Physics 104

How Things Work: Science Foundations

Fall 2005


Instructor:                   Dr. J. R. Anderson

Office:                         Z-2346

Phone:                         (301)-405-6142

Office Hours:              To be announced in class



Textbook:                    Louis A. Bloomfield, How Things Work – The Physics of

Everyday Life (2nd Edition), Pub. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 


Class Time (Lecture):  Tues. & Thurs. 2:00 – 3:15 P.M.         Room: Z1410


Lecture Schedule*

                    Tues. Thurs.     Assignment from Bloomfield**                                   Section  

September               1       Intro., Skating, & Units                                                     1.1

            6      8       Falling Balls, Projectiles, Work&Energy, Seesaw          1.2, 2.1

13    15     Wheels, Friction, Bumper Cars, Momentum                    2.2, 2.3

            20    22     Springs, Roller Coasters&Carousels, Buoyancy,            3.1-3.3

                             Water Distribution, Pressure                                             4.1- 4.2

                        27    29     Frisbees&Airplanes, Rockets, Review                              5.3

October           4               Exam I (Chapts. 1 – 5)**

                    6       Heat & Temperature, Heat Transfer                                 6.1- 6.2

            11    13     Light bulbs, 0th & 1st Law Thermo, Entropy                  6.2- 6.3

                             Disorder, 2nd Law Thermo, Air-conditioning

            18    20     Harmonic Oscillators, Resonance, Musical Instruments 7.1- 7.2

25    27     Electrostatics, Air cleaners, Xerox, Laser printers          8.1- 8.3

                                         Magnetism, MagLev Train

November       1      3       Ohm’s Law, Flashlight, Power Distribution                     9.1-9.2

                                         Power Generation                                                                                                  8               Electric Motors, Review                                                        9

                               10      Exam II (Chapts. 6 – 9)

                        15   17      Tape Recorders, Amplifiers, Binary Arithmetic           9.3,10.1-2

                        22             Radio and TV                                                                11.1-11.2

                        29             TV, Microwaves, Microwave Oven                                11.3

December               1        Refraction, Sunlight                                                        12.1

                        6     8        Rainbows, Polarized Sunglasses, Optical Fibers           12.1,13.2

                                         Atomic Transitions, Fluorescent Lamps, Lasers            12.2,12.3

                                13             Review and Question Session                                                                                  *This is a tentative selection of topics to be covered. Changes in the assignments will be announced in class.

** Not all sections will be covered. Relevant sections will be announced in class.

Course Description

This course is based on the course for non-science majors, which has been taught at the University of Virginia by Lou Bloomfield. Although it is a primarily a non-mathematical physics course, I expect you to have math understanding at the high school level. Explanations will be mainly with words and pictures; only simple mathematical relations will be used to aid in the description of the basics of mechanical, electrical, and optical devices. The lectures will concentrate on covering the major topics and providing insight into the material. Students are also responsible for material that is discussed in class but is not in the textbook, especially if the subject is emphasized during the lecture. If you miss a lecture, get notes from a classmate or see Dr. Anderson. In fact, you are strongly encouraged to come to office hours or schedule a separate meeting if you have questions. You can make arrangements at the end of a lecture, by telephone, or by dropping by Dr. Anderson’s office. You should not expect a timely response to e-mail, however.  To get the most out of the lectures, it is imperative you read the text before class.


Other Possible Topics - for Lectures or Term Papers

            I do not expect to follow rigidly the topics given above. In fact, I welcome suggestions for additional or replacement subjects. On the Internet there is a site entitled “How Stuff Works”. Here you can find material supplementary to that in the Bloomfield book. Examples of other topics, in random order, include:

1. How toothpicks are made. 2. How does a hybrid car work? 3. Will a hydrogen economy save energy? 4. Thermoelectric cooling. 5. Nuclear reactors. 6. Junction and field-effect transistors. 7. Digital light processing. 8. Public Key Encryption, the encryption technique used by financial institutions. 9. GPS. 10. Radar and Sonar. 11. Solar Panels. 12. Bicycle 13. Digital logic gates. 14. Airplanes: speed, altitude, and location determination – Old approach (pitot tube & barometer); modern approach (radar, GPS). 15. Digital camera. 16. Space shuttle operation. 17. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) actually nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).


Term Paper

            A term paper is required for this course. The subject may be taken from the topics given above or you may suggest a topic. Each of you must get approval from me for your chosen topic. Also, I will help you by suggesting references and approaches to your subject. The paper should be short, no more than three pages including references. The format should be: Introduction (What is the thing that is being evaluated?), Description and explanation of the science upon which the thing is based, Conclusions, which could include predictions concerning advances and uses, and References. Your term paper will be due on 1 December 2005.

            Here is an example of a paragraph (from Bloomfield’s course) of a reasonable term paper. If you write as well as this, the paper will certainly be excellent. It is not necessary, of course, for you to copy this style completely, but I do expect you to focus on the physical issues. State what you are going to describe, why it is important, and then give the physical description and explanation. You may include other aspects to make the paper more interesting and readable. The example of the description of the working of a paper clip follows:

                                                            “How Paper Clips Work

            Paper clips are small objects, usually constructed from metal wire, that serve to hold several sheets of paper together as a single unit. In effect, a paper clip consists of two metal surfaces that are pressed against one another by the elasticity of the metal wire from which the paper clip is built. As you distort the paper clip away from its equilibrium shape by spreading the two surfaces apart, it experiences restoring forces. These forces tend to return the paper clip to its equilibrium shape and push the two surfaces together. Since the paper clip behaves like a spring, the restoring forces are proportional to the distance separating the two surfaces. When several sheets of paper are placed between the two surfaces, the restoring forces on the metal surfaces cause them to exert inward compressing forces on the paper sheets. Because each sheet of paper does not accelerate, it is clear that the sheet experiences no net force. Instead, forces appear between each sheet of paper and its neighbors to oppose the compressing forces from the paper clip. The force between each sheet and its neighbor gives rise to friction between the sheets. The sheets cannot slide easily across one another because they will experience frictional forces whenever there is relative motion.”


Final Exam

Final Exam      Monday, 19 December, 10:30 A.M. – 12:30 P.M. (Room 1410)


# Exams are cumulative and will probably be of the multiple-choice and true-false type. Makeup exams will be given only for a student with a valid documented excuse (doctor’s note accident report, funeral notice, etc.) If you know ahead of time that you will miss an exam you must notify me before the exam. If you miss an exam due to an emergency, let me know as soon as possible. I will be flexible for those with valid excuses who have given timely notification. Makeup exams will probably be given during final week.



Homework and Quizzes

My tentative approach to homework assignments and schedules is as follows: As this course progresses, the homework assignments may be changed. These changes will be announced in class with handouts. You are also encouraged to ask about this homework during the lectures.

Homework solutions in a ring binder will be on reserve and available for study at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Library. Another set will be posted on the bulletin board inside one of the wall cabinets that is just outside your lecture room (1410). You may make a xerox copy of the solutions at the Library, but, if any solutions are missing from the ring binder, I will no longer provide solutions in the library.


HW1*  (Due 13 Sept.) - Chapt. 1: Exercises 1, 4, 12, 15, 18, 24, 31, 38. Problems 1, 6, 16.

                        Case 7.

HW2* (Due 20 Sept.) – Chapt. 2: Exercises 2, 6, 9, 14, 22, 28, 34. Problems 3, 8, 12.

Case 4.

* Answers to odd-numbered Exercises and Problems are given in the text. You must give reasons for your answers in your own words to supplement answers given in the text.

            Homework assignments for the other topics (chapters) will be announced in class.





If a quiz is to be given, it will be announced at least one class period ahead of time and will take place during the final 15 minutes of a lecture. Each quiz problem will be based on a homework assignment.



Help in understanding concepts and solving problems: Discussions with me after class or in my office. I encourage you to stop by my office and see if I am available or you may telephone to set up a meeting time. I think it is helpful to study with others and you may come as a group to my office to ask questions. My regular office hours will be announced later.



Your grade will be determined approximately as follows:

Final exam  25%    Two hourly exams  40%       Term Paper 15%      HW & Quiz  20%


Active class participation will improve your chances for a higher grade. Course letter grades will be determined approximately as follows: highest 25% - A; next highest 35% - B; third highest 25% - C; lowest 15% - D & F.


Academic Integrity: This University has a student-administered Honor Code and Honor Pledge on the web at http// This code prohibits cheating on exams, plagiarizing papers, etc. All students are expected to follow this Code.


Students with Disabilities: See me after class or in my office.


















Questionnaire for Physics 104. Returning this questionnaire is optional.



Soc. Sec. No.:

Local Address:


Local Phone:

E-mail Address:


When did you take your last math course? What was it?


Have you had any physics class?        In high school?           In college?      


If so, at what level (e.g. was it calculus-based)?

What days and times for office hours would fit your schedule?


If we had weekly review sessions late in the afternoon or in the evening, would you be interested?                       Would you attend?                 If so, what days and times would be best for you?                                      


Although we are expected to cover main topics, I have some flexibility in the material to be covered. Are there any particular things that you hope to get from this course?


Are there any topics you want stressed, or questions you want answered? (This is your best chance to be sure that they will be covered; therefore, be as explicit as possible. Adjustments can be made during the semester if there is sufficient class interest.)