PHYS111 Physics in the Modern World:

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
The modern world needs physics from a wide range of sources and ages. Many questions of ancient pholosophers of nature are still relevant today; Aristotelian physics helps us be in tune with the natural world; Newtonian physics allows prediction of many important and indispensable processes with unbelievable accuracy; Maxwellian physics together with the many-authored quantum mechanics is the source of our modern conveniences, from light bulbs to social networks; and if today we are still hoping for a "theory of everything," Einsteinian physics does at least give a framework and define its scope. To understand Einstein will motivate this course, and along the way we will inevitably meet these earlier thinkers and 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).

We are saving you money! By using a free book on the internet, The Light and Matter Series We will not cover everything in this book, but we will cover parts or excerpts from all six chapters.
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 and possibly some quizzes will be found on this site. There will be 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.
The most important part of your grade will come from a required term paper on a topic of your choice. Anything that interests you is possible as long as it uses primarily the methods of physics. You should consult me whether your choice is acceptable and for suggestions how to treat it like a physicist. By way of illustration here are a few examples of more exotic and non-standard topics :

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 according to our textbook. We will also show some important experiments; 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: You can easily find viewpoints, for example on the internet, that misinterpret or try to falsify standard physics (most often it is Einstein's physics that is 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)."