Mechanics: Motion, Forces, Energy and Gravity, from Particles to Planets

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Course Date: 25 August 2014 to 20 October 2014 (8 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

Mechanics is the basis of much of physics, engineering and other technological disciplines. It begins by quantifying motion, and then explaining it in terms of forces, energy, momentum and forces including gravity. This allows us to analyse the operation of many familiar phenomena around us, but also the mechanics of planets, stars and galaxies.


Estimated Workload: 2-6 hours/week

Course Instructors

Joe Wolfe

Joe has won national and international awards for teaching and for research. On the internet, he's best known for Physclips, a multi-media, multi-level introduction to physics. He leads a research laboratory that studies the acoustics of the voice, the ear and musical instruments. This lab also has a very popular website. When not doing science, Joe is a composer and player of orchestral and chamber music.

List of scientific publications 

Recent awards for research
  • The 2010 Excellence in Acoustics Award of the Australian Acoustical Society presented (shared with the lab).
  • The 2004 International Medal (la Médaille Étrangère) of the French Acoustical Society.
  • The 2004 Excellence in Acoustics Award of the Australian Acoustical Society presented (shared with the lab).
  • The 2003 Science Writing Award for Professionals in Acoustics of the Acoustical Society of America.
  • Fellow of the Acoustical Societies of Australia and America.
Recent awards for teaching

Elizabeth Angstmann

Elizabeth Angstmann is a lecturer and the first year director of studies in physics at UNSW. She has taught many different first year physics courses, including predominantly face to face and entirely online courses. Elizabeth worked as a high school science teacher for a few years before returning to university teaching. Elizabeth earned a PhD in theoretical atomic physics from UNSW and also has a masters of teaching from the University of Sydney.

Sebastian Fricke

Sebastian Fricke is a teacher of first year physics and the laboratory manager of the first year laboratory at UNSW. He also develops and teaches online physics courses. Sebastian finished his diploma degree of physics in Hamburg, Germany, with a research thesis in the area of particle physics before coming to Australia to do postgraduate studies at UNSW. He will be awarded a Master of Science from UNSW in 2014 for work in the field of semiconductor physics. 

Course Description

Most of the phenomena in the world around you are, at the fundamental level, based on physics, and much of physics is based on mechanics. You will understand with greater depth many of the wonders around you in everyday life, in technology, in the universe at large. That, in turn, will lead you to look further and deeper into the world and the universe around you. Meanwhile, we think you'll have some fun, too.

This course uses rich multimedia tutorials to present the material: film clips of key experiments, animations and worked example problems, all with a friendly narrator. You'll then do a range of interesting problems to practise what you've learnt, and for assessment. You will use your ingenuity to come up with two experimental investigations using simple, everyday materials (plus a computer). 

FAQ

  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class? Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.  
  • What resources will I need for this class? You'll need a computer with an internet connection. Pen and paper for drawing diagrams and doing calculations. Either a calculator or the calculator feature on your computer. For the experimental investigations, some small items that you can probably find around you. You may wish to use a movie camera, such as those found in many computers or phones, and movie editing software such as can be downloaded for free from the internet, but this is optional. You will need curiosity and enthusiasm. Ideally, you'll have the time and the enthusiasm to join the community on the bulletin boards.
  • How does this course compare with a high school or university physics course? It's at the level of a good, senior high school course. It's also at the level of what might be called a 'fundamentals' course at university: a course designed for students who have never done physics before and who don't have a good background in mathematics. Of course, mechanics is only one part of physics. A first year university course would usually include, over two semesters, introductions to mechanics, thermal physics, waves and sound, electricity and magnetism, optics and a little introduction to quantum physics and relativity.
  • Can I do it without calculus? Absolutely, We do provide a tool-kit resource on calculus for those who would like to see a more elegant version of a few of the derivations. However, you do not need calculus for this course.
  • Does it have relativity in it? There's a little bit: what we call Galilean relativity. None of Einstein's relativity. However, if you're interested, we do provide a simple introduction to Einstein's special theory of relativity on Physclips.
  • What about the other topics I need in high school physics? High school physics usually starts with mechanics. Once you have used some of our tool-kit resources to do problems the way a physicist does, you'll be better prepared for other topics. Further, we provide other rich-media learning materials for high school physics on our site Physclips.
  • Will it prepare me for a university first year course? Definitely, First year physics at university usually starts with mechanics. It will be studied at a deeper level than this course (how much deeper depends on which level you take). This course will get you off to a flying start. 
  • Will I be able to break bricks on my chest and climb walls like the man in the teaser video? We recommend that you don't try this. If you use this course as an introduction to studying engineering, however, you may end up in a situation where people's lives depend on your understanding of mechanics.
  • Who else will be doing this course? Good question! We don't know yet, but we expect to have a lot of good senior high school students taking it as university preparation, and also some university students taking it to help them with on-campus courses in which they are also enrolled.
  • What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class? Most of the phenomena in the world around you are, at the fundamental level, based on physics, and much of physics is based on mechanics. You will understand with greater depth many of the wonders around you in everyday life, in technology, in the universe at large. That, in turn, will lead you to look further and deeper into the world and the universe around you. Meanwhile, we think you'll have some fun, too.



Syllabus

Week one: Introducing physics, mechanics and this course. And taking you through a range of tools needed for physics (and for much of science): units, scientific notation, dimensions, vectors, graphing quantities, significant figures, handling errors. (The course can be taken without calculus, but calculus is introduced in one of the toolkit resources provided)

Week two: Motion in one dimension. Especially analysing motion with constant velocity or constant acceleration. Frames of reference and relative motion

Week three: Kinematics in two dimensions including the motion of projectiles and motion in a circle

Week four: Newton's laws of motion

Week five: Weight vs mass. Contact forces, their normal and frictional components. Hooke's law and springs.

Week six: Newton's second law in terms of kinetic energy. Introducing potential and internal energy. Conservation laws. Energy transformation and power

Week seven: Newton's second law in terms of momentum. Collisions and conservation of momentum

Week eight: Newton's law of universal gravitation. Gravitational potential energy and escape velocity. Kepler's laws and the motion of satellites, planets and galaxies.


Format

Each week has one multimedia tutorial. Each is less than half an hour. They contain film clips of key experiments, animations, development of material and worked examples. Every few minutes, they pause for a few short questions where you test that you have understood and, if necessary, you can retrace your steps with no penalty. You can also access a 'frequent problems' resource, some of the 'toolkit' resources provided and the bulletin board. At the end of each tutorial is a set of longer questions where you will demonstrate what you have learned, for assessment. 

During the course, you will undertake two experimental investigations. Here, you will use your ingenuity to conduct experiments using simple, easily found objects, plus a computer. Experimental reports will be assessed by three of your peers and, in return, you will assess three others.


Suggested Reading

The course, with its various tool-kit resources, is self-contained. We also provide a large set of on-line learning resources for introductory physics, called Physclips.

Course Workload

2-6 hours/week

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