PHYSICS 114 - Physics First-Year Seminar in the Natural Sciences
Section: 001 Physics for our Future
Term: FA 2013
Subject: Physics (PHYSICS)
Department: LSA Physics
Course Note:
How society perceives physics and physicists naturally evolves, driven by any number of humanistic and technological factors. The roles that physics play to address societal issues are as vital and critical as ever. This seminar offers emerging topics of broad interest.
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
This course counts toward the 60 credits of math/science required for a Bachelor of Science degree.
May be repeated for a maximum of 6 credit(s).
Primary Instructor:

Simple physical arguments can help us boil detailed complex technical problems down to their essence. Thus, physics can act as a valuable tool for understanding technical challenges in our rapidly changing world. It can also provide a framework that allows us to determine whether proposed solutions to these challenges are realistic.

This course will examine current events through a physicist's lens. The aim is to provide students with the background to be a well-informed citizen and leader in the 21st century. When faced with technical articles in the popular press, you should be well equipped to understand both why they are important and what follow-up questions you should ask.

We will place particular emphasis on the physics of energy. How do we understand the scope of the demand for power in today's world? Where does our energy come from? What options could conceivably take the place of fossil fuels and what role can conservation play? What is the basic physics behind the Greenhouse effect? We will not focus on policy decisions, but rather concentrate on the physical realities that should underlie any informed debate. We will discuss nuclear power and the recent accident in Japan in some detail.

We will also discuss technical topics related to the physics of national security. Finally, we will also investigate how developments in pure science in the 20th century found a home in real world applications that we take for granted, ranging from iPods to GPS and Medical Imaging.

Textbook: Required readings will come from a variety of sources. A major source will be Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air by David JC MacKay (SEWHA). You can buythe book (it's a good book and not too expensive), but you can also access the whole thing for free (both .html and .pdf) at:

We will also draw several readings from Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard A. Muller (PFP). Muller also has a textbook which I think is quite interest- ing. While I will not require it. It is called Physics and Technology for Future Presidents, and you can nd more about it here:

Course Requirements:


  • A goal of this course is to make you understand the science that is happening today. To help you with this, you will be expected to nd your own science article, read it, and write a short (<1 page) synop- sis/analysis. Good sources include the Science section of the New York Times (appears tuesdays) and The Economist. Also consider science magazines like Discover, Popular Science or New Scientist. An inter- esting column (for conservation questions) is the Green Lantern blog on If you identify parts of articles that are especially inter- esting or confusing, I encourage you to point these out in your synopsis, and I'll try to incorporate a short discussion into our class. 
  • There will be additional (usually short) homeworks relating to lectures and assigned readings.

Grade Evaluation: A letter grade will be assigned based on:

  • Homework (50%),
  • Midterm Exam (20%) 
  • Class Participation 10% 
  • Final Project (20%)

Intended Audience:

First-year students

Class Format:

Seminar format 3 hpw, emphasizing discussion and debate among the students and instructor

PHYSICS 114 - Physics First-Year Seminar in the Natural Sciences
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
MW 2:30PM - 4:00PM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

"Sustainable energy--without the hot air" will also be available online once the CTools site is up.
ISBN: 0954452933
Sustainable energy--without the hot air, Author: David J.C. MacKay., Publisher: UIT repr. 2009
ISBN: 9780393081619
Energy for future presidents : the science behind the headlines, Author: Richard A. Muller., Publisher: W. W. Norton 1st ed.
Syllabi are available to current LSA students. IMPORTANT: These syllabi are provided to give students a general idea about the courses, as offered by LSA departments and programs in prior academic terms. The syllabi do not necessarily reflect the assignments, sequence of course materials, and/or course expectations that the faculty and departments/programs have for these same courses in the current and/or future terms.

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