchell. We will also read books and articles that teach us about the physical world. We will wonder how eco-poetry is different from nature poetry. We will practice one and then the other. Each student will research an aspect of the natural world and incorporate that knowledge into documentary poems. Each student will present his/her knowledge and poems to the class community as a conference project each semester. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will create a collection of poems that engage the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other organisms? How have we, as a species, affected the other organisms? How have we affected the oceans, the earth, the air? How can poetry address the ecological crisis? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world—to pay attention and to write poetry that matters—beyond the individual self. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

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