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Course Descriptions

Undergraduate Physics Course Descriptions

(revised December 14, 2015)

Unless they are identified as advisory, the prerequisites and co-requisites listed on this page will be enforced by the Student Information System during registration. Students who do not have a required prerequisite may request a permit from the course instructor to override this requirement. Students who don’t have an advisory prerequisite or co-requisite should consult with the instructor before enrolling in the course.

Exisiting students may find syllabi for these courses posted at http://www.phys.cwru.edu/courses/syllabi/ (CWRU login required).

Physics faculty teach or have taught a variety of First and University Seminars; you can find a list of these seminars at the bottom of this page.


PHYS 100. Space, Time and Motion (3)

An introductory course in physics for students of the liberal arts. Discussion of how physics is performed, what important discoveries about natural phenomena have been made by physicists, and what are the most exciting questions being tackled by physicists today . Connections to current work appearing in various popular media will be made. In particular, emphasis is made on the connections between the fundamental discoveries that led to our understanding of motion and the nature of light, and much of the ongoing research at the forefront of modern physics. (This course has not been offered since 2002 and there are no plans to offer it in the near future. For a list of comparable, general interest physics courses, see the list of SAGES & University First Seminars at the bottom of this page.)


PHYS 101. Distinguishing Science from Pseudo-Science (3)

There are many current issues arising in popular discourse, ranging from the believability of ESP to reincarnation, to “free energy” machines, which can benefit from simple physical analyses. This course will provide an introduction to the use of basic principles of physics to explore the viability of these ideas. A seminar format will be utilized with specific topics presented by students and by the instructor. Advisory Prerequisite: PHYS100, PHYS115, PHYS121 or PHYS123. (There are no plans to offer this course in the near future.)


PHYS 113A. Principles of Physics Lab Mechanics (1)

The laboratory portion of the first semester introductory physics. Prereq: Departmental permission. (available fall and spring semesters)


PHYS 113B. Principles of Physics Lab Electricity and Magnetism (1)

The laboratory portion of the second semester of physics. Prereq: Departmental permission. (available fall and spring semesters)


PHYS 115. Introductory Physics I (4)

First part of a two-semester sequence directed primarily towards students working towards a B.A. in science, with an emphasis on the life sciences. Kinematics; Newton’s laws; gravitation; simple harmonic motion; mechanical waves; fluids; ideal gas law; heat and the first and second laws of thermodynamics. This course has a laboratory component. Students may earn credit for only one of the following courses: PHYS 115, PHYS 121, PHYS 123. (available fall and summer)


PHYS 116. Introductory Physics II (4)

Electrostatics, Coulomb’s law, Gauss’s law; capacitance and resistance; DC circuits; magnetic fields; electromagnetic induction; RC and RL circuits; light; geometrical optics; interference and diffraction; special relativity. Introduction to quantum mechanics; elements of atomic, nuclear and particle physics. This course has a laboratory component. Prereq: PHYS115. Students may earn credit for only one of the following courses: PHYS 116, PHYS 122, PHYS 124. (available spring and summer)


PHYS 121. General Physics I. Mechanics (4)

Particle dynamics. Newton’s laws of motion, energy and momentum conservation, rotational motion, and angular momentum conservation. This course has a laboratory component. Advisory Prereq: MATH121, MATH123, MATH125 or one year of high school calculus. [NOTE -This prereq is advisory only because the Student Information System cannot check high school courses for prerequisites. Students who do not have the appropriate background should not enroll in PHYS 121 without first consulting the instructor.] Students may earn credit for only one of the following courses: PHYS 115, PHYS 121, PHYS 123. (available fall, spring & summer)


PHYS 122. General Physics II. Electricity and Magnetism (4)

Electricity and magnetism emphasizing the basic electromagnetic laws of Gauss, Ampere, and Faraday. Maxwell’s equations and electromagnetic waves, interference, and diffraction. This course has a laboratory component Prereq: PHYS121 or PHYS123. Prereq or Coreq: MATH122, MATH124 or MATH126. Students may earn credit for only one of the following courses: PHYS 116, PHYS 122, PHYS 124. (available fall, spring & summer)


PHYS 123. Physics & Frontiers I – Mechanics (4)

The Newtonian dynamics of a particle and of rigid bodies. Energy, momentum, and angular momentum conservation with applications. A selection of special frontier topics as time permits, including fractals and chaos, special relativity, fluid mechanics, cosmology, quantum mechanics. This course has a laboratory component. Admission to this course is by invitation only. Admission to this course is by invitation only. Students may earn credit for only one of the following courses: PHYS 115, PHYS 121, PHYS 123. (available fall semesters)


PHYS 124. Physics & Frontiers II – Electricity and Magnetism (4)

Time-independent and time-dependent electric and magnetic fields. The laws of Coulomb, Gauss, Ampere, and Faraday. Microscopic approach to dielectric and magnetic materials. Introduction to the usage of vector calculus; Maxwell’s equations in integral and differential form. The role of special relativity in electromagnetism. Electromagnetic radiation. This course has a laboratory component. Prereq: PHYS123 or consent of department. Prereq or Coreq: MATH122 or MATH124. Students may earn credit for only one of the following courses: PHYS 116, PHYS 122, PHYS 124. (available spring semesters)


PHYS 137 Scientific Frontiers: Origins (3)

This course will provide undergraduates, both science and non-science majors, with a general perspective of the modern state of our physical understanding of the universe, including outstanding puzzles at the forefront of modern science, focusing on the questions of origins: the origin of the universe, of our galaxy, of matter, of life, etc. (This course has not been offered since fall 2007 and there are no plans to offer it in the near future.)


PHYS 166 Physics Today and Tomorrow (1)

This course will provide students with an opportunity to learn about the most exciting and timely research areas in physics, as well as other topics germane to being a professional physicist. These discussions will cover fields such as nanoscience, ultrafast optics, exotic materials, biophysics, cosmology, string theory and the role of physicists in developing new technologies. Each week a member of the faculty will meet with students to discuss a topic of current interest, how a physicist approaches the problem, and how physicists interact with others to find a solution. Other topics germane to being a professional physicist also will be discussed, including the relationship among academic, industrial, and governmental laboratories; ethics; and non-traditional careers for students trained in physics.   (PHYS 166 is graded on a PASS/NOPASS basis.) A sample syllabus for PHYS 166 is available HERE. (available fall & spring semesters)


PHYS 188. On Being a Scientist (1) [PHYS 188 is a cross-listing of a course that is controlled by the Department of Astronomy.]

This course will focus on the question “What makes a good scientist?” using a weekly discussion of articles chosen from the “Science Times.” It will build important oral communication skills via a discussion of the broader context and implications of the science discussed. Cross-listed with ASTR 188, ANTH 188, GEOL 188, PSCL 188, SOCI 188, and WMST 188.


PHYS 196. Energy and Society (3)

Global and national perspectives on the problems of energy supply and demand, global warming, oil cartels, solar, nuclear and wind energy, energy history, politics and economics of fossil fuels and alternative energy sources. Cross-listed as GEOL196, HSTY196 and POSC196. (This course has not been offered for several years and there are no plans to offer it in the near future. There is, however, a related course offered every fall – FSNA 103 Energy and Society.)


PHYS 203. Analog and Digital Electronics (4)

Elements of both analog and digital electronics from the practical viewpoint of the experimental scientist; AC circuits, linear and non-linear operation of op-amps, logic gates, flip-flops, counters, display, memory, transducers, A/D and D/A conversion. Laboratory work involves quantitative investigation of the operation of all these elements, together with projects that explore their combination. Advisory Prereq: PHYS122 or PHYS124. (available fall semesters)


PHYS 204. Advanced Instrumentation Laboratory (4)

Principles of experimental design: limits of resolution via band-width, thermal noise, background signals; data acquisition and control by computer; computer simulation; signal processing techniques in frequency and time domains, FFT, correlations, and other transform methods; counting techniques. Applications include lock-in amplifiers, digitizing oscilloscopes and data acquisition systems. Advisory Prereq: PHYS203 and PHYS221. (available spring semesters)


PHYS 208. Instrumentation and Signal Analysis Laboratory (4)

AC circuit theory, Fourier series, discrete Fourier series. Fourier integral, discrete Fourier integral; analysis in time and frequency domains, correlation, cross correlation and other transform techniques; computer control of experiments via IEEE488 interface; advanced instrumentation; DMM, arbitrary waveform generator, multiplexing and digitizing oscilloscopes; experimental design, noise; design, construction, and testing of a lock-in amplifier. Prereq: ENGR210, Advisory Prereq: PHYS221. (available spring semesters)


PHYS 221. Introduction to Modern Physics (3)

Concepts in special relativity, statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics and their impacts on modern technology. Applications to atomic structure, and selected topics in nuclear, condensed matter physics, particle physics, and cosmology. Prereq: PHYS116, PHYS122 or PHYS124. (available fall & spring semesters)


PHYS 250. Computational Methods in Physics (3)

Numerical methods, data analysis, and error analysis applied to physical problems. Use of personal computers in the solution of practical problems encountered in physics. Interpolation, roots of equations, integration, differential equations, Monte Carlo techniques, propagation of errors, maximum likelihood, convolution, Fourier transforms. Prereq: ENGR131 or EECS 132. Pre or Coreq: MATH224. (available spring semesters)


PHYS 301. Advanced Laboratory Physics I (3)

Problem solving approach with a range of available experiments in classical and modern physics. Emphasis on experimental technique and data and error analysis, and the formal presentation of the work performed. Co-req: PHYS 303, Advisory Prereq: PHYS204. (available fall semesters)


PHYS 302. Advanced Laboratory Physics II (4)

Several projects using research-quality equipment in contemporary fields of experimental physics. Each requires reading appropriate literature, choosing appropriate instrumentation, performing data acquisition and analysis, and writing a technical paper. Topics include particle counting techniques, neutron activation, gamma-ray spectroscopy, a range of condensed matter experiments including temperature dependent properties between 10 and 350 K, modern optics, ultrahigh vacuum surface science. Advisory Prereq: PHYS301. (available spring semesters)


PHYS 303. Advanced Laboratory Physics Seminar (1)

Students will discuss various issues associated with physics research.  These include how to judge the quality of an experiment and data (error analysis), how to present your work in written and oral formats, safety and ethical concerns in the laboratory. PHYS 303 plus PHYS 352 is an approved SAGES Departmental Seminar. Advisory Prereq: PHYS 250. (available fall semesters)


PHYS 310. Classical Mechanics (3)

Lagrangian formulation of mechanics and its application to central force motion, scattering theory, rigid body motion, and systems of many degrees of freedom. Advisory Prereq: PHYS221 and either MATH223 or MATH227. (available spring semesters)


PHYS 313. Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics (3)

Thermodynamic laws, entropy, and phase transitions from the quantum mechanical viewpoint. Gibbs and Boltzmann factors. Ideal, degenerate fermion, degenerate boson, photon, and phonon gases. Correlation functions and transport phenomena. Applications ranging from solid state physics to astrophysics. Prereq: PHYS221. (available fall semesters)


PHYS 315. Introduction to Solid State Physics (3)

Characterization and properties of solids; crystal structure, thermal properties of lattices, quantum statistics, electronic structure of metals and semiconductors. Prereq: PHYS331 or PHYS 481. (available fall semesters)


PHYS 316. Introduction to Nuclear and Particle Physics (3)

The physics of nuclei and elementary particles; experimental methods used to determine their properties; models and theories developed to describe their structure. Prereq: PHYS331 or PHYS 481. (available spring semesters)


PHYS 317. Engineering Physics Laboratory I (3)

Laboratory course for engineering physics majors. Emphasis is on experimental techniques, data and error analysis, and written and oral presentation of work. Four experiments drawn from classical and modern physics are carried out. These emphasize condensed matter, material and optical physics. Experiments include electric fields, resistivity of materials, optical interference, chaotic systems and spectroscopy. Design of data analysis systems and software is required. Prereq: PHYS208. Co-req: PHYS 303. (available fall semesters)


PHYS 318. Engineering Physics Laboratory II (4)

Laboratory course for engineering physics majors. Several projects using research-quality equipment in contemporary fields of experimental physics. Open-ended experiments each require reading appropriate literature, designing the experiment, performing data analysis, and writing a technical paper. Topics are drawn from areas of modern physics, and concentrate on condensed matter, material, and optical physics. Prereq: PHYS317. (available spring semesters)


PHYS 320. Introduction to Biological Physics (3)

This course explores the intersection of physics and biology: how do fundamental physical laws constrain life processes inside the cell, shaping biological organization and dynamics? We will start at the molecular level, introducing the basic ideas of nonequilibrium statistical physics and thermodynamics required to describe the fluctuating environment of the cell. This allow us to build up a theoretical framework for a variety of elaborate cellular machines: the molecular motors driving cell movement, the chaperones that assist protein folding, the information-processing circuitry of genetic regulatory networks. The emphasis throughout will be on simple, quantitative models that can tackle the inherent randomness and variability of cellular phenomena  We will also examine how to verify these models through the rich toolbox of biophysical experimental and computational technologies. The course should be accessible to students from diverse backgrounds in the physical and life sciences: we will explain both the biological details and develop the necessary mathematical / physical ideas in a self-contained manner. Prerequisite: (MATH 122 or 124) and (ENGR 131 or EECS 132) (available spring semesters)


PHYS 324. Electricity and Magnetism I (3)

First half of a sequence that constitutes a detailed study of the basics of electromagnetic theory and many of its applications. Electrostatics and magnetostatics of free space, conductors, dielectric and magnetic materials; basic theory illustrated with applications drawn from condensed matter physics, optics, plasma physics, and physical electronics. Prerequisite: PHYS 116, 122 or 124. (available spring semesters)


PHYS 325. Electricity and Magnetism II (3)

Continuation of PHYS 324. Electrodynamics, Maxwell’s equations, electromagnetic waves, electromagnetic radiation and its interaction with matter, potential formulation of electromagnetism, and relativity. Prerequisite: PHYS 324 (available fall semesters)


PHYS 326. Physical Optics (3)

Geometrical optics and ray tracing, wave propagation, interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter, interference, diffraction, and coherence. Supplementary current topics from modern optics such as nonlinear optics, holography, optical trapping and optical computing. Prerequisite may be waived with consent of department. Prereq: PHYS122 or PHYS124. (available most spring semesters but might be offered in the fall instead)


PHYS 327. Laser Physics (3) (This course was named “Quantum Electronics” before fall 2013.)

An introduction to theoretical and practical quantum electronics covering topics in quantum optics, laser physics, and nonlinear optics. Topics to be addressed include the physics of two-level quantum systems including the density matrix formalism, rate equations and semiclassical radiation theory; laser operation including oscillation, gain, resonator optics, transverse and longitudinal modes, Q-switching, mode-locking, and coherence; and nonlinear optics including the nonlinear susceptibility, parametric interactions, stimulated processes and self-action. Prereq: Physics 331 or 481. (available most spring semesters but some years has been offered in the fall instead)


PHYS 328 . Cosmology and the Structure of the Universe (3) [PHYS 328 is a cross-listing of a course that is controlled by the Department of Astronomy.]

Distances to galaxies. The content of the distant universe. Large scale structure and galaxy clusters. Physical Cosmology. Structure and galaxy formation and evolution. Testing cosmological models. (This course is an ASTR course with a PHYS cross-listing. Its title is similar to PHYS 336 Cosmology and you should consult with recent instructors for these courses if you need assistance with distinguishing between them. Note that ASTR/PHYS 328 has an ASTR 221/222 prerequisite.


PHYS 329. Independent Study (1-4)

An individual reading course in any topic of mutual interest to the student and the faculty supervisor. (available spring & fall semesters)


PHYS 331. Quantum Mechanics I (3)

Quantum nature of energy and angular momentum, wave nature of matter, Schroedinger equation in one and three dimensions; matrix methods; Dirac notation; quantum mechanical scattering. Two particle wave-functions. Prereq: PHYS221. (available fall semesters)


PHYS 332. Quantum Mechanics II (3)

Continuation of PHYS 331. Spin and fine structure; Dirac equation; symmetries; approximation methods; atomic and molecular spectra; time dependent perturbations; quantum statistics; applications to electrons in metals and liquid helium. Prereq: PHYS331. (available spring semesters)


PHYS 336. Modern Cosmology (3)

An introduction to modern cosmology, and an explanation of current topics in the field. The first half of the course will cover the mathematical and physical basis of cosmology, while the second will delve into current questions and the observations that constrain them. Prereq: PHYS221. (This course might appear similar to PHYS 328 Cosmology, which is a cross-listing of ASTR 328. You should consult with a recent instructor for these courses if you need assistance with distinguishing between them. PHYS 336 is not offered every year although it was available in spring 2012, 2013 & 2016. Check with the department academic representative to determine when the next offering is planned.)


PHYS 339. Seminar (1-3)

Conducted in small sections with presentation of papers by students and informal discussion. Special problem seminars and research seminars offered according to interest and need, often in conjunction with one or more research groups. Prereq: Consent of department. (available fall & spring semesters)


PHYS 349 Methods of Mathematical Physics I (3)

Analysis of complex functions: singularities, residues, contour integration; evaluation and approximation of sums and integrals; exact and approximate solution of ordinary differential equations; transform calculus; Sturm-Liouville theory;  calculus of variations. Prereq: MATH224. (available fall semesters)


PHYS 350.  Methods of Mathematical Physics II (3)

(Continuation of PHYS 349.) Special functions, orthogonal polynomials, partial differential equations,  linear operators, group theory, tensors, selected special topics.   Prereq: PHYS349. (PHYS 350 will be not be offered every year. It was offered in spring 2012 but not spring 2013. Students should contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies to find out when it will next be available.)


PHYS 351. Senior Physics Project (4 credits total, 2 credits each semester)

A two semester course required for senior BS and BA physics majors.  Students pursue a project based on experimental, theoretical or teaching research under the supervision of a physics faculty member, a faculty member from another CWRU department or a research scientist or engineer from another institution. A departmental Senior Project Committee must approve all project proposals and this same committee will receive regular oral and written progress reports. Final results are presented at the end of the second semester as a paper in a style suitable for publication in a professional journal as well as an oral report in a public symposium. ( approved SAGES capstone ) Prereq: PHYS303, Coreq: PHYS 352. For more information, see Senior Projects/Senior Projects.htm . (available fall & spring semesters)


PHYS 352. Senior Physics Project Seminar (2 credits total, 1 credit each semester)

This two semester seminar is taken concurrently with the student’s two semester senior project.  Students meet weekly to discuss their projects and the research experience.  The class will include dialogues about professional issues such as ethics, graduate school, jobs, funding, professional organizations, public obligations, writing and speaking. Assignments include proposals, progress reports, and posters. PHYS 352 plus PHYS 303 is an approved SAGES Departmental Seminar. Coreq: PHYS 351 or PHYS 353. (available fall & spring semesters)


PHYS 353. Senior Engineering Physics Project (4 credits total, 2 credits each semester)

A two semester course required for BSE Engineering Physics majors. Students are expected to complete a research project in their concentration area under the supervision of a faculty member in science, engineering, or, with approval, a researcher at another institution or company. The project may be calculational, experimental or theoretical, and will address both the underlying physics and appropriate engineering and design principles. A program Senior Project Committee must approve all project proposals and will receive regular oral and written progress reports. Final results are presented at the end of the second semester as a paper in a style suitable for publication in a professional journal as well as an oral report in a public symposium. (approved SAGES capstone) Prereq: PHYS318, Coreq: PHYS 352. For more information, see Senior Projects/Senior Projects.htm . (available fall & spring semesters)


PHYS 365. General Relativity (3)

This is a first course in general relativity. The techniques of tensor analysis will be developed and used to describe the effects of gravity and Einstein’s theory. Consequences of the theory as well as its experimental tests will be discussed. An introduction to cosmology will be given. Admission to this course requires consent of the department. (PHYS 365 is not offered every year; it was available in spring 2011, 2012 & 2014 but not in spring 2013. Check with the department academic representative to determine when the next offering is planned.)


PHYS 390. Undergraduate Research in Physics (3-6)

Research conducted under the supervision of a faculty member in the Department of Physics. Arrangements must be made with a faculty member and a written description of these arrangements must be submitted to and approved by the department before a permit will be issued to register for this course. A final report must be supplied to the department at the end of the semester. Prereq: Consent of department. For more information, see http://www.phys.cwru.edu/undergrad/PHYS390/PHYS390.htm . (available fall & spring semesters)


PHYS 100-TR, PHYS 200-TR and PHYS 300-TR. PHYS 100, 200 or 300 Level Transfer Course (3 or more)

These course numbers are available to provide transfer credit for courses taken elsewhere that clearly merit CWRU credit but which don’t correspond to a course offered by our department.


SAGES FIRST & UNIVERSITY SEMINARS

FSCC 100. Life of the Mind

This four credit-hour course provides an introduction to various dimensions of academic life. It will be characterized by intense yet open-ended intellectual inquiry, guided by reading from primary as well as secondary sources, and will include practice in written and oral communication in small groups. Each seminar is led both by a faculty member and a writing co-instructor. The goals are to enhance basic intellectual skills of academic inquiry, such as critical reading, thoughtful analysis, and written and oral communication; to introduce basic information literacy skills; to provide a foundation for ethical decision-making; to encourage a global and multidisciplinary perspective on the learning process; to facilitate faculty-student interactions; and, in the most general sense, to provide a supportive common intellectual experience for first-year students at Case. This seminar is about finding our themes, both as individual writers, and as a class. Authors Gladwell, Foer and Sandel will provide the initial grist for our mill. Students will make as many choices as is feasible in setting the direction of the course. (offered in fall 2011 by P. Kernan)


FSCC 100. Life of the Mind

This four credit-hour course provides an introduction to various dimensions of academic life. It will be characterized by intense yet open-ended intellectual inquiry, guided by reading from primary as well as secondary sources, and will include practice in written and oral communication in small groups. Each seminar is led both by a faculty member and a writing co-instructor. The goals are to enhance basic intellectual skills of academic inquiry, such as critical reading, thoughtful analysis, and written and oral communication; to introduce basic information literacy skills; to provide a foundation for ethical decision-making; to encourage a global and multidisciplinary perspective on the learning process; to facilitate faculty-student interactions; and, in the most general sense, to provide a supportive common intellectual experience for first-year students at Case. (offered in fall 2009 by J. Ruhl and P. Kernan)


FSNA 103. Energy and Society

This four-credit-hour course provides an introduction to collegiate writing and to various dimensions of academic life, but will focus on the critical appreciation of the world of energy. Currently, most of the world runs on non-renewable resources; this course is designed to help students develop viewpoints about these issues, and to express themselves in a clear, coherent way.  The class will involve both literacy and numeracy, and students will learn to become comfortable handling some of the quantitative measures of energy use. The class will be characterized by intense yet open-ended intellectual inquiry, guided by reading, lectures and discussion, and will include practice in written and oral communication individually and in small groups. (offered in fall 2012 and previous falls since 2005 by P. Taylor, G. Chottiner & J. Ruhl, fall 2013 -2015 by P. Taylor).


FSNA  124. The Challenge of Sustainability

This four-credit-hour course provides an introduction to collegiate writing and to various dimensions of academic life, but will focus on the critical appreciation of the challenges we face in transitioning – or failing to transition – to a sustainable society.  Climate change, along with increased development and population, are altering the natural environment we live in and rely on.  This course will review some of the current and future impacts of these changes, and explore alternate paths forward and how they might be forged.  The class will involve both literacy and numeracy, and students will learn to become comfortable handling some of the quantitative measures relevant to sustainability issues.  The class will be characterized by intense yet open-ended intellectual inquiry, guided by reading, lectures and discussion, and will include practice in written and oral communication. (offered in fall 2010, 2014, 2015 by J. Ruhl)


FSNA 138. Light

This course explores Light, otherwise know as visible electromagnetic radiation.  We will examine what light is in its various forms; how it is created and detected; how we perceive it; and how it has influenced our evolutionary development, our technological, artistic, and religious cultures, and our conceptions of space and time.  Students will discuss topics suggested by the course readings and by exposure to the many scientific activities, historical artifacts, and artistic works on the CWRU campus and at other local institutions that involve light in a significant way. (initial offerings in fall 2012 & 2014 by K. Kowalski, approved as a regular offering)


USNA 228. Time

This seminar course will explore the nature of time from many stances, including those of Psychology, Biology, Technology and Philosophy. Yet time is central to Physics, and in Physics we will orient our explorations of time. Our understanding of time has sharpened a great deal in the last few centuries, the most obvious markers being Newton’s Absolute time, which remains entrenched in modern culture, and its subsequent physical overthrow by Einstein’s relativity. Given the physical primacy of Einstein’s time, many questions arise: How malleable is the concept of time? Is there a fact of time? Can the present be defined? The past? The future? The successes of modern Cosmology lead us to ask: Was there a beginning of time? Will time end? The symmetry of fundamental physical laws with respect to the direction of time, counterpointed by asymmetric phenomena, lead to: Is there a master arrow of time? Is the flow of time an illusion? In this course we will investigate what “Time” is telling us about the natural world and ourselves. (offered in spring 2013, 2015, 2016 by P. Kernan)


USNA  263. Reading and Writing Science

This seminar will examine the ways in which science is communicated to the non-scientist public.  The goals are to teach the students to be critical consumers (readers, viewers, and/or listeners) of science as it appears in the public sphere, and to teach the students how to write about science for non-scientists. The course is co-taught by a scientist with experience writing for and speaking to the public, and by a science journalist.  Students will engage with popularized science in a variety of formats–including newspaper and magazine articles, radio and television news and talk shows, television documentaries, internet postings, public lectures and popular books.  We will make particular use of University Circle opportunities, such as public lectures both at CWRU and at neighboring institutions (e.g. the Explorer series at CMNH)–attending the lectures and, if possible, interacting with the speakers as a class.  Several local or visiting science authors will be invited to participate in class discussions on their books. We will pay particular attention to how scientific stories are told in “the media”, through weekly examinations of science news stories.  In relation to all these forms of communication, we will learn to ask who the author(s) is/are, how his/her/their training and relation to the story, as well as other factors, affects how the story gets told, and how to interrogate authorial claims.  We will also practice writing science stories, with each student producing at least one piece for possible publication through university internal communications channels, and perhaps, ultimately, for distribution to external news organizations. (offered in spring 2012 by G. Starkman)


 

USNA  288C. Physics for Future Innovators & World leaders

We live in an increasingly technological society.  Advances in technology improve our lives in countess ways, but they sometimes produce problems and challenges that are so complex that the average business or political leader cannot understand them–and therefore cannot make effective decisions to address them.  Whether the problem is what to do about climate change, how to identify investment-worthy energy sources, how to provide sufficient and sustainable food and energy to the world’s population, or how to determine if an investment trend is a dangerous bubble, we will find better solutions if we have leaders who have an adequate understanding of basic physical principles and how physical “laws”–such as conservation of energy, exponential growth and decay, and gravity–can dictate the sagaciousness or feasibility of various solutions and applications.  This course is designed to equip students with that knowledge.  Using very little math, we will consider how an understanding of basic physical principles related to energy, force, space, electromagnetism, waves, and exponential growth can help us make sense of some of our most pressing technological problems.  In addition, we will also examine issues related to the social uses of technology, including realistic timelines for technological development, incremental versus radical improvements, rapid estimation, identification of need, cost-benefit analysis, identifying spin in news reports, intellectual property rules, and ethical citation of sources.  Class time will consist of group discussion, student presentations, and “Fermi Problems” (complex, creative problem solving with order-of-magnitude estimations).  (offered in spring 2012, 2015, 2016 by E. Caner)  

Page last modified: May 20, 2016