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NYU Physics I

This syllabus is for the Fall 2018 semester.

CAS Bulletin Description

PHYS-UA 91 Corequisite: Calculus I (MATH-UA 121). Physics majors must also register for Introductory Experimental Physics I (PHYS-UA 71). Offered in the fall. 3 points.

With PHYS-UA 93 and PHYS-UA 95, forms a three-semester sequence that must be taken in order, starting in the fall semester. Intended for physics majors and other interested science and mathematics majors. Topics include kinematics and dynamics of particles; energy and momentum; rotational kinematics and dynamics; harmonic oscillators; gravitational fields and potentials; special relativity.


name contact office/room office hours
lecture David W. Hogg ude.uyn@ggoh.divad 726 Bwy 1050 Tu 09:30–11:15
& Th 10:30–12:15
recitation Paul McNulty ude.uyn@244mmp 726 Bwy 973 M 13:00–14:00
Kate Storey-Fisher ude.uyn@392fsk 726 Bwy 973 Tu 15:30–17:00
tutor Yvonne Zagzag ude.uyn@8662zy 726 Bwy 1067 M 17:30–19:00
& W 15:30–17:00
admin William LePage ude.uyn@egapel 726 Bwy 1005

“726 Bwy” is the NYU building at 726 Broadway.

Aims and scope

There are multiple aims of this course, not limited to

The scope of the course is set by a finite set of problems. This set of problems is the union of all the problems seen or discussed in lecture, all the problems brought up in recitation, and all the problems given in the weekly Problem Sets (or other handouts).

All Exam questions on all of the Term Exams will refer only to problems from this extremely limited set of problems. Exam problems will be repeats of problems seen before, with only minor changes or transformations.

Why this scope? The goal is to learn a few things deeply, rather than cover a lot of ground. The problems you will see in this course have been carefully chosen to (collectively) touch on all of the important physics we need to learn, and all of the important techniques we need to develop. By limiting the number of problems we consider, the problem of studying for this course gets changed from cramming on a huge corpus of textbook into deeply understanding a small number of very rich problems.

There is one more reason that the course is built around problems rather than, say, textbook sections or chapters: Each problem will contain multiple physical concepts, which permits us to return multiple times to common, important physical principles. Research shows that repeated encounters with general principles, contextualized within concrete problems, is critical to learning.

Book and materials

There is no assigned textbook for the lecture component of the course. Any calculus-based mechanics textbook published in the last ten years would provide an acceptable reference work. Prof Hogg's favorite book in the genre is Matter and Interactions Volume 1 by Chabay and Sherwood (any edition). If you want comfort and familiarity, then University Physics Volume 1 by Young and Freedman (also any edition) will probably meet your expectations. Once again, the scope is set by the finite set of problems, not by any textbook.

Why no textbook? This course is the beginning of your training to think and act like a physicist, who solves physics problems in the wild. In the wild, problems are presented to you without textbook context and without a guide to the relevant physical effects or equations. This means that a physicist needs to be able to reason, do web research, use the library, and get help from colleagues, and then assess the validity, consistency, and correctness of the information so obtained. This training begins now. (In addition, and relevant to all this, Prof Hogg's view is that essentially all of the textbooks have significant limitations and contain substantially misleading material; we will discuss these problems as we go.)

All that said, we will do some reading from Prof Hogg's lecture notes on Special Relativity in the last few weeks of the semester.

Mathematics comprises a set of core tools for this course. Calculus, vectors, trigonometry, and algebra will all be involved. If you are rusty, brush up.


Grades will be based on a total score generated with these percentages:

all Problem Sets combined 40
best four Term Exams combined 30
Final Exam 30
total 100

Note: The combination of all Term Exams will involve dropping (ignoring) your lowest two Exam scores.

Grades will be assigned in one-to-one correspondence with the total score according to the following percentage ranges:

total score greater than:8076 726460 564830percent
final grade at least: A A−B+B B−C+C D

Why these absolute grading policies? Relative grading policies (in which, say, x percent of the class gets an A) make the student-student interactions essentially competitive. Prof Hogg wants the students in this course to interact cooperatively, not competitively. If you work with your fellow students, and everyone does better on the Problem Sets and Exams, everyone's grade prospects improve.

Problem Sets

A small number of problems are assigned each week to work on as you wish (see the table below). These Problem Sets are to be handed in for grading, according to the instructions and deadline given on each Problem Set. The problem-set problems constitute the core material for the course and set a large part of its scope (see above).

Late Problem Sets (those handed in but after the deadline) will be graded for (at most) half credit. The only exceptions will be for students with properly documented medical excuses that are germane to late submission, or students with religious conflicts. For religious conflicts, notify Prof Hogg in advance.

Please feel free to discuss problem-set material with other students. Working together can be very educational and helpful; it is also more fun; it is encouraged! Of course it is also the case that you will not learn the material and not perform well on the Exams if you have not struggled individually with the problems, so seek a balance. The work you hand in on your Problem Set must be your own, in your own words and handwriting.

Why do the Problem Sets include such strange questions? Every Problem Set (and every Exam) will contain problems that require you to obtain and use real-world information (about, say, the density of rock) and make estimates and approximations. These problems can make students anxious (and can be hard for the staff of this course to grade, sometimes!). However (as noted above), this course is the first step in training you to act and think like a physicist! A physicist understands the real world, and at the precision that is permitted given the data. In many cases, the deep physical insights happen at the order-of-magnitude level!

Furthermore, the challenge of a physicist is to take a big, ill-posed question (like, “How do we make transportation more energy efficient?”) and break it down into many well-posed questions (like, “What are the relative amounts of energy dissipated by air resistance and by braking for a journey of a certain type, with a vehicle with certain characteristics?”). This conversion of ill-posed questions into well-posed questions requires techniques of estimation and approximation that we are beginning to learn in this course.


All of the teaching staff on this course have office hours (listed above), and if you can't make their office hours, you should feel free to contact them about the material of the course by email. You get much more out of office hours or even email contact if you have a specific question ready in advance.

The tutoring for this course (hours listed above) provides great opportunities to get help. Bring your questions to the tutoring, and be prepared to participate.

Importantly, your best learning resource is your fellow students. Form a study group (ideally with students of comparable ability) and work together on the lecture material, on relevant reading, and on the Problem Sets. Choose a regular time and meet. Multiple lines of research show that students who make use of peer support learn better and perform better on the Exams. They also have more fun.


There will be 6 small, low-stakes Term Examinations during the term and one Final Exam. The Exams happen in the last 30 minutes of class time, on dates given in the schedule below. The Exams will take place in the lecture room. The scope of each Exam will be made clear in lecture, but in brief, the Term Exams will concentrate on the material in the previous few weeks.

Why so many Exams? Research shows that students learn a full semester of material better when they are presented with frequent, low-stakes tests. The Exams are low-stakes in that each is only worth a small fraction of your final grade, and when they are combined for grading, we will drop the lowest two scores among them. Each Exam gives you an opportunity to recall the material of the course, and also learn where you need to do more work.

The Exams will be open notes. Any written or printed documents are permitted in the Exam room. On the other hand, electronic devices that can connect to a mobile-phone network or internet are forbidden. Furthermore, you do not need a calculator, so no electronic devices will be permitted at all.

Each Exam question will be a small modification or extension or generalization or specialization of a problem you have seen before, in lecture, in recitation, or on a Problem Set. The idea is that good performance on the Exams will demonstrate that you really have understood the work that has been assigned and discussed throughout the semester (see comments on scope, above).

Missed Exams will be graded zero unless there is a properly documented medical excuse or a religious conflict. If there is a properly documented medical excuse or an announced-in-advance (to Prof Hogg) religious conflict for a missed Term Exam, it will be pro-rated out of the total score. No special arrangements will be made and no excuses will be granted for travel conflicts, no matter what. If you have a non-medical emergency or non-religious conflict that prevents you from making an Exam, you will have to speak with a Dean of your College, not with the staff of this course.

(If you are re-taking only the Exam part of this course, or have any similar circumstance, you must contact Prof Hogg at the beginning of the semester, before the first Exam, to notify him of this situation.)

If you arrive late for any Exam, you will not be given extra time. If you fail to obey any of the instructions given to you by course staff before, during, or after any Exam, your Exam may be graded zero or you may be subject to academic honesty proceedings.


respect for diversity: It is Prof Hogg's intent that students from all backgrounds and perspectives be served well by this course, that students' learning needs be addressed, and that the diversity that students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. Your suggestions are encouraged and appreciated. Please let Prof Hogg or the other staff of the class know if any issues arise or how we can improve our approaches, for you personally or for other students or for students from minoritized groups more broadly.

audio recordings: While you are not forbidden from making audio recordings during class, you must not post, publish, or share them with others, not even in small sound bites. This is because the classroom setting is a private setting in which everyone should feel free to speak plainly and without regrets. Failure to obey this rule will be considered an act of academic dishonesty.

disabilities: If you have an arrangement with the Center for Students with Disabilities, you must present the relevant forms to Prof Hogg one week in advance of each of the Exams.

academic honesty: The lightest consequence for academic dishonesty that Prof Hogg considers consistent with University and Departmental policy is a grade of F in the course and a recommended disciplinary action by the College. Academic dishonesty includes (in addition to the usual kinds of cheating) misrepresenting matters of material importance to the instructors.

staying current: It is every student's individual responsibility to stay up-to-date with the syllabus and any emails sent by the staff regarding the course. Having a broken email address, having an overfull inbox, or not being registered properly in Albert or NYU Classes will not be accepted as excuses for missing things or not knowing about events or assignments.

feedback: Please ask questions during lectures and recitations. If there is something you don't understand, many other students are having the same trouble, guaranteed. If there is some aspect of the pace, content, or structure of the course you don't like, or any other feedback you would like to give, please let Prof Hogg know as soon as possible. If you wait until course evaluation forms are handed out at the end of the semester, you will have benefited next year's class at the expense of your own!

legalese: We apologize for the legal tone of this section of the syllabus. The subject of physics is great fun; operating a sizeable course can be exasperating. All of the staff of this course will do everything we can to make this course interesting and enjoyable for everyone. Physics isn't just fun for Prof Hogg; it is his profession and his calling.


The following table is subject to change; please check back here frequently.

start of week lecture subjects recitation problem set
Sep 03 dimesional analysis, estimation
Tues: dropped bucket
Thurs: mass of the Earth
no recitations this week ps 01
Sep 10 kinematics, acceleration and velocity
Tues: thrown stone
Thurs: turning the car
numerical integration ps 02
Sep 17 gravity and contact forces
Tues: block on an inclined plane
Thurs: icy, banked turn; Term Exam 1
blocks and pulleys ps 03
Sep 24 energy and dynamics
Tues: (not a) ski jump
Thurs: roller-coaster design school
friction ps 04
Oct 01 energy and momentum
Tues: elastic collision
Thurs: center of mass frame; Term Exam 2
bouncing ps 05
Oct 08 impulse, torque, statics
Tues: no lecture: NYU Legislative Day
Thurs: bouncing ball
no recitations this week ps 06
Oct 15 oscillators
Tues: block on a light table
Thurs: spring and pendulum
oscillations ps 07
Oct 22 real oscillators
Tues: the harmonic oscillator; Term Exam 3
Thurs: damped oscillator
potentials ps 08
Oct 29 fluids, buoyancy
Tues: floating ice
Thurs: pressure gradient in the bus
ideal gas ps 09
Nov 05 angular momentum
Tues: gravity-driven flow; Term Exam 4
Thurs: rolling down the plane
rolling ps 10
Nov 12 spherical gravity
Tues: collisions of extended objects
Thurs: long-range ballistics
orbits ps 11
Nov 19 celestial mechanics
Tues: orbital elements; Term Exam 5
Thurs: no lecture: Thanksgiving
no recitations this week ps 12
Nov 26 special relativity
Tues: transfer orbit
Thurs: geometry of spacetime
spacetime intervals ps 13
Dec 03 special relativity
Tues: time dilation and length contraction
Thurs: twin paradox; Term Exam 6
spacetime diagrams ps 14
Dec 10 special relativity
Tues: 4-vectors
Thurs: Thurs: E = m c2
questions & review no ps
Final Exam on 2018 Dec 20 from 12:00 to 13:50

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