Classical theoretical physics really began with the work of Sir Isaac Newton
(grew up 15 miles from where my mother lived in England). His Principia
Mathematica, written to answer a question from Robert Hooke, set out
to explain how planets move in elliptical orbits and in the process formulated
the basic laws of motion and developed the whole mechanism of calculus to
solve problems in this new discipline. More than 300 years later Newton's
laws and the calculus remain an excellent description of how the world works
(so long as we limit ourselves to speeds that are much slower than light,
to objects that are not too small, and to regions of space that are only slightly
bent by gravity). You already know Newton's laws and the calculus and have
used them to solve a wide range of the simpler problems in mechanics. This
course aims to explore some more complex systems. After a few weeks of review
we shall go on to develop a reformulation of Newton's mechanics using methods
introduced by Euler and Lagrange and refined by Hamilton (William Rowan, not
Alexander), methods that Shroedinger adapted to create quantum mechanics.
The text for the course is Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems,
5th edition, by Thornton and Marion.
The course meets three times per week for 75 mins. The first two meetings
will normally be traditional lecture time with the usual mixture of my presenting
material, doing problems, getting you to answer questions, etc. The Friday
meeting will sometimes be the same sort of thing but may also be used for other activities which may include mini-labs, computer
work (with Maple), problem solving sessions, and seminars.
These will be sessions where individual students present prepared solutions
or new material in an environment that should foster questions and class interactions.
Following advice from Seth, there will be NO PowerPoint presentations allowed
here! At the end of this page I have included some tips from Seth on preparing
There will be about 12 weekly homeworks, mostly taken from Thornton and Marion.
These will range from moderate drill problems to some really tough problems
that should challenge all of you. As usual, reasonable collaboration is encouraged
in tackling these problems but the solutions that you hand in must be individual
and should indicate which parts of the work were collaborative and which parts
There will be weekly homework assignments in all weeks that do not also include
an exam. Homeworks are due at the start of class on every Friday when there
is not an exam.
There will be three take-home exams, one about 1/3 of the way through the course, one about 2/3,
and the last in exam week. The final will be due by the end of the registrar's
scheduled exam time for this course.
There will also be a grade based on your performance in the presentations
on the seminar parts of class or other similar activities such as posters. That grade will reflect the clarity, completeness,
and depth of your presentations. The complete course grade will be divided
between all the activities according to the following formula
|Midterms (2 @ 15%)
Seth's Tips for Seminars.
- Nothing will help you better than to start preparing for seminar early.
As good as they are, these chapters are not short stories; it would be unpleasant
to read the entire chapter in one sitting. Further, read with a scratch
pad and writing utensil; work through the presentation of the text. Allow
plenty of time. Slogan: "Start early. Work slowly and carefully."
- Physics is not learned only by reading. To learn the subject one must
try out the stuff by talking and writing about it and working through problems.
For many of us this process has two purposes. One is to gain mathematical
fluency. The other is to find the physics in the mathematics. Slogan: "Do
all the problems."
- One of the aspects of the seminar experience that took me the longest
to learn was the utility of asking a question. If you encounter difficulty,
carefully formulate a question (often the question answers itself in this
process!), then ask someone. If this person is madly preparing a midterm
or a bernaise sauce or does not know the answer, try someone else. In particular
do not hesitate to ask me (Science G052, x4919, smajor). If all else fails,
go on to other problems and return to the question later. The slogan is:
"Minimize frustration!" [A few years ago Seth rented a moving truck
from "No Hurts Rental." On the wall someone hung a sign for
frustrated people. It had a large circle on it. In the middle were printed
the words, "Bang Head Here". This is a very bad idea. Metaphorically
or not, there is very little gain in working on a problem to the point of
head-banging frustration. Ask questions first!]
- When writing solutions keep in mind that there is also a large difference
in sketching a solution on your napkin at dinner and writing up the solution
so that someone can read it (that may include you!) As with much writing,
keep your audience in mind. Keep your classmates in mind but also try thinking
of yourself in 3 months.
- Much of what is true for solutions also applies to presentations. Clearly
state the issue or problem, outline the tools needed, and proceed providing
information when needed. Feel free to skip algebraic steps once you have
cleared it with the class. Show us (including me) something we don't
already know, e.g. a new numerical solution or a experimental manifestation
of a problem. Slogan: "To do well: Be clear. To impress, exhibit novelty."
- The best policy is to prepare fully for seminar before we meet and write
up summaries and/or complete solutions after the actual seminar. It is not
easy to keep up. But your notes will be loads of help for graduate school
classes, qualifying exams Think of this as writing up a book from which
you can relearn the subject.
- It is never too early (or too late) to start being clear about what you
understand and what you do not. There is a vast, amorphous plain between
familiarity and understanding. Question your own understanding by trying
it out on new situations. If your knowledge is not what is required, find
the difference and learn from it.
- If you haven't already started, start keeping a sheet of paper
with useful formulae so you can quickly answer questions such as, what is
the spherical coordinate area element?