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Physics is Everywhere: Rainbows to Refrigerators

Carmen Sorge,                                    

Core: Physical & Natural Science


Course Description

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I've found it!), but 'That's funny...' - Isaac Asimov This course is about understanding physics in the world around you. Many students have the impression that science (physics in particular) is a bunch of rules discovered a long time ago by a bunch of boring dead white guys. Nothing could be further from the truth. Physics has a huge impact upon our daily lives, many issues including energy use, safety procedures and government regulations are based on physics principles.  Understanding basic physics and learning to read and interpret scientific information critically will allow you to make decisions based on sound scientific reasoning. You might be thinking physics is just another name for math class. Not in this class. We will use math in the class, but nothing above basic algebra and a teeny bit of trigonometry.  The ability to plug numbers into an equation, and chomp through them is not physics. You will need use a little math in this course, but this course is not ABOUT math.   

Scientists are not handed a lab worksheet to fill in when doing research. Like scientists, you will utilize the scientific method to produce hypotheses based on experimentation.  You will design the experiment, record the information needed and then analyze the data in order to produce and defend your hypothesis. This course is for students who want to DO science and understand how to critically read and discuss scientific concepts (rather than memorize science facts). Our topics will vary and will include both basic physics fundamentals such as optics, radioactivity, motion and energy conservation and others. The course also includes readings in science and critical interpretation of articles in current journals which relate to physics.

The 3 hour course does not include a separate lab section; for this section, labs will be done during class. The 4 hour course includes both the normal in-class labs and a SEPARATE requirement to be held outside of the regular class hours on the same days that class meets. You will be designing and conducting your own experiments and demos and presenting them to the class. For Spring 2016, the time will be directly after class from 12:15-12:45. There is an additional course fee of $25 for the 4 hour lab section. Contact me for further information.

Readings and Texts

We will be reading sections from texts such as those listed below as well as from current scientific journals. These will be available online.

Richard A. Muller, Physics for Future Presidents: The science behind the headlines

Richard Feynman, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics explained by its most brilliant teacher

Walter Lewin, For the love of Physics: From the edge of the Rainbow to the Edge of Time- A journey through the wonders of Physics  

Christopher P. Jargodzki and Frankin Potter, Mad about Physics: Brain twisters, Paradoxes and Curiosities

Paul G. Hewitt, Conceptual Physics Fundamentals

Students in the 4 hour class will have additional readings on lab design.

Films and Other Course Materials

We will be watching some videos in class demonstrating physics principles that are too expensive (no access to a space) or dangerous (your teacher is too scared to skydive) for class demonstrations. You will also be watching some longer videos on your own time online.

Course Fee

A course fee of $10.00 will be collected, this will cover materials used for in class experiments such as straws, liquid soap, a few simple Lego sets, aluminum foil, superballs, balloons and other such materials which are simpler to buy as a group.  Students will also be asked to bring in some materials from home such as empty 2 liter soda bottles. An additional fee of $25 will be required for the 4 hour class for the lab section.

Student Requirements

Regular attendance, active in class participation and weekly reading assignments are expected. You will also write a paper explaining and examining an application of physics that is observable in the real world. You will be participating in hands on experiments in the classroom demonstrating physics principals and writing up a short report on each lab.  You will also research and present a short physics demonstration to the class. If you choose the 4 hour option you will be meeting with me to design and execute your own labs/demos and presenting the material to the rest of the class. These labs will be in addition to those done during class time.

About the Instructor

I have taught both physics and mathematics from middle school level through college. I have a Ph.D in Educational Psychology, a M.S. in Science Education and a B.S. in Physics.  But what should really matter to you is that I have experience in making science useful, exciting and interesting.