PHYS111 Physics in the Modern World:
The Physics of Einstein

Catalog description:
A survey course in general physics emphasizing the role that physics plays in science, technology, and society today. The course is concept oriented and minimal use of mathematics is made. Intended for the general student; does not satisfy the requirements of the professional schools.

Dieter Brill
Office: Physics 4202
OfficeHours: TBA
TA: none :(

Some Intellectual Goals
As a focus we use the work of Einstein, which continues to have influence on nearly every phase of contemporary physics. Since one cannot appreciate Einstein without some knowledge of the earlier (Aristotelian, Newtonian, Maxwellian) physics, we will also cover many topics from the traditional sequence. Students should learn to "think like Einstein," which consists more of some good physical horse sense than detailed technical knowledge.

Physics is based on experiments and observations. It is very important in learning physics to experience the actual behavior of objects in simple situations before we introduce the abstract concepts, which allow us to comprehend and describe the behavior. For this reason, many demonstrations are performed during the lectures.

The natural language of physics is mathematics. It is remarkably effective in providing clear, concise, and very accurate descriptions of phenomena. The reasons for this are obscure and deep, but it is a fact (read Wigner's essay in Course Documents)! Numbers are the natural point of contact between physical concepts and theories on the one hand and experiments and applications on the other, but the mathematical expression of physical concepts is not confined to numbers (that is, to algebra and trigonometry): Almost every new fundamental insight in physics is accompanied by new, uniquely appropriate mathematics. Some understanding of these various mathematical schemes will be as important as algebraically grinding out numbers from formulas (for your reassurance: calculators will hardly be necessary, but will be permitted on exams).

Because the sequence and contents of this course is rather non-standard, I have not found a textbook that is exactly right for this course. Instead, appropriate parts of books or web pages will be posted as the "Course Documents" on elms.
The text used previously in this course is: Physics: A World View, by Kirkpatrick and Francis, 6th Edition, published by Brooks/Cole-Thomson Learning (2007). ISBN 0-495-01088-X. You can find many of the topics we discuss in this text, but not in the same order. It is not required.

Exams, homework, grades
All information about the course beyond this syllabus will be found on the Phys111 site on elms ( The homework (approximately weekly) and possibly some quizzes will be found on this site. An important part of your grade will be contributions to the wiki, also accessible from elms. Details will be explained in lecture and posted as an announcement on -- you guessed it -- elms. The remainder of the credit for your grade will come from an in-class mid-term exam and a two-hour Final. It is required that you take the mid-term exam, and in order to pass this course you must take and pass the final examination. No make-up tests will be given.

Sequence of Lectures
This course is not required to cover any particular list of topics, and you are encouraged to make suggestions as early as possible in the term, for example "what you always wanted to know about Einstein's physics and were afraid to ask.". There are some topics that are basic for all of physics (Newton's laws, for example), and we will cover those in a way similar to the treatment in any elementary physics textbook. We will also show some important experiments, and if you know of any that are fun and you'd like to see (or know how to set up), let me know!
One word of caution: Einstein's physics, more than other branches, is often attacked by promoters of other theories who attribute some merit to proving Einstein wrong. These are not invariably useless -- in fact we may discuss some of them -- but there are too many to spend much time on any one of them.

Notice from Student Honor Council

The University of Maryland, College Park has a nationally recognized 
Code of Academic Integrity, administered by the Student Honor Council.
This Code sets standards for academic integrity at Maryland for all
undergraduate and graduate students. As a student you are responsible
for upholding these standards for this course. It is very important for
you to be aware of the consequences of cheating, fabrication,
facilitation, and plagiarism. For more information on the Code of
Academic Integrity or the Student Honor Council, please visit

To further exhibit your commitment to academic integrity, remember to
sign the Honor Pledge on all examinations and assignments: "I pledge on
my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance
on this examination (assignment)."