Syllabus for Roster(s):

  • 23Sp PHYS 1420-001 (CGAS)
In the UVaCollab course site:   23Sp PHYS 1420

Syllabus for PHYS 1420 - Introductory Physics 1

Here we have a photograph of Albert Einstein that shows only within collab.



“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” (attributed to Albert Einstein) 



A bit about the course: This is the first semester of the introductory physics sequence for prospective physics majors. In this course, we will discuss particle kinematics and dynamics, energy and momentum conservation, rotational motion, fluids, oscillatory motion, waves, sound, and thermodynamics. Together with the second Introductory Physics course, this gives you the basis of what is now called classical physics, which is the basis for most STEM applications. I hope to go in just enough detail that you can pick up from there and study more specialized material where you need it.

Our course prerequisite (that means: a course that you should have already taken) is MATH 1310 (Calculus I). Our course corequisite (that means: a course that have already taken, or that you are taking right now) is MATH 1320 (Calculus II). I will not check on those, but please talk to me if you do enroll in this course and have not fulfilled pre- or corequisites.

Relationship to similar courses: PHYS 1420 is calculus-based; therefore, it exceeds requirements for medical school applicants. We offer the algebra-based introductory physics courses PHYS 2010 and PHYS 2020 specifically for pre-health students. For students who are interested in majoring in a STEM degree, but not physics, PHYS 1425 (instead of this course) is the default choice, although both are covering the same material.

This course and its successor (PHYS 2410) cover "Classical" Physics. When you get into the physics of very small (nanotechnology) or very fast (relativity) objects, you need to go beyond. We teach these things in PHYS 2620 (“Modern” Physics). This course contributes to making you ready to study “Modern” Physics.

What you will learn: The course content is the basis for many higher level STEM courses, and I believe the understanding how the various laws are connected has value beyond listing them on a formula sheet. You will …

  • ... build a fundamental framework of concepts particle kinematics and dynamics, energy and momentum conservation, rotational motion, fluids, oscillatory motion, waves, sound, and thermodynamics. You will learn how you can use these to solve practical problems that you encounter in your career.
  • ... develop basic ability of solving problems representative of those in the work of professional scientists and engineers, by combining physical laws with math tools. Some of those will be short, but some will span the complete real-world process. You will recognize one can use different methods to solve the same problem. And you will be able to check own solutions using estimation, “sanity” check, dimensional analysis, limit checks, and using different physical laws. You will be able to use these abilities for many applications well beyond the material we are discussing in physics.
  • ... train team-work. We will work on your ability to formulate a specific question if you get stuck so that your fellow students or instructor can give a meaningful answer. You will collaborate with your peers at your table to find the correct path to a solution together.
  • ... learn how to self-study. We will use the textbook extensively, and it covers many more examples and applications that I am able to discuss in the lecture.

Though the course will be challenging, if you fully engage, work diligently throughout the semester, and continually improve and practice your critical thinking skills, this course will allow you to succeed in all of our learning goals.

How to get ready: We use the textbook by Giancoli, Physics for Scientists and Engineers, 5th, with Modified MasteringPhysics for completing homework assignments online. We will cover chapters 1-20. Due to otherwise unreasonable pricing, this course will take part in the inclusive access program with the UVA Bookstore. The program works as follows: All students enrolled in the class will have immediate access to your digital course materials through UVACollab for the first 2 weeks of class—for free. After February 2nd (the drop deadline in the college), student account will be charged $70.58.

The inclusive access program is optional for students, but you must actively opt out by the deadline to not be charged. Once you opt out, you will lose access to the etext version of the textbook. No refunds can be processed after the deadline. If you have any questions regarding the program, please email us at Whatever you choose, you do need a textbook for your readings (>3rd edition of Physics for Scientists and Engineers – check the title, there is another book from the same author for pre-health students), and you need access to Modified MasteringPhysics (which alone will cost you about as much as staying in the program). The downside of inclusive access program is that you lose access to the etext after the end of the course. I found it very helpful in my studies and in my subsequent career as a physicist to be able to read the book (and specifically the book I learned from). You can purchase paper copies either from Mastering Physics, or older editions from any book seller.

Signup Instructions for Mastering Physics can be found at

We will be using Piazza for class discussion. The system is highly catered to getting you help fast and efficiently from classmates, the TA, and myself. Rather than emailing questions to the teaching staff, I encourage you to post your questions on Piazza. Find our class signup link at If you have any problems or feedback for the developers, email

Finally, familiarize yourself with the submission process for written work in Gradescope ( may be helpful)

How you are learning and how will you know it: In the Wiki, you find a table of contents and a schedule of our course. You are expected to read the assigned chapters in the textbook. While I will cover what I believe are the essential points in my lecture, I will not be able to go through everything, and your reading may appear in homework or exam problems even if I haven't covered it. Interrupt me and ask questions in the lecture if you find a topic that I should discuss but haven't. Furthermore, practice is essential. You have to do lots of problems to understand the material or uncover misconceptions.

On quizzes through MasteringPhysics (MP): In these quizzes you will show that you read the material of the assigned chapters. I may add tutorials if I think they add significantly to the reading (Some of the tutorials in MasteringPhysics are really good).

On class work (CW): I will hand out a problem sheet with 1-2 written problems that are based on the material you have learned in the previous lectures. The problems will likely be challenging, and we will attack them in groups. This will avoid misconceptions and build team-working skills. At the end, I hope volunteers will show a solution to everybody. At home after the class work day, you will write up the solution and submit it together with the homework through GradeScope. With this you will show that you can apply your foundational knowledge, and I hope the group work leads to lots of Human interaction.

On chapter summaries (CS): The summary should have about the length of the chapter summaries in your textbook, that is, about one hand-written page. They will be graded on having made a serious effort, and if hand-written, can be used during exams. Use your own words, just copying the textbook summary is not considered a serious effort.

On weekly homework (HW) Assignments: We will have 1-2 more complex homework problems on paper. The dates of the deadlines are given in the wiki on collab. With your HW, you will show your foundational knowledge, and you will apply it. Note that I will post solutions to the homework immediately after the due date, so that you can check yourself when you remember what you thought. 

On the Exams: Midterm and Final exam will be closed-book exams. You will be allowed to bring a formula sheet, hand-written, by yourself. And you can bring all chapter summaries if they are hand-written by you. All exams will be held in class. We will have conceptual problems (like we discuss in the lecture) and quantitative problems (like we discuss. in class work and homework). You must pledge that you have not received or given aid on these exams. The final exam will cover the whole course, but otherwise it will have the same format as the midterm.

Your written work will be graded by human beings (myself and a TA), neat handwriting will be greatly appreciated. Label your problems clearly as “Problem 1”, “Problem 2”, etc., and put a box around your final answers. Use of a black or blue colored pen (or use of a pencil) is preferred. Please avoid red color.

The final grade for this course will be determined from: 15% MasteringPhysics, 10% Chapter Summaries, 10% Class work, 15% Homework Assignments, 20% for the midterm and 30% for the final exam.

The grade points from the individual assignments in collab and in MasteringPhysics translate into letter grades according to the following table:

A+ A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D D- F
>97 >93 >90 >87 >83 >80 >77 >73 >70 >67 >63 >60 otherwise

Do not rely on the averages collab gives you, they are not correct.

A few things to help you along the way: I designed this course to be welcoming to everyone. I believe physics laws don’t depend on who is using them, but I do understand that some persons feel more comfortable in an environment with fellow students (and later: scientist) than others, and that being a representative (and sometimes sole representative) of an underrepresented minority can feel intimidating. Judging from past experiences, I can assure you that your sense of belonging will grow with time. I also understand that personal circumstances or unforeseen events can sometimes interfere with your academic responsibilities. I will work with you to ensure your best possible performance in the course. We can meet during or outside office hours to discuss any difficulties you may be experiencing, or suggestions for making the course more welcoming and accessible. Because of privacy issues, you will need to initiate these conversations.

Your TA is Gu Meng, one of our graduate students with teaching experience. He will help during classwork time, have office hours, and grade all but the exams. Please direct questions and complaints about the grading initially to him (unless it is about the exam).

You can reach me in my office, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5 pm in room 169 in the physics building (or by email or Piazza, any time). Yu can reach Gu Meng in office hours, which are on Mondays 10-11 and Thursdays 11-12, both times in room 314 in the physics building.

Personal circumstances can impact a person’s ability to learn. If you are comfortable doing so, please notify me of any life circumstances that may affect your engagement in this class. The Office of the Dean of Students provides a list with resources that can help if you are experiencing mental health, housing, safety and food insecurity issues at or

A few course policies: Due dates are firm, but extensions requested ahead of time are normally granted. In all cases, later work is preferable to plagiarism, which is considered a violation of the honor code. What is plagiarism? Generally speaking, it is any attempt to take credit for work done by another person (including chatbots and "homework helper" websites). If you have any questions about what may constitute plagiarism, please consult with me.

By the end of the semester, those of you who fill out the course evaluation will have the lowest HW grade exempt from the final grade. Additionally, each of you will receive a “free pass” on Mastering Physics quizzes which means one of the weekly quizzes is exempt, in addition to the zeroth quiz that is ungraded. This should take care of occasional illness or other unexpected “bad week” reasons for missing the HW or quiz.

COVID/Illness Policy: We will follow strictly UVA Policy regarding COVID mitigation in the classroom and during in-person office hours. At present, this means: Should you test positive, need to quarantine, or have symptoms, please do not come to the classroom or in-person Office Hours. Email me before the day of the class and I will use Zoom for the lecture. All assignments can be done outside the classroom, but don’t hesitate to request an extension if you are sick.

Tentative class schedule: See the wiki on collab. The wiki also includes links to lecture notes and Zoom recordings.

Please contact me ( if anything is unclear or links become outdated. Please fill out the initial survey at