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PHYS 4: General Physics II

"Classical Electromagnetism with special relativity and a taste of quantum"

Spring 2000


Instructor: Seth Major, smajor1, x6887, DuPont 127

Philosophy/Overview: The philosophy underlying this course can be stated in two, simple axioms. The first is that learning occurs, and the seed of understanding is planted, when we think about a subject. The second is that thinking happens when we actively confront a situation or a problem in a new way. Full understanding normally occurs after iterating this process several times.

An active engagement with the material is especially beneficial to learning physics. As much as is possible, this course is structured to foster active and productive learning: the lecture is split to create two, smaller sections and a better environment for discussion; there are hands-on activities in the form of home experiments and labs which emphasize major topics in the course; and there are problem sets which encourage active thinking. All of these will hopefully give you a chance to understand some of the beauties and thrills, as well as the difficulties and frustrations, of working in physics.

Electromagnetism, which forms the center of the course, is more difficult than mechanics because its natural language is vector calculus and because it is less familiar in daily life (yes, we use electric appliances all the time but we don’t "see" the inner workings very often). We’ll build intuition with home experiments, labs, and demos. Understanding will come with all this plus lots of problem solving. Physics is learned by working and creating it yourself.

The semester’s material will be split into four, unequal sections. The heart of the course will be the first 8 weeks (and 8 labs or workshops) which will be devoted to electromagnetism. We will then spend two weeks (and 1 lab) on the closely-related field of geometric optics. The semester will finish with two short courses in modern physics: a little quantum theory and special relativity. More details are in the syllabus.


Goals: • To understand the fundamentals of communicating quantitative results

• To learn the integral form of Maxwell’s equations and master the key consequences of these equations

• To learn the fundamentals of geometric optics

• To see how special relativity arises in electromagnetics and learn how our intuitive ideas of space and time must be modified

• To begin to see the ways in which classical physics is modified on the subatomic scales

• To gain a view of the methods and culture of physics


Lectures: MWF 10:30-11:20 AM in DuPont Lecture hall

MWF 11:30-12:20 AM in DuPont Lecture hall


Office Hours: Mondays 2-4 PM in DuPont 127 (a drop-in help session) or stop by any time I am in my office. Phys 4 is my main focus this semester, so don’t be afraid to come visit. Feel free to call or send an email about a homework problem, questions on the text, or any other issue related to the course.


Text: Wolfson and Pasachoff, Physics with Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers, 3rd edition.

I strongly recommend that you read over the material before class.


Grade Summary:

Exams 50% (Mid-term 20%, Final 30 %)

Problem Sets 30%

Labs 20%

Exams: There will be two exams. The mid-term will be held in class, on Friday, the 17th of March. The final will be during the scheduled finals time. I’ll announce the details as they become available. The exams will cover material discussed in the readings, in lecture, and in the labs.

Problem Sets: There will be 10 homework assignments. Problem Sets will be posted on the server and will be distributed in lecture Monday morning. They will be due on the following Tuesday afternoon at 4:15 PM. They must be handed in to your grader’s "cubby" at the "DuPont Cubbies" just to the left of the Physics and Astronomy Department Office. The cubby assignments are by last name: A-F are ELECTRON, G-P are FLUX CAPACITOR, Q-Z are LIGHT CONE. No late problem sets will be accepted. They will be graded out of 10 points. While I encourage you to discuss the problems and methods of solution with fellow students, clinicians, or professors, the written work you hand in must be your own. Swarthmore College policy states that plagiarism can result in loss of credit for the course, suspension, and expulsion. Solutions will be posted on Wednesday on the bulletin board outside my office, on the electronic reserves, and will be included in a folder on reserve in Cornell. They will also be available in lecture Wednesday or Friday.


Labs: The labs are planned so that you will first encounter a concept in your reading and lecture before working with it in lab. In the ideal case, the topic of the workshop or lab will appear the week after it was introduced in the lecture, reading, and problem sets. However, later in the semester there will be a "phase difference" of several weeks. This was done in an effort to spend all the needed time on the most difficult subjects of electromagnetism. The lab sessions are mandatory. They meet in DuPont 133-134 starting at 1:15 PM. We will make an effort to ensure that these labs do not last any later than 4 PM. The lab manual will be available in the Physics office (DuPont 144) after Wednesday of the first week of classes. The pages are free but, if you need a binder, it will cost one dollar. You should also bring a bound composition book to use as your lab notebook. Please read over the lab and complete any of the preliminary work before coming to lab. Starred questions (e.g. *Q2) must be answered before lab. The sessions start the week of January 24. At the end of each lab we’ll ask you to turn in a set of answers to questions, plots, and/or calculations to be graded out of 10 points. 

Lab Instructors:

Mon: Prue Schran (pschran1) Wed: Prue Schran (pschran1)

Tues: Mar Ann Hickman (mhickma1) Thurs: Seth Major (smajor1)

Lab reports: There will be two written lab reports due during the semester. To facilitate this writing, your lab instructors may ask you to turn in short writing assignments such as an example abstract. Further details will be discussed in lecture and your lab sessions.


Extra Credit: There will be an opportunity to earn extra credit during the semester. This will occur once and will call on your inventive, creative, and physics skills…


Reserve: On reserve in Cornell are several texts useful for the course. Included is the fabulous An Introduction to Error Analysis by John Taylor, which contains a wealth of information on uncertainty and related topics. The text by Purcell is a beautifully written, but difficult, introduction (we use it in Phys 8). There is also a binder for solutions and other handouts.


Colloquia: On Tuesday afternoons, several times during the semester, there will be talks by physicists and astronomers from Swarthmore and from other institutions. These talks are a wonderful way to see what physics is done in "the real world." The event begins with free food at 4:15 PM and ends with a meal at an area restaurant. If you are interesting in going out to dinner with the speaker, you will need to express an interest in advance by signing up in the department office. Please join us for any portion of the event!


The fine print: A late problem set is one which is turned into the DuPont cubby hole after 4:15 PM without prior notification and approval of the Professor. One third of a letter grade will be deducted from your final grade for each lab missed and for each lab report not submitted. The maximum extra credit will be one half a letter grade.


Syllabus (Summary)




Lab Info


1 (17-21 Jan)

Electric charge, force and field



No Lab

Q, E and F

Scotch Tape HW

2 (24-28 Jan)

Gauss’s Integral

Electric field potential


25 (1-4)

Uncertainty, Error, and all that


Colloquium 4:15 Tues

PS 1 Due

3 (31 Jan – 4 Feb)

Electric field potential (cont.), electrostatic energy, and capacitors

25, 26


Mapping Field Lines

V, U, and C

PS 2 Due

4 (7 – 11 Feb)

Electric Current and simple circuits


The Gauss Integral



Colloquium 4:15 Tues

PS 3 Due

5 (14 – 18 Feb)

The Magnetic field,

Ampere’s Integral, and

Lorentz force

29, 30

DC Circuits: Measurement of Voltage, Current, and Resistance


Motor kits handed out!

PS 4 Due

6 (21-25 Feb)

Electromagnetic induction


vxB Force

Colloquium 4:15 Tues

PS 5 Due

7 (28 Feb – 3 Mar)

Magnetic field energy

Alternating current circuits


Ampere’s Integral

(Workshop) and

Motor Tune-up

Submit your Motor by Thursday 5PM!

Motor Celebration (Fri)

PS 6 Due

(4 Mar - 12 Mar)

Spring Break




8 (13-17 Mar)

Maxwell’s Equations

E&M waves


No Lab

Displacement current

Colloquium 4:15

Mid-term Exam (Fri)

9 (20 – 24 Mar)

From Boundary conditions, Geometric Optics! Wave properties


IxB: Current loop in a magnetic field

PS 7 Due

10 (27 – 31 Mar)

Mirrors, lenses, and interference



Colloquium 4:15

PS 8 Due

11 (3-7 Apr)

A taste of quantum:

Blackbody radiation

Bohr atom


AC Circuits


12 (10-14 Apr)

The uncertainty principle

On waves and particles


Thin Lenses

Evening Observation

Colloquium 4:15

PS 9 Due

13 (17-21 Apr)

Special Relativity:

Spacetime diagrams and

Relativistic kinematics

38 plus



Atomic Spectra


14 (24-28 Apr)

Special relativity in




No Lab

Colloquium 4:15

PS 10 Due

© S. Major 1993-2004 Last modified 19 March 2004 Link to Seth's Net Home Link to Department of Physics link to archives link to gr-qc link to gr-qc/new link to archive form