Physics 101 Syllabus

Fall 2005

A simulated decay of the Higgs boson at the CMS particle detector at CERN.

Table of Contents:

Course Description

Physics 101 is an introduction to physics for non-science majors. The subject matter is the evolution of scientific understanding of the physical world starting from ancient astronomy to present-day cosmology and elementary particle physics. The aim is to increase understanding of the nature of the methods of science and the origin of scientific knowledge using historical examples. A general list of topics is:
My research is in the field of theoretical particle physics and cosmology, and I hope to infect you with some of the excitement and passion I feel for my work, and physics in general. I will allow plenty of time for questions and discussion, and I hope that classes will be lively.

The course will make some use of trigonometry and basic algebra, but will emphasize conceptual rather than calculational aspects. This means that we will try to answer questions like:
These questions will be made as concrete as possible and you will be expected to master the concepts involved and apply them in solving problems. You are also expected to write coherently about these topics. This is not an "fluff" course! For additional information about what is expected of you in this course, see the sections below on homework, reading assignments and quizzes, the term paper, and exams.

The class will consist of three weekly lectures and one weekly discussion section. The discussion section is primarily for answering individual questions, but will sometimes be used to have a class discussion about a particular topic.

Professor and TA

Professor: Markus Luty

Office: PHYS 4119
Phone: (301) 405-6018
E-mail: luty(at)
Office hours: After class on Fridays, or by appointment. I read e-mail frequently (even on weekends), and strongly encourage students to contact me in this way. Please include "101" in the subject line of your e-mail to make my life a little easier!

TA: to be announced


Physics, the Human Adventure by Gerald Holton and Stephen G. Brush (Rutgers University Press)

ISBN number 0-8135-2908-5 (paperback edition)


Regular homework problems will be assigned approximately once per week. Homework problems will be one the following types:
The following rules apply to all homework assignments:

Reading Assignments and Quizzes

To help us cover the large amount of material in this course, there will be a daily reading assignment. It is important to do the reading assignment every day. This will make the lecture more meaningful and the discussion during class more stimulating. To encourage you to keep up on the reading assignments, there will be 5-minute surprise quizzes on the reading assignment at the beginning of class, approximately once per week. These will consist of a single short answer question. The quizzes are designed to check whether you have done the reading, rather than testing detailed understanding of the material.

Term Paper

You will be asked to write a 5 page term paper in the form of a dialogue along the lines of Galileo's famous Dialogue Concerning the Two New Sciences (which we will read as part of the course). You will pick a scientific controversy, either past or present, and write a dialogue in which the characters argue the different sides of the issue. The characters may be historical, or from the present day. A little humor to enliven the dialogue is welcome, but not required. The important thing is that your dialogue illustrate scientific reasoning and the resolution of scientific controversy. The topic and outline of your dialogue must be approved by me in advance.

With the permission of the authors, I will share some of the best exerpts of the dialogues with the rest of the class, and they may be used as a basis for discussion.


On each midterm and the final exam, you are required to write by hand and sign the University Honor Pledge: "I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this examination."

Midterm Exams:
Final Exam:


Grades will be assigned as follows:

Homework: 20%
Quizzes: 20%
Best 1 of 2 midterms 20%
Term paper 20%
Final exam 20%

Grading scale:
85-100% A
70-84% B
55-69% C
40-54% D
0-39% F

Tips for Doing Well

Academic Integrity

Students will be held to the University of Maryland code of academic integrity. For more information, see the student honor council web site.

Revised 8/29/2005