Physics 11 Offered For Last Time This Year

The physics department has restructured its introductory physics curriculum to remove overlap between courses and to offer students diversity in teaching methodology.

The Physics 11 series will be offered for the last time this school year. The department will replace the course with a new divisional science course called Physical Sciences 12: “Mechanics from an Analytic, Numerical and Experimental Perspective” this spring that will cover many of the topics currently taught in Physics 11.

Even though Physics 11 will be phased out, students wishing to take introductory physics will have a variety of options to choose from based on level of difficulty and area of focus.

Prospective physics concentrators also have the option to enroll in either the Physics 15 series or the faster-paced Physics 16. Physical Sciences 2 and 3 are targeted towards life science concentrators. The newly introduced Applied Physics 50 is an application-based physics course primarily targeting prospective engineering concentrators.

“One of our goals is to differentiate these courses from one another to a greater degree than has been the case in the past,” said physics professor Christopher W. Stubbs.

“The hope is to improve both the diversity of selections that we offer to students and strengthen the science curriculum across the board,” he added.

The new changes—including the discontinuation of Physics 11—came as a surprise to many students. The department decided to offer the course for a final time this coming spring to ensure that students would be able to meet concentration requirements.

“The changes seemed so sudden. I talked to a few professors in the department, and even they said these things were happening really quickly,” said Calvin Tonini ’15, who switched from Physics 15a to Physics 11a this fall.

The shift from Physics 11 to Physical Sciences 12 reflects the department’s broader objective of preparing students with a strong foundation in quantitative scientific reasoning. Professors hope to teach student to embrace numerical methods and computers as tools for modeling systems, analyzing data from experiments, and doing statistical comparisons between the two, Stubbs said.

“We don’t just want students to learn introductory physics,” Stubbs said. “In this day and age, the sooner students become proficient with powerful computing tools, the better off they will be when pursuing technical studies.”

This new focus will be incorporated into Physics 11a this semester. Students will be required to utilize a variety of numerical methods to analyze and model physical phenomena.

“We’re doing some very cool things that haven’t really been done in the class before such as solving problems through Matlab modeling,” said Tonini.

Professors across the department hope that the program will evolve and develop to best address students’ needs.

“I’m not for a second going to assert that we’re going to get this right the first time through, but we certainly intend to iterate our way towards success,” Stubbs said.

—Staff writer Akua F. Abu can be reached at aabu@college.harvard.edu.

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