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Learning Introductory Physics

A guide for all students

And...we have a lift-off!

Subhash Antani

Edgewood College Madison, WI

August 27, 2005

Professor Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988)

"Best teaching can be done only when there is a direct individual relationship between a student and a good teacher..." The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1963.

To the Student

Why this book and what it will do for you? Physics is a rather difficult subject for many students, especially for those who see it for the first time. It involves a constant interplay of observations, inquiry, and mathematical manipulations - thus posing a real challenge! This is further complicated by abstract nature and subtleties of its concepts and their inter-connections. Mathematics acts as a perennial deterrent. As a result, many students are left baffled, frustrated, and even intimidated by physics. This guidebook will provide a coherent and compact resource to you - the students taking introductory physics. It is intended as a supplement to existing physics textbooks and as such must be read in conjunction with your textbook. This is a general-purpose guide suitable for both algebra-trigonometry and calculus levels alike. It aims to highlight those concepts generally thought to be "more difficult" to grasp in an introductory course and also to explicitly address some of the misconceptions commonly held by the students. The essential goals of this guidebook are: · · · · To motivate you. To help you develop the "right" attitude toward learning Physics. To emphasize the art of problem solving as a means to build critical thinking and reasoning skills. To make your study of physics enjoyable and rewarding.

The guiding principles behind this book are: less is more. idea first, equation later, questions are more important than the answers, and historical aspects of physics infuse a cultural flavor of this important human endeavor. Understanding of basic concepts and their inter-connections will take priority over excessive details and mere mathematical manipulations. Also, in accordance with the current trends in physics education, our learning strategy will be based on encouraging students to actively get engaged in doing physics. It will also be essential to utilize the necessary tools for learning - namely, mathematics and technology. Mathematics is not only the language of physics but is also a powerful tool for reasoning. Thus knowing mathematics well enough is an important prerequisite for learning physics. As such, it will be necessary for you to periodically review and refresh your mathematics skills during your study of physics. By technology, we mean audio-visual aids and computers - hardware, software, sensors, and interfaces used in simulations, data collection, analysis, and presentation. Technology is a valuable tool in that it removes the drudgery from the learning process. Therefore, it will be important for you to develop facility in working with computers. Here are some specific tips to help you achieve successful learning of physics. · Effective learning of physics comes through conceptual understanding, careful experimentation, and developing the art of problem solving. To this end, learn the definitions well. It is imperative to read your physics textbook carefully. A physics text is not to be read as a novel, but rather with a pencil and paper by the side. Jot down essential points or steps involved in any given topic and think as you read. This will help you fix the ideas and understand better. Often not knowing the meaning of a particular word used in the text or in a word problem causes difficulty visualizing a physical situation. So always keep a good dictionary handy and look it up as needed. You will find that many common words used in everyday life have quite different interpretation when used in physics. Some examples are: work, energy, power, and potential. Also, remember that just knowing the name of a word is not the same thing as understanding. It will take effort on your part and careful thinking to grasp a particular idea conveyed by a word. Memorizing or forcing equations into a problem is a wrong approach to learning. The correct thing to do is to understand what the problem says and think about what different concepts are involved in it. Recall the definitions and use these effectively. Be inquisitive and active throughout the learning process. Think for yourself and discuss with others on a regular basis. Success always takes time and effort. There is no quick-fix or short-cut to learning. It only comes through self-discipline, persistence, and hard work. Do not take anything on its face value but always ask questions like: How do we know what we know? Why do we believe? What is the evidence? Be thorough and self-critical in your study.





Finally, you must confront and solve a wide variety of problems. This is what scientists and engineers routinely do. What you need is a lot of conscious effort and practice - practice makes perfect!

The outcomes you can expect after carefully reading and working through this book are: increased level of self-confidence and better understanding of the concepts and methods of physics. To maximize these gains, you will need to provide the all important desire to learn and willingness to get actively engaged in doing physics. When real learning occurs, you will find that physics indeed is fun! The general plan of this book is as follows. Each chapter will expound three core questions: "What?", "Why?", and "How?" Along the way will be various activities and exercises designed to address the topics being discussed. Some historical flavor will be added as and where appropriate. Finally, a conscious effort will always be made to bring out the overall unity of physics. Welcome to the exciting world of Physics!

Jules Henri Poincare (1854-1912) Poincare was one of France's greatest theoretical scientists. His contributions to mathematics, mathematical physics, and celestial mechanics were often basic, profound, and highly original. The following quote is attributed to him. "The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living."

Table of Contents

Introduction *Chapter 1 Welcome to Physics *Chapter 2 Force and Motion Work and Energy Chapter 3 Momentum and Collisions Chapter 4 Torque and Rotational Motion Chapter 5 Thermodynamics. Chapter 6 *Chapter 7 Electric Charges, Fields, and Potentials Chapter 8 Electric Current and Direct Current Circuits Magnetic Fields Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Electromagnetic Induction Chapter 11 Nature and behavior of Light Chapter 12 Mechanics of the Atom - Quantum Physics * These chapters are completed in draft form.



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