Description of Course Goals and CurriculumThis is a second-year physics course on classical mechanics. Typically, students takes this course after they have already completed 1 year of introductory physics (PHY 103-104 or PHY 105-106). The material focuses on Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics and their applications to various types of physical systems. Though the underlying physics is Newtonian, a variety of different topics are covered, such as: formalism of Lagrangian Mechanics, calculus of variations, central force motion, and applications of classical mechanics to topics like coupled oscillations, three-body problem, and rigid body motion. The goal of the course is to introduce students, most of whom will be physics majors or engineering physics certificate students, to classical mechanics, which is a generalization of the mechanics that most students have learned in high school or PHY 103/105. A more broad goal of the course is to introduce various different techniques for how physicists solve problems in classical mechanics; these techniques serve as the foundation point for many upper-level physics courses.
Learning From Classroom InstructionFor many physics students, this is likely the first course they have taken where they do not have any knowledge beforehand (from high school) of the topics covered. Therefore, it is VERY important to attend all lectures. Lectures are 80 minutes, twice a week, and are often quite fast-paced. Furthermore, some of the topics are quite challenging to grasp, both conceptually and mathematically. However, don't worry if you don't completely understand the lecture. The purpose of the lecture is to have a "first pass" through the material, where Giombi introduces a topic, builds up the necessary mathematical background needed to tackle that topic (usually involves a lot of algebra and calculus), and then does example problems. It's imperative that you attend lecture, though, as falling behind and having to get notes from someone else will definitely reduce your chance of fully understanding the topic. Giombi is an excellent lecturer and part of the reason why his lectures are great is that he explains the concepts in clear, methodical manner. Therefore, while it's important to take down mostly everything he says and writes on the board, it's equally as important to parse through what he's saying in real-time, as understanding the concept the first time in lecture will help you greatly when you go back to solidify your understanding in the problem sets.
Learning For and From AssignmentsThe problem sets are considered a "second pass" through the material and are often where you will reinforce the concepts you first heard of in lecture/do the bulk of your learning in this course. Problem sets can be quite challenging and will take 10-20 hours per week to complete. It is definitely beneficial to you if you find a study group to work with on the problem sets, as working with others can show you how other people think about the problems, which will only enhance your own learning. Because this course is centered around learning how to solve various types of classical mechanics problems, doing the pset problems are the best way for you to get more familiar with the methods learned in class. Therefore, it is imperative that even if you work with others, you fully understand how to do every problem on the pset, or else you will not do well on the exams. Regarding exams, there are two midterms and a final exam. Each midterm usually consists of 3 problems to be done in 90 minutes, while the final consists of 6 problems to be done in 180 minutes. To prepare for the exams, you should thoroughly review your notes and problem sets to make sure that you fully grasp the concepts presented and methods learned for solving various different problems. A good way to test your understanding is to look at the problems on the problem set and summarize in your mind which method to use to attack the problem. Don't shy away from tedious mathematical calculations either! I found that often I would underestimate the amount of math I would need to do on the exam, when in fact there is sometimes no other way to do the problem than slog through the algebra. Do the practice exams given as well, as they can give you a good sense of what problems might be on the actual exam. Once you do all of these things, they should give you the confidence you need to excel on a timed exam.
External ResourcesYour most valuable external resources will probably be your fellow classmates. As mentioned previously, find a study group to work with on the problem sets! This will help you learn the material better as you can see how different people approach the same problem that you have been working on. If you get stuck on a concept or problem on the pset, don't hesitate to go to Giombi for office hours, or to the TAs at the problem solving session. Giombi is pretty good at walking you through the problem if you get stuck, and the TAs can be useful too. In terms of textbooks, the lecture notes that you take are probably more useful, whereas the textbook is to be used more as a reference/see an alternate way to approach a problem.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionMost students interested in taking this course are prospective physics majors or engineering physics certificate students. For these students, there are actually two options that the physics department offers to satisfy the classical mechanics requirement: PHY 205 and PHY 207. PHY 207 is known as "Baby Death Mech" because it is taught at a less mathematically intense/rigorous level than PHY 205, and the pace of the course is slower. PHY 205 (this course) is often known as "Death Mech" because of past students' horror stories about impossibly long psets and extremely difficult exams. Though it may have the reputation as being one of the hardest courses offered by the Physics Department, I find that this is not the case, as long as you attend every lecture and take the time to try to understand all the concepts presented. Giombi is a very good professor and if you take PHY 205, you will learn a lot about how to "think like a physicist". That being said, note that PHY 207 still satisfies the prerequisite for concentrating in physics and should definitely be considered by those who don't have as strong of a mathematical background as some of the more intense students.