Fundamental Goals and Objectives

  1. Understand the role of empirical data in establishing scientific knowledge.

    1. Participate in laboratory work.
    2. Determine if the measurements of an experiment are accurate enough to conclude that the experiment successfully measured what it was suppose to measure.
    3. Critique experimental design and procedure.
    4. Identify how improvements in accuracy and precision could be obtained with the same or similar equipment using a different procedure or approach.
  2. Understand that, in addition to empirical evidence, science involves skepticism and rational arguments; that it is not opinion but is rather a reasoned consensus among informed experts which improves over time.

    1. Demonstrate (on at least a small scale) the critical thinking, skepticism and logical deduction inherent in the practice of the scientific process
    2. Identify examples where scientific knowledge has progressed over time as the result of better empirical data and improved rational arguments.
  3. Understand several paradigm examples of the fundamental conceptual models in Physics which underlie our current understanding of the physical world. Examples of paradigm models in physics are given below.
    1. Define the components of a specific conceptual model. [Instrumental/Procedural/Declarative Knowledge (define concepts, state facts, perform procedures correctly, state steps of procedures)]*
    2. Explain how a conceptual scheme encompasses the empirical data presented in a paradigm case. [Conceptual/Relational/Schematic Knowledge (give examples; identify properties/characteristics; compare/contrast with other concepts, explain procedures, justify procedures, create new procedures)]*
    3. Analyze a paradigm physical situation (described in words and/or pictures) in terms of a fundamental concept and apply the relevant concept in a quantitative way (when appropriate) to predict or explain the behavior of the system being examined. [Reasoning/Problem Solving/Strategic Knowledge (observe, classify, infer, predict, analyze, hypothesize, define variables, design investigations)]*

      * The items in brackets define three different cognitive levels of the depth of student understanding.

Paradigm Concepts in Physics

Content is introduced in our physics courses as concepts which demonstrate paradigm examples of how science is done and as examples of the current state of knowledge. The following is a list of the seven most important concepts presented in our courses. Each content concept is followed by specific examples which are discussed in class (obviously, to varying degrees of quantitative and qualitative detail depending on the course).

  1. The world is made of atoms and atoms are made of protons, electrons and neutrons. [density, mass, volume, units of measurement, pressure, buoyancy (Archimedes principle), viscosity, phases of matter, mixtures, suspensions, aerosols, why planes fly (Bernoulli's principle), chemical behavior of the elements]
  2. The motion of ordinary physical objects can be completely explained with simple concepts.[kinematics (how things move), dynamics (why things move), Newton's laws, rotational motion, motion graphs, vectors]
  3. A complete explanation of the physical world requires both a particle like description and a wave like description (and in some cases both descriptions are needed simultaneously). [mechanical waves, electromagnetic waves, diffraction, iridescence, reflection, dispersion (prisms and fiber optic cables), scattering (why the sky is blue), quantum mechanics, electron microscopes, atomic structure, photo cells, digital cameras, electromagnetic forces along with quantum mechanical effects hold solid matter together together]
  4. There are conserved quantities in the physical world:

    1. Energy/mass [mechanical energy, first law of thermodynamics, heat transfer, work, energy conservation in closed systems, special relativity]
    2. Momentum [why bullets kill but a recoiling gun does not, why cars have seat belts and head rests, how a rocket works in space]
    3. Angular momentum [why the earth's pole points to the North Star, why tops stay upright, how communication satellites can stay oriented]
    4. A finite number of other quantities are conserved [e.g. charge]
    5. The behavior of systems with large numbers of objects can be precisely described using statistical methods.

      1. Kinetic theory [evaporation, definition of temperature, heat flow by conduction, internal energy, specific heat, latent heat, phase changes, expansion, diffusion]
      2. Entropy [disorder, the second law of thermodynamics, efficiency, why heat engines and refrigerators have limited efficiency (why gasoline engines can only be 30% efficient)]
    6. There are four fundamental forces:

      1. Gravity [falling objects, planetary motion, structure of the universe, General Relativity]
      2. Electricity and magnetism (see 7. below)
      3. Weak nuclear [beta decay]
      4. Strong nuclear [fission, fusion, radioactive decay, radioactive dating, nuclear reactors, radon]
    7. Electromagnetic forces are the basis of modern technology:

      1. Charges have electric fields and electric fields cause charges to move [static electricity, current flow, electrical circuits, Ohm's law, electrical potential (voltage), receiving antennas]
      2. Moving charge (i.e. current) creates magnetic field [magnets, electromagnets, transmission antennas, recording on magnetic media]
      3. Changing magnetic fields can cause electrical potential [generators, credit card detection, metal detectors, traffic sensors, reading magnetic media]
      4. Charges moving in a magnetic field experience a force [electric motors, the aurora Borealis]
      5. Electromagnetic waves travel without a medium [visible light, x-ray, gamma, radio, microwave, infrared, ultraviolet, refraction (bending of em waves in a medium), optics]

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