Reviews of Physics 006 - The Character of Physical Law

John Boccio
Andrea Stout

John Boccio
Name: Omitted Year: 2003 Major: Physics (tentative) Professor: John Boccio Taken Fall 1999 Recommends? sometimes

It was an interesting class. I like theoretical physics, and I think relativity and quantum theory are just the coolest things ever, so I liked the subject matter a lot. The class comprises a half-semester introduction to special relativity and a half-semester introduction to quantum theory, both of which are done at a very basic level. It's interesting stuff, but it suffers from its attempt to combine 'physics for poets' with the intro class for physics majors. As a probable physics major, I felt that the class skimped on detail and accuracy because it had to accommodate people who didn't want to do math: for example the relativity portion involved no calculus. It was somewhat helpful as preparation for Physics 7, but I think you could get by pretty easily without it. On the other hand, if you need a fourth class or a natural sciences PDC, it has some distinct advantages. It's not a lot of work (two very easy papers and three labs), and, especially if you're a science person, the material is presented in a relatively simple format. This is not to trivialize the stuff you learn. It's totally mind-bending stuff, which is why I like it, and if you don't like the kind of mind games that make up theoretical physics you probably shouldn't take it. Likewise if you hate simplified versions of things, but then you might just hate science with its necessary simplifications altogether. If you're just doing it for the PDC/your own interest, you might try physics 25, In Search of Reality, but I haven't taken it so you should find someone who has.

There are several people who teach Physics 6. I had John Boccio. He's fun, and I like him, and he loves, but loves this material. he teaches Physics 25, which I think is the more in-depth version of this one, or maybe the more philosophical, I'm not sure. Also a PDC, but no use for physics majors. I have not taken it. You should find someone who has. I hear Physics 6 is really different if you have a different professor, but of course I don't know. Peter Collings (head of the department) was my lab assistant and he's wonderful. The physics department in general is great, in my (limited) experience.

Andrea Stout
Name: Catherine Vanderwaart Year: 2003 Major: Undecided, possibly math Professor: Andrea Stout Taken Fall 1999 Recommends? yes

- This class was mostly a lecture class with a lot of Q&A.
- There were regular problem sets and two major (8-10 page) papers.
- The reading helped if you were having trouble with certain concepts, and in writing the papers, but wasn't essential.

The class can be good for either majors or nonmajors, though the two will get different things out of it. Nonmajors get an interesting and reasonably easy PDC, though those who really hate math may find some parts of the class annoying or difficult. Majors get an introduction to concepts they will need later on, and a nonmathematical approach to physics. The fact that it was very nonmathematical frustrated me sometimes, since I am very much a math person and she skipped over parts of proofs that involved anything beyond high school algebra. The fact that it was not a math-based physics course also made it feel easy and fluffy. I wish I'd taken linear algebra before this course, since a lot of quantum mechanics seems to involve stuff from linear algebra.
Overall, I enjoyed the course. I'd really like to take more quantum physics, because it's really interesting stuff.

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