Physics 104 - How Things Work - Spring, 2004

Prof. Ted Einstein (Homepage)

Physics Building, Room 2310 (Mailbox in 2323); x56147

The exams are now marked. Stop by to look at yours (but I have to keep it for a year) and to pick up your term paper. Have a great summer, and look for rainbows near sprinklers.

Final exam: average: 184; standard dev.: 51; high: 278; low: 81

Course grade distribution:

1 A+, 7 A, 6 A- (3 of which were A--), 8 B+, 11 B, 3 B-, 3 C+, 3 C, 4 C-, 3 D, 1 F

Course grades were based largely on the composite discussed below under "Grading" but gaps and boundaries were reassessed using a second composite that downweighted the component on which each student performed poorest (though less forgiving for those who did not deign to do homework).

Last updated May 20, 2004

Links to General Course Information
Tentative Schedule
Applets, URLs
Course Policies
Bloomfield slides (pdf)

Links to Term Paper Information
Grading Rubric: 
Evaluation Criteria
Individual Paper
Group Paper
Suggested Topics
Topics to Avoid

Spring 2003 website                   

Study guide of terms and ideas for the first and the second midterm tests; use these two guides to study for the final along with this site for material in the last third of the course.

Solutions to exams and homework assignments are posted here, password protected

    Physics 104 is a relatively new course being taught only for the past several years at the University of Maryland. It is based on a similar course that was developed and taught at the University of Virginia by Prof. Louis Bloomfield, whose book we are using. Much of the material in this course description was taken (with permission) from the UVA course. There are some differences between our course and theirs. Since our class is much smaller, we can do things in a more personal manner.

    A consequence of this size limitation is that there is a rather long waiting list for this course. Reactions to the class last year were stunningly varied. The course evaluations are linked here for your information. If you find yourself reacting like those who disliked my offering in Spring 2003, please do everyone a favor and drop the course promptly so that someone else can register for it!

Course Description
    The class meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 2:00-2:50 pm in room 0405 of the Physics Building.  This class room, while slightly smaller than optimal, allows us easy access to one of the best  lecture demonstration facilities in the world; we will make liberal use of it throughout the semester.  As noted above, the class size is relatively small (maximum 50), which allows a better view of the demonstrations and promotes discussion.
    The purpose of this course is to show you the scientific basis the world around you.  In particular we will focus on "how things work."  I have picked a list of topics that, hopefully, you will find interesting and timely.  Of course there are far more possible topics than we have time for.  There will be many opportunities to ask about things that we don't cover in class. Moreover, a goal of the course is to change your outlook on the world and to become comfortable in trying to understand the physics behind phenomena you observe, even if you cannot make numerical predictions of behavior or fathom all the details. Thus, over next summer (and the rest of your life) you should be able to delve into topics we do not discuss in class! This course should be fun and eye-opening!
   To allow time for demonstrations and discussion in class, students should preview material to be discussed that day by skimming the appropriate sections in the text, looking at the new terms, and thinking about what new concepts are most puzzling. Students are strongly encouraged to form study/discussion groups. In science courses (much like in foreign language courses), it takes time to master new concepts and ways of thinking. Also, much of the material makes use of earlier results. Thus, students should keep current on the work. Don't get behind!

    The course grade will be determined by the following:
Homework 14%

First Mid Term Exam


Second Mid Term Exam


Term Paper 20%
Final Exam 30%

In computing the composite score on which final grades are based, numerical scores (weighted as indicated in the table above) on the various tests and homework will be added together (rather than averaging grade estimates on each of them). When appropriate, these scores will be rescaled so that their averages and spreads (standard deviations) are comparable. The grade distribution for this course in Spring 2003 is still posted. The distribution this semester should be rather similar, but I will try to place the breaks between letter grades at gaps in the composite scores. In marginal cases, improving performance and class participation may be taken into account very modestly.

Study guide of terms and ideas for the first midterm test.

    Homework will be assigned regularly throughout the semester. It will be collected and graded. Homework is actually worth much more than the official 10-14% of the grade, as it will help you clarify your understanding of the material, point out your areas of weakness, and help you prepare for the exams. It is very unlikely that a student will do well in the course without carefully doing the homework. There are many, many more interesting and worthwhile problems than can be assigned as homework. Students are strongly encouraged to do as many as possible to ingrain the material and to check their understanding.

Term Paper
    Each student will be required to do a term paper.  A point of this project is to help train you to investigate the underpinnings of natural phenomena on your own or with your colleagues. Details about the paper are given below.  The rules for the paper are:

1.    The report on the project paper is due in class on Wednesday, April 28 Friday, April 30. I will deduct one grade step (A becomes A-) for each day the term paper is late (including excluding Saturday and Sunday, so only one step penalty for submission on Monday, May 3). After Friday, May 7, term papers are no longer acceptable under any circumstances.

2.    Term papers must be written in your own words. Copying material essentially word-for-word from another source without crediting it as a quotation is plagiarism and will not be tolerated. Extensive quotations make for a very poor paper. "Shoveling in" text from web sites with no mental processing also leads to poor papers.

3.    You may not work together with anyone on an individual term paper. If you are writing a group term paper, you may work together only with the 1 or 2 other members of your group.

4.    Term papers may not be written on subjects that are part of the course syllabus. A list of such forbidden topics is part of this packet.

5.    I will not assist in topic selection for the term papers after Wednesday, April 14.

Responding to pleas from a number of students, I have postponed the date for turning in term papers to Friday, April 30, and lowered the penalty to one grade step for submission on Monday, May 3. See below.

In addition to the hard copy of your paper, you must provide an electronic copy of the text so that I can check for plagiarism. (Thus, your electronic submission does not need to include figures, but you should be careful to cite the source of any figure that you reproduce!) Your electronic submission can be on a floppy or a CD, or it can be sent via e-mail (to, not my usual e-mail address) as an attachment. [You will get an automatic reply saying the wam account is inoperative; ignore it.] Unfortunately, even at schools like UVa with a longer tradition of honor codes than here, plagiarism has become a problem that cannot be ignored. You might want to read Bloomfield's essay on the topic.

The final exam will be held on Monday, May 17, 1:30-3:30pm, in the Chemistry Building, in room 0115, which is comfortably large. To get there from the Physics Bldg., proceed down the long corridor past 1202 to the main entrance to the Chemistry Bldg. from Regents Dr. Make a right turn to head down a long corridor, but quickly take the stairs on the left down a flight. Go down a long corridor (past Geology offices) to the end, take a left and look for the door to 0115 on your left. Best to give it a try before the exam to make sure you do not get lost. If you are coming from the north or east, there are quicker ways to get to this room.

About half of the final will be like a midterm covering the material since the second midterm. The other half will cover the whole course. You will be allowed to use a "crib" sheet that you have prepared by yourself. You may use one side of 8-1/2 x 11 inch paper and write anything on it that you like (formulas, definitions, sketches...).