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Haverford College
Departments of Physics and Astronomy
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Physics 101:  Classical and Modern Physics I

This is a course for aspiring scientists, including biologists, chemists, medical doctors, bioengineers, biochemists--and physicists. The goal is to help you learn some very fundamental aspects of physics, especially those which most important for understanding life. In this course, we’ll teach you not only what the laws of physics are, but how to use them to analyze how life works. By covering many of the basics, we’ll also provide you with the physics framework you need to build a more detailed understanding of life later.  You'll practice these skills in homework and lab assignments designed to relate physics to applications in the life sciences.

Physics 101 the first in a sequence of two intro physics courses especially designed for life scientists. During this first term, we will focus on mechanical and thermal aspects of life, including fluids. Here are some of the many questions we will address.

  • How does the inexorable pull of gravity affect the sizes and shapes of organisms? What must they do to move around?
  • How does inanimate matter apply forces? How do organisms use membranes, muscle, tendon, and bone to support themselves, get up and move about?
  • Why does it take so much effort to jog along at a constant speed? Why haven’t organisms evolved wheels to make this easier?
  • What is energy, and how do organisms take energy from or give energy to an object? What forms can energy take?
  • What is temperature and thermal energy? How does life harness purely random thermal motion to get things done?
  • How do organisms manage to survive winters and live in cold oceans?
  • How do living things operate within life’s two great fluids: air and water?

The adventure continues second semester in Physics 102, where we’re going to learn about several new aspects of the physics important for life:

  • How do living things sense the world around them? (Sound and light, imaging and detection.)
  • How can we extend our senses? (Imaging instruments such as telescopes, microscopes and CT scanners.)
  • How do electrical signals propagate within organisms? (Electric fields and potentials, electric currents and circuits, electricity and magnetism.)
  • What are the fundamental origins of life? (The elements, nuclei, radiation, and the origins of these in astrophysical processes.)