In the course schedule you will notice that we have three separate units on light. In each of those units we will describe the same thing, light, three different ways. Don’t think that two of the models are incorrect and the third is the correct one. All three in fact do a fantastic job of describing certain aspects of light, but none of them can adequately describe all features. The key is knowing which of the models is most useful for a given situation. Also, this shows how man-made models are, in fact, models for the real object. Just as a paper airplane is a model of a much large & complex object, our models of light are incomplete representations of the real thing.
          Much of what we will discuss this semester is non-intuitive. That’s not to say that it is more complicated than any of the physics you’ve already studied. It’s just that you have very little experience moving at speeds above 107m/s or being less than 10-10m tall. You know what happens to objects that move approximately 1m/s or are 1m tall since that is your natural speed and size. This is what Newton modeled for us and is known collectively as classical mechanics. It turns out though that at fast speeds or very small distances you need to use non-classical ("modern") physics.
          The very last unit, thermodynamics, returns us to where our physics journey began- motion. In this nearly month-long unit we will discuss the behavior of systems that have many moving particles, such as atoms. While we have seen many of the key ideas before, such as conservation of energy, we obviously missed some things. For example, we never talked about the temperature increase when two objects are rubbed together. You may have noticed that the objects get warmer due to frictional heating, but just how much does the temperature go up? To describe these large systems, we don’t want to try and give the position and velocity of all 1023 particles. Instead, we will rely on probabilities to say where most of the particles are and what the average speed is.

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.

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.