General Physics I

Welcome to the General Physics I course (PHY 302 K). This syllabus describes the section taught by Professor Vadim Kaplunovsky in Spring of 2010 (unique number 57965). Other sections should have their own syllabi.

General Physics is a technical course, so expect to see a lot of formulae and to do a lot of algebra. I will also introduce and use the concepts of derivative and integral, but you would not have to calculate them. You can take this class without knowing any calculus, but please make sure your algebra is up to speed; if it's poor or rusty, you will find the class very hard.

The General Physics course is aimed at Nursing, Pharmacy, and other health-related majors, and it is also recommended for Architecture, Education, and several other majors. It is acceptable but not recommended for pre-medical students because this class often skips some subjects which may appear on the MCAT exam. I strongly advise all premeds to take the PHY 317 K and 317 L classes instead of 302 K and 302 L, and I will not write any recommendation letters to medical schools.

For administrative reasons, the General Physics is split into two courses. The first course (PHY 302 K) covers Mechanics, Thermodynamics, and Vibrations and Waves, while the second course (PHY 302 L) covers Electricity and Magnetism, Optics, and Modern Physics. Each course is taught by different professors; I will not teach 302 L next year. If you are interested in Physics, you should take both courses.


The textbook for this class is «Physics: Principles with Applications» by Douglas C. Giancoli, 6th edition, volume 1. (Volume 2 is for the second course, 302 L.).

Every now and then, I'll bring some supplementary notes to class, or post them on the web. But you do not need to buy any supplementary textbooks, study guides, etc., so save your money. Likewise, you won't need clickers or special classtalk calculators — any scientific calculator will do. But the lab will have its own manual, and you do need to buy it.

Course Material

In principle, this course should cover everything in the textbook, all 15 chapters of the first volume. But in practice this is too much material for most students to absorb in one 3-unit semester, so I shall focus on the more important subjects and give less coverage to others. And a few minor subjects of lesser importance will be skipped altogether.

When I start a new chapter of the textbook, I'll announce which sections (if any) I am going to skip and post them on the homework page. The exams will not involve the skipped material.

Update 4/22: Because of time shortage, I will skip chapters 11 and 12. The Material from those chapters — oscillations, waves, and sound — will not appear on the final exam. But if you are planning on taking the second semester of General Physics (PHY 303 L), you should read chapter 11 by yourself because you will need to know about oscillations and waves to undestand the electric circuits and the light waves.

General Information

Review sessions:
  1. Review of Trigonometry, February 1 (Monday), 5 to 6:30 PM, in RLM 5.120.
  2. Review before the first midterm, February 17 (Wednesday), 5 to 6:30 PM, in RLM 5.114.
  3. Review before the second midterm, March 26 (Friday), 5 to 6:30 PM, in RLM 5.120.
  4. Review before the third midterm, April 26 (Monday), 5 to 6:30 PM, in RLM 6.126.
  5. Final Review, May 7 (Friday), 5 to 7 PM, in RLM 5.116.
  6. Question and Answer session, May 13 (Thursday), 12 noon to 2 PM, in RLM 5.116.
If you have a simple questions about homework or administrivia, use email. But if you need an explanation of some subject that takes more than a few lines, please see me or the TA in person. And if your question is about grading of your homework or exam, please see the TA first.

Pre-requisites and co-requisites

The Physics Lab 102 M should be taken in the same semester as the 302 K class. You cannot take the class now and postpone the lab until later. (But if you have already taken the lab, you don't have to retake it.) If you have trouble registering for the lab or getting into a section which fits your schedule, go to Pat Morgan (Physics undergraduate secretary), she might be able to help.

If you have taken trigonometry in high school (or in another college), make sure the registrar knows it: Take your grade transcripts and go to Pat Morgan (Physics undergraduate secretary), her office is in RLM 5.216.
If you have never taken trigonometry, you must take a remedial Math class M 305 G before taking the General Physics.

If you do not register for the lab or do not take care of the math prerequisite by the twelfth class day, the registrar will automatically drop your registration for this class. I have no control over this process.


In my section of this class, I shall not use any computerized homework systems. The homework assignments and the exams will be graded by the TA who will look at your whole solution rather then just the answer. You will get a partial credit for a partially correct solution, and getting the concepts right will count for more then getting the right number at the end of the calculation.

Most homework problems will be taken from the textbook, but I will also add a few of my own. Each assignment will be posted on the web page The solutions will be posted on the same page after the due date.

Homeworks will be assgned weekly, but you will get an extra class day after each mid-term test. The first set will be assigned on the first class day 1/20 and due 1/27. Altogether, there will be thirteen homework sets, here is the complete schedule. I shall collect the homeworks in class; please do not bring them to my office or mailbox.

You may do your homework individually or in small teams of two or three students; larger teams are not allowed. A team should submit a single solution signed by all students in the team. If you work in a team, make sure everybody understands the whole solution — otherwise, you will flunk the exams.


There will be three mid-term tests during the semester, and one final exam at the end. Here is the schedule:

All exams are open-book. You may bring any books or notes you like, provided you can manage them at your seat without disturbing other students. But you must do your exam by yourself: Getting help from another person during the exam is not allowed. For this reason, using cellphones or Internet during the exam is not allowed.

Please bring your ID to all tests, especially to the final exam. To prevent cheating, we (me and the TA) will ID all students. If you don't have a UT ID, bring your driver's license or passport.

Bring a calculator. Most exam problems can be done with pencil-and-paper arithmetic, but sometimes a calculator can speed up the work.

The mid-term tests will be at the regular class time, in the usual classroom, and last the usual 50-minute class hour.
The final exam will be in a different room (TBA) and last 3 full hours (180 minutes).

The subject matter of each mid-term test may include anything studied in class up to the last lecture before the test. It may also involve subjects studied before the previous test, so don't flush your memories after the test is over. And the final exam will cover everything studied in class, from the first lecture to the last.

Only two best mid-term scores will count towards your grade. This allows one missed or botched test (because of illness or emergency) without damage to the grade. But if you miss (or foul up) two or all three tests, your grade will suffer.

If you cannot come to class on a test day, let me know in advance so I can give you an appropriate remedy. If you miss the test without my prior permission, I will consider remedies only in cases of documented illness or emergency.


The grades are based on homeworks, mid-term tests, and the final exam with the following weights:

The net score will be adjusted upward according to lecture attendance. The adjustment is non-linear: It is small for high scores but becomes important when the score is low but the attendance is high.

Let me explain the precised method I shall use for calculating the grades.

  1. The input data for each student are the raw homework scores r_hw_1,…,r_hw_13, the raw mid-term scores r_mt_1, r_mt_2, and r_mt_3, the raw final exam score r_fin, the attendence count att_count, and the count of excused absenses excused.
  2. The raw scores are converted into percentage scores as
           hw_1 = r_hw_1*100/normalization(r_hw_1);
    and likewise for hw_2,…,hw_13, mt_1, mt_2, mt_3, and fin.
  3. The averages and the combined score are calculated according to
  4. The attendance fraction is calculated based on 37 signup sheets and allowing for 3 un-excused absences. Thus
  5. Finally, the combined score is adjusted according to attendance as
           adj_score = combined + 0.2*att_frac*max(100-combined, 0);
    Note that this adjustment affects the low scores more than the high scores.

I shall assign the letter grades according to the adjusted scores. The specific brackets for the A, A− B+, B, B−, C+, C, C−, D, and F grades will be decided after the final exam is graded.

Last Update: May 8, 2010.
Vadim Kaplunovsky