Physics 152

Michael Fowler, University of Virginia


What is this course?

Physics 152 is the second semester of a long-established four-semester Introductory Physics course intended for prospective physics majors at Virginia. 

The first semester (Physics 151) covers Newtonian Mechanics, except that Gravity has been replaced by Special Relativity, so Gravity begins 152.

A unifying theme of the rest of the course is applying Newton’s Laws to a small segment of a large system to find laws governing the system as a whole.  Examples include analyzing the forces on a tiny cube of air to discover how the density of the atmosphere varies with height, or how pressure and velocity vary as a fluid in a pipe encounters a narrowing; similarly understanding the forces on a tiny segment of a vibrating string or of air in a pipe lead to the wave equation for sound. The Kinetic Theory of Gases combines Newton’s Laws for individual molecules with statistical arguments to build an understanding of pressure, temperature and entropy at a molecular level.

 I have covered some topics at a slightly higher mathematical level than that in the standard textbooks, since this is our most in-depth introductory sequence. This meant teaching the necessary mathematics to some extent: for example, using complex numbers in solving differential equations. I also use history to examine how concepts evolved – the hope being that this will lead to a better grasp of the concepts.