Physics for Poets (II)

Elementary Physics for Non-Technical Students (II)

Welcome to the Elementary Physics (II) course, PHY 309 L. This syllabus describes the class taught in Fall 2014 by Professor Vadim Kaplunovsky (unique #57915). Other professors teaching this course would have their own syllabi.

NOTE: This web page will be updated during the semester! Please check it weekly.

Elementary Physics is a non-technical course intended for liberal-arts and other non-science majors, hence the nickname «Physics for Poets»; it's more about Physics than Physics itself. Nevertheless, the language of Physics is Mathematics, and I will use a lot of formulae. You do not need calculus or higher math to follow this class, but basic algebra is essential.

For administrative reasons, the Elementary Physics is split into two courses, but if you are intesrested in Physics, you should take both. The first course (PHY 309 K) focuses on Mechanics and Thermodynamics, while the second course (PHY 309 L) covers Electricity, Magnetism, Waves and Optics, and Modern Physics (atoms, nuclei, relativity, etc.). The two courses are often taught by different professors, although this time I got to teach both classes: 309 K in the Spring 2014 and 309 L in the Fall 2014.


Before taking the Elementary Physics (II) course, you must complete the Elementary Physics (I) or a more techical physics class covering the same subject, for example 302 K, 303 K, 317 K, or 301 K. If you took a physics class in another university, please take you transcripts to Lisa Gentry (Physics undergraduate secretary, her office is in RLM 5.216), she will tell you if that class satisfies the prerequisite or not.

There are no other prerequisites. Also, unlike the more technical physics courses, the Elementary Physics class does not require a lab.

General Information

Teaching Assistant #1:
Teaching Assistant #2:
Physics Coaching Tables:

Textbook and other materials

The textbook for my class is «The Physics of Everyday Phenomena: A Conceptual Introduction to Physics» by W. Thomas Griffith and Juliet W. Brosing (7th edition). It's the same book I have used for the Elementary Physics (I) class this Spring.

Some lectures will use supplementary notes I wrote myself of found on the Web. The links to all such notes (or applets) will be posted at .

Don't waste your money on any supplementary textbooks, study guides, etc., you would not need them for this class. Likewise, you won't need clickers or special classtalk calculators — any scientific calculator will do. And don't pay for the Quest (unless another class you take requires Quest).

Web pages

This page
Copies of this page are available at Blackboard and at the University's official collection of course syllabi, but those copies may be out of date. The master copy at will be updated during the semester. Please bookmark it and check for updates once a week.
The homework page is the place to look for the homework assignments. Don't look for them on Blackboard, you will not find them there.
The homework page also has the links to the posted homework solutions, and the complete schedule of homeworks and exams.
This page should be updated weekly, and sometimes more often.
Lecture Log:
The lecture log page gives a brief description of all the lectures I gave thus far, and the plan for the next lecture I am about to give.
This page should be updated after each lecture.
Supplementary Notes:
The page has links to a bunch of supplementary notes I wrote for the class or found on the Internet.
This page will change whenever I write or find another set of notes. Please check it whenever I use the notes in class or use a web applet for a demo.
The CANVAS system, which replaces the Blackboard I used in the Spring.
Go to and login with your UT EID and password.
Here you can find the scores for all your homeworks and tests that have been graded thus far.
And that's the only thing I and the TA will post to Canvas. In particular, I shall not post the homeworks themselves to the Canvas, or even the due dates — look them up on the homework page instead of the Canvas.

Course Material

In principle, this course should cover everything in the textbook. Or rather everything in chapters 12 through 21, since chapters 1 through 11 were mostly covered in the previous course, General Physics (I). 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 I will and post them here (at the bottom of the lecture page The exams will not involve the skipped material.


The lectures are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 3 to 4 PM, in Painter Hall, room PAI 4.42. Attendance is mandatory and may affect your grade.

Disruption of lectures will not be tolerated. Persistent or egregious disruptiveness will lower your grade (if appropriate, all the way to F).

For your convenience, I shall keep a log of lectures and their subjects on a separate web page Since the pace of the course may change according to the students' understanding, I will not make a complete schedule at the beginning of the class. Instead, I will simply log every lecture after I give it. This way, if you miss a lecture, you will know what you should read in the textbook and other students' notes.

Supplementary Notes and Illustrations

Some lectures will use supplementary notes or illustrations taken from external web sites. For some other lectures, I might write supplementartes myself. The links to those notes and illustrations will be posted at the Supplemenary Notes page.

Review Sessions

I will ask the TA to give a review session before each exam. I might also give a session or two myself when too may students have difficulties with a particularly thorny subject. I shall announce each session in class as soon as I schedule it, and I will also post the date, time, and room here:


In my 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.

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

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 8/27 and due 9/5. Altogether, there will be twelve homework sets, here is the complete schedule. I shall collect the homeworks in class; please do not bring them to my office or mailbox.

If you miss a class on the day a homework is due, scan your homework and email me the scan before the end of the day. If you do not have a scanner, take a picture with your cellphone, but make sure the picture is readable.

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.

To allow for emergencies, you may skip one or two homeworks without hurting your grade, but if you miss three or more, your grade will suffer.


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. E-books are allowed, provided you use a reader without additional functions and turn the wifi off, but you may not use a tablet or a laptop.

The only brain you may use during an exam is your own: getting help from another person is not allowed. For this reason, during the exam you must turn off your communication devices — your cellphone, your laptop, your tablet, or anything else you might have — and put them inside your bag.

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 a calculator can often speed up the work.

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

Class attendance increases your score in a non-linear fashion, so it helps the poor students more than the better students. For example, a perfect attendance will add 10 points to a 50-point score but only 2 points to a 90-point score.

Here are the specific formulae I shall use to calculate the grades:

  1. The input data for each student are the raw homework scores r_hw_1,…,r_hw_12, 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_12, mt_1, mt_2, mt_3, and fin.
  3. The averages and the combined score are calculated according to
  4. The attendance fraction allows for 3 un-excused absences. Assuming nn=30 to 33 recorded signup sheets,
  5. The combined score is adjusted according to attendance as

The letter grades are based on the adjusted scores adj_score according to following brackets:
A  100 to 11516
A−90 to 10017
B+87 to 90 4
B  84 to 87 3
B−78 to 84 4
C+70 to 78 2
C  60 to 70 1
There were no D or F grades in this class.

These brackets were set after the final exam.

Last Update: December 19, 2014.
Vadim Kaplunovsky