Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
This course is equivalent to PHY 103, the first of two physics courses taken to fulfill the engineering school requirements. The EGR physics sequence, beginning with EGR 151 in the fall and followed by EGR 153 in the spring, intends to provide a more applications-based perspective on physics. This course is intended for first year BSE students. Along with teaching introductory physics, this course is extremely useful for improving problem solving skills and gaining project- based design skills.
This course is based around three main units: classical mechanics (6 weeks), thermodynamics (3- 4 weeks), and waves/oscillations (2-3 weeks). As the semester progresses, the newer material builds on the previously learned content. Lectures take place 3 times a week and weekly problem sets reinforce the material learned in lecture. These problem sets are written by Professor Gmachl and are made up of engineering-style problems that directly apply the course material. These problem sets are where the EGR approach can been seen most clearly due to their applications- focused nature.
Unlike most introductory STEM courses, there is not a new lab each week for EGR 151. Instead, there are three multi-week labs that complement the course material. The first lab focuses on mechanics and energy, while the second combines thermodynamics and oscillation. The third “lab” takes place throughout the semester and consists of an independent group design project that demonstrates the conversion of energy for a useful process (such as charging a phone) or another aspect of mechanics that has been covered in the course. This project involves the most work outside of scheduled course hours, though multiple weeks of lab are dedicated to it. Though students are given the tools to build functional projects, the application of physics to provide a proof of concept or simple prototype is sufficient. This lab emphasizes understanding how specific physics concepts apply to your project, rather than creating a perfectly made final product.
Learning From Classroom Instruction
Lecture: Lectures meet for 80 minutes twice a week and for 50 minutes once a week. Unlike other lecture based courses, this course does not have precepts, so lectures cover both higher level concepts and techniques for solving example problems. Professor Gmachl lectures from her notes and makes ample use of the chalkboard for writing equations, concepts, and drawing figures. Professor Gmachl highly encourages students to take thorough notes during lectures, and they provide the basis of the course. Most of the material on problem sets and exams is based directly in concepts and example problems discussed in lecture. Additionally, Professor Gmachl pauses at points throughout the lecture for students to discuss concepts and questions with each other. This is highly beneficial to ensure you understand what is going on and to work with your classmates. The lectures are engaging and enjoyable, and students are encouraged to answer questions and ask questions of their own. After lecture, Professor Gmachl also stays for a short time to answer additional questions.
Lab: The labs rely on concepts brought up in lecture, but at times the connection between the two can feel a bit unclear. The Lab TAs explain the concepts for the lab but completing the prelabs beforehand is helpful for improving your own understanding of the concepts. Most of the lab is composed of collecting data with your lab group or discussing the physics concepts connected to the lab. At the end of the 2 traditional lab units, a lab report or other assignment is due. The best advice for this aspect of the course is to work with your lab group and ask them or the TAs any questions you may have. The third lab, the engineering design project, requires a group presentation at the end of the semester. It is highly beneficial to plan with your group when you would like to work on the project outside of class, and to anticipate this project to take some time during reading period.
Learning For and From Assignments
The problem sets take up the most amount of time for this course (6+ hours/week). However, Professor Gmachl holds office hours two evenings a week for 3+ hours at a time and is extremely available and motivated to help students understand the course content. These office hours were the most productive times for working on the problem sets, especially because many students in the course came to them. Collaboration is highly encouraged in this course, and office hours are a great opportunity to get to know your classmates and work together on the problem sets. Though at times the problems can be challenging, by working with others and getting help from Professor Gmachl, they are doable. Professor Gmachl values a clear problem-solving approach, which she establishes with the guidelines she provides starting with the first problem set. By referencing class notes and attending these office hours, the problem sets can be successfully completed.
There is one midterm exam and one final. Both exams are in a 24-hour take home open-note format. Since the textbook is included in the permitted resources, I found it to be especially useful for the exams. More important than the 24-hour exam period is the time spent preparing for the exam. Professor Gmachl provides the “setup” for the exam questions about 2 weeks before the exam week. This does not include the exam questions, but the engineering scenario that the questions will refer to. Students are allowed to collaborate with each other and discuss the exam preview as much as they wish before taking the exam independently. This approach emphasized collaboration and hard work over pure exam performance, as students could successfully anticipate the exam questions in some capacity and discuss potential solutions with each other. To prepare these exams, I would recommend meeting in small groups with classmates to predict what questions could appear on the exam and solving practice problems that you make up based on these predictions.