This is the web page for the Fall 1998 course as it looked on the last day of class.
The Fall 1999 course will probably be taught by a different professor and may be structured a bit differently.
Contact Information
Notes from class
Response Assignments
Structure, Text, Syllabus
Journal Entries
Using the Newsgroup
Paper, Quizzes, Grades
Audience This course is intended for students who are interested in physical explanations of everyday physical phenomena but are not (yet) interested in learning how to apply mathematical techniques to analyze physical situations. The mathematical content of the course will be limited to truly essential concepts. Very little algebraic manipulation will be required.

There will be many opportunities in this course to exercise problem-solving skills and think rigorously about qualitative issues. The lack of quantitative calculation required does not imply a lack of precision in the qualitative treatments of physical concepts.


Joshua Socolar --
Physics 204D / 660-2557;
Office hours: Mondays 3:00-5:00pm , or by appointment

Berk Sensoy --
Physics 045 / 660-2555 or 613-1692
Office hours: Wednesdays 2:15-5:15pm, or by appointment.

For the last two weeks of the course we will operate on a slightly revised schedule.

Note: The last quiz will cover material from both units.

  1. Bloomfield, Section 12.3 (generators), 12.4 (motors), 14.1 (radios)
  2. Bloomfield, Chapter 15 (sunlight, lamps, lasers)
  3. Hewitt's Chapters 25 and 29.
The journal entry for Unit 7 will be due on Thursday (Dec 3) at 5:00pm. The assignment is a little different from the usual journal entry. Read the Unit 7 message on the newsgroup for instructions.

The response for Unit 7 will be due on Wednesday, December 9. You will receive further instructions for this response later.

QUIZ 6: The quiz for Units 6 and 7 will emphasize the physics electric motors, radios, and aspects of sunlight and lasers that we will cover in class. The date of the quiz will be Monday, Dec. 7 .

Lecture 1: What is "conceptual physics"?
Lecture 1: Hot Wheels Mysteries
Lecture 3: Types of Forces
Lecture 15: Websites of interest


Two-week Units: The course is divided into seven two-week units. Each unit begins on a Monday and consists of 5 lectures on the primary topic of the unit and one class that includes a quiz and a mini-lecture on a topic of current or general interest. For each unit except Unit 6, students must write a journal entry and a response to a classmate's journal entry.

Term Paper: A paper must be written on a topic of the student's choice. The topic must be approved by Dr. Socolar in a small group meeting held during the week after Fall Break. Each student must arrive at the meeting with a written paragraph describing the chosen topic.

The principal text for the course is "How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life", by Louis Bloomfield. The book assumes no prior familiarity with physics concepts and no mathematical expertise beyond the simplest algebraic manipulations. Bloomfield's approach is to use familiar objects as examples of physical principles, emphasizing only the physics that needs to be discussed in order to understand how these objects work. The table below provides a tentative list of the objects and relevant concepts we will study.

Students may find it useful to consult additional texts for further explanation of the concepts discussed by Bloomfield and as references for additional material covered in lectures. " Conceptual Physics ", by Paul Hewitt, is recommended. The somewhat childish style of Hewitt's book may put some students off, but his explanations are clear and on the mark and his choice of topics is quite appropriate. A copy will be on reserve in the Math-Physics Library.

Another resource that may be helpful is the "How Things Work" web page maintained by Bloomfield at the University of Virginia.


1 J: Thu. 9/3
R: Tue. 9/8
Q: Fri. 9/11
1, 2 Balls, ramps, seesaws, wheels, scales, roller coasters Laws of motion, acceleration, force, torque, momentum, energy, angular momentum
2 J: Wed. 9/16
R: Tue. 9/22
Q: Fri. 9/25
3, 5.1, 5.2 Balloons, water distribution systems, rockets, bicycles, elevators Pressure, density, buoyancy, gravitation, stability
3 J: Wed. 9/30
R: Tue. 10/6
Q: Fri.10/16
8, 17 Water/steam/ice, steel, glass, plastic Structure of matter, phase transitions, elasticity, plasticity
4 J: Wed. 10/21
R: Tue. 10/27
Q: Fri. 10/30
9, 10 Clocks, musical instruments, water waves Frequency, wavelength, resonance, standing waves, superposition, harmonics
5 J: Wed. 11/4
R: Tue. 11/10
Q: Fri. 11/13
11 Xerographic copiers, magnets Electric and magnetic forces and fields, behavior of electrons in solids
6 November 25 (No quiz -- Term papers due) 12 Flashlights, electric motors and generators, audio speakers, microphones Current, voltage, resistance, electromagnetic induction
7 J: Thu. 12/3
R: Wed. 12/9
Q: Mon. 12/7
14.1, 15 Radios, sunlight, lasers Radiation, reflection, refraction, polarization, coherence

(This link works for me. If it doesn't work for you, try to open a newsreader and find the newsgroup directly.)

Click on the link above to read the class newsgroup. During the course it will contain students' journal entries. All students are strongly encouraged to browse through their classmates entries for a given unit after they have posted their own.

Follow these simple rules for posting:

  1. IMPORTANT: You are encouraged to read what your classmates post, but only after you have posted your own article. Do not read the articles for a given unit before you have posted your own entry for that unit.
  2. Read the message entitled "UNIT X", where X is the number of the relevant unit. The message may contain important information.
  3. Compose your entry as a follow-up to the UNIT X message.
    Do not post it as a new thread. Do not send it as an e-mail reply. (If you are using PINE to read and send news, type "R" while you are reading the UNIT X message, then type "F" when it asks whether to followup or reply via e-mail.)
  4. Change the subject of your message from
    "Re: UNIT X" to "UNIT X -- yourname -- title";
    e.g. "UNIT 1 -- J. Socolar -- Falling cats "
    or "UNIT 2 -- B. Sensoy -- Confused about buoyancy".

Practice: There is a message there entitled "UNIT 0". Read that message and practice responding to it according to the above rules. If you need more help with the newsgroup, email Berk.



Each journal entry must be posted to the class Newsgroup by 10:00am on the first Wednesday of the relevant unit.

Journal entries should consist of informal writing (and perhaps figures). They should present whatever thoughts are stimulated by the assigned readings, discussing aspects that strike you as interesting, incomprehensible, sublime, or absurd. Feel free to refer to Bloomfield, class lectures and discussions, and any experience that is likely to have been shared by a reasonable number of students in the class. Entries should be addressed to the students in the class, not to the professor. All entries of sufficient length that demonstrate engagement with the material will be given full credit. In other words, attempts to grapple with concepts that are not yet fully understood are perfectly appropriate.

Journal entries should be at least 500 words long (five times as long as the preceding paragraph). Almost all entries of sufficient length will be given full credit, the only exceptions being those that demonstrate a very low level of engagement with the relevant material.


A response to an assigned Journal Entry must be e-mailed to the author by 8:00pm on the second Tuesday of the relevant unit.

Each response must consist of two sections: a discussion of one of the Cases in Bloomfield and a direct response to the author of the assigned Journal Entry.

  1. Choose a Case from the end of one of the relevant chapters of Bloomfield and answer all the questions posed in it. Write complete answers in coherent paragraph form.
  2. Speak directly to the author of the entry and explain why the Case you chose is relevant to the concerns expressed in it. This may involve correcting a misconception, expanding on a point of interest, or developing in a more precise way a question raised in the entry. Grades will be based on how well you speak to the author's questions and interests as well as on the accuracy of your comments.
REQUIRED FORMAT: To get credit for your response, it must be e-mailed on time to the author of the journal entry with various fields filled in as follows:
     To: author's e-mail address
Subject: YourName, JournalAuthorsName, UNIT X
You must e-mail your response to your classmate and send carbon copies to Dr.Socolar and Berk with the appropriate subject line. You will eventually receive a message with a few comments and a grade for your response. Due to time constraints, the comments will be rather brief. If you would like further feedback, feel free to contact Dr. Socolar and/or Berk.
Term Paper
The paper is due on Wednesday, November 25 (the end of Unit 6). The paper should treat the physics of some familiar phenomenon not directly addressed in the course lectures. It should aim to explain a familiar physical phenomenon or device in terms accessible to other students in the course. If you wish, you may turn in your paper early (at least two weeks before the due date), have it graded, and revise it. Your grade for the paper will be based only on the final version.

Quizzes will consist of a few short-answer questions and one problem requiring a paragraph of explanation. No numerical computation is required, but some problems require careful reasoning. On occasion, it will be strongly suggested that the student perform a particular experiment at home before taking the quiz.

It is possible to earn 200 points. 180 guarantees a grade of at least A-, 160 guarantees at least B-, etc.
  • Each journal entry is worth 6 points. Just post something appropriate and long enough on time for full credit.
  • Each response is worth 9 points. Turning in something reasonable on time will ensure 5 points. 2 points will be given for getting the Case substantially right and 2 points for explaining clearly the relevance to the journal entry.
  • Quizzes are worth 12 points each. The lowest score of the six will be dropped.
  • The term paper is worth 50 points.