Physics 201 is the second part of the three-semester calculus-based introductory physics course primarily designed for science and engineering students.  The course is organized around various fundamental principles of physics. 

Course goals
By the end of this course students will...

... have improved their problem solving and critical thinking skills through individually and group worked activities.

... be familiar with the fundamentals of physics, particularly concepts and the meaning behind the equations and theorems.

... be familiar with the fundamentals of laboratory work including data collection, error analysis, and presentation of results.

... ,in short, be prepared for future science and engineering courses as well as life in the 21st century.


          In this course we will examine one of the fundamental forces- electromagnetism (the others are gravity, strong and weak). We say electromagnetism because we now know that electricity and magnetism are intimately related. In fact, it would be best to say that they are really two forms of the same force. Electricity and magnetism comprise such a large percentage of our daily lives. Things like light bulbs, radios and computers clearly rely on the fundamentals of electricity and magnetism. But, there are so many other examples of electricity and magnetism in our lives- chemical reactions (the attraction of one ion to another), light (the motion of electrical and magnetic fields), etc. It is not much of a stretch to say that electromagnetism is the most relevant of the fundamental forces.
          We will be building up Maxwell’s equations one at a time, assembling them until we have the complete set (chapters 23- 31 & 34). Much like in mechanics where Newton’s Laws describe all of the phenomena, Maxwell’s Equations (plus the Lorentz force equation) will completely describe any electrical and/ or magnetic phenomena. There is one major difference between Newton’s laws and Maxwell’s equations- Newton’s are only valid for some range of speeds and masses whereas Maxwell’s equations are valid under all conditions. (For a complete description of mechanics one needs quantum mechanics and general relativity.)
          Chapters 27- 28 (& 32- 33) present us with some of the circuit applications of electromagnetism. Once you understand how resistors, capacitors and inductors function, you only need to add a tad of quantum mechanics to understand all of today’s circuits. (Chapter 43 in the “modern physics” section gives a wonderful overview of how the building blocks of digital circuits, diodes and transistors, function at the microscopic level.)
          One small warning to go with the sales pitch: Electromagnetism can be rather mathematical and abstract. Typically students have difficulty “seeing” fields. Unlike blocks and pulleys, fields seem to be disconnected from our everyday experience, but the truth is they are very real. Think about gravity and its ability to perform an “action at a distance”, this is one example of a field that we’ve already studied. (There must be something which tells the book to fall down when it’s let go. This is the gravitational field; we can’t see it, but it is very real.)
          One last part of this introduction- how the course will be taught. The class will be taught in a “student-centered” style using various strategies designed to promote active engagement with the material. Most of our class time will be spent asking and answering questions, doing demonstrations, and participating in group activities. This design is not based on a whim, rather it stems from years of educational research by some rather smart people.

A Few Thoughts About Understanding
          Critical thinking and understanding on a conceptual level are complex skills that are not easily mastered, but are ones that can provide a lifetime of benefits. There are a couple points that I’d like to mention.

  • Understanding does not come quickly or easily. Don’t give up if you don’t know how to proceed when you first look at a problem. Keep at it.
  • Memorizing does not equal understanding. Just knowing the names of something or the equations, does not mean that you know what’s going on. Names and equations are important, but they are not the end goal, only on part of the bigger picture.