Physics 331: Classical mechanics


It goes without saying that you’ll deepen your understanding of mechanics and the appropriate techniques in this course.  More generally, through this course you should continue to develop your rigorous problem-solving skills – conceptual, analytical, and computational.  As they help you to solve complex problems, you’ll also hone your skills of communication as in clearly presenting your work.



Policies and Expectations


Required Text: Classical Mechanics, John R. Taylor (REQUIRED) – A colleague once tried teaching from something else,… he regretted it.

Recommended Resource:  A mathematical handbook such as (OPTIONAL) Schaum's Mathematical Handbook of Formulas and Tables, Second Edition by Murray R Spiegel or Pocket Handbook of Integrals and Mathematical Formulas, 3rd Edition by Ronald J. Tallarida.  One of these will be useful for all upper division physics courses.  Alternatively, learn your way around on-line resources.

Recommendation: The different components of the class (reading, meeting times, and homework) work together best when mixed.  Take note of what problems will be assigned, do the reading with the problems in mind and even do some preliminary work on them, and then come to class.  That way you’re attuned to exactly what you need.  If I’m demonstrating something that’ll be useful on a problem, you’ll recognize it and take note.  If the reading raised questions, you’ll be able to ask them.  The alternative – coming to lecture, then reading, and then looking at the problems is apt to be much less efficient and repeatedly leave you in a lurch.  Regarding the text itself,  Taylor’s text is quite popular for a reason; however, it does expect you’ve had (and mostly remembered) a course like Phys 231.  I encourage you to look back at your Sherwood & Chabay to review any rusty topics that come up.  

Homework: 45% of your grade. The homework is intended to give you practice working with the material introduced in class and in the reading, and to extend beyond lecture’s coverage.  There are two components to the homework: Problems, and Discussion Prep.

Discussion Prep: 5% of your grade. As already mentioned, you’ll get the most out of all components of the course (reading, meeting times, homework,…) if you read deeply and before class.  To encourage that practice, by 9a.m. on lecture days, you should turn in three prep items of your choosing: a) first drafts of some of the homework (no final grade will be recorded until homework is due), b) unassigned homework problems, c) questions that the reading raised, or d) something else like filling in the ‘left to the reader’ gaps in the book’s derivations; or putting one of the book’s particularly confusing arguments into your own words.

Problems:  40% of your grade.  More difficult problems will be worth more points (ê = 10, êê = 15, êêê = 20). Some problems will be difficult or require the use of a computer, so don’t wait until the last minute to start the assignments.

Bi-weekly homework will usually be due at 4pm Tuesdays and Thursdays (see schedule.). Each problem will be graded as roughly:


Full points:       excellent effort – clear solution, appropriate notation, and correct results

4/5 points:        good effort with only a few minor errors and a good explanation

3/5 points:        good effort with modest errors

2/5 points:        fair effort or good effort involving serious errors

1/5 points:        poor effort

0        points:        no effort

In order to get a score greater than 3/5 of the possible points, an answer must include at least a few words of explanation or the use of diagrams in addition to calculations. To get full credit, you must include units in calculations, not just at the end. You should be careful to use vector notation correctly because it is impossible for me to distinguish a lack of understanding from sloppy notation. Instead of using boldface (F) for vectors, you should use “arrow notation” (). I will do the same in class. Components of vectors should be labeled with subscripts (,,), but not arrows. Unit vectors should also be used correctly (). Scalars (including magnitudes of vectors, like ) should not be labeled as vectors.

In addition to analytical / pencil-and-paper problems there will also be computational / keyboard-and-CPU problems.  It’s important to practice computational methods since many problems physicists tackle cannot be solved analytically.  Some useful tutorials are available at  Most weeks, there will be at least one homework problem that requires the use of a computer. For computer problems, you should email me your program in addition to turning in any background calculations (you will often have to do some work with pencil and paper before using the computer) and results with your homework.  You may have already installed Python and some of the add-ons we use (Visual, Sciyp, and matplotlib) for a previous physics course; if not, you can find instructions at


Projects: 10% of your grade. You will have the opportunity to select and investigate a topic in mechanics that is not covered in class; a component of your investigation will be a computational analysis. You should select a topic in consultation with me.  See the schedule for dates by which you should select a topic, gather a preliminary bibliography (not exclusively internet sources or the course text, AJP may be a good source), generate an outline including pseudo-code, and turn in your project (a discussion of your work and results as well as your code and output.)  They will be graded on: (1) originality and relevance of the topic, (2) physics content (you should include some analysis of your own, rather than merely quoting the explanations of others), and (3) presentation (is it clear and interesting?).


Exams: 45% (15 % for each) of your grade. There will be three, equally weighed exams (including the final). All exams will be closed book, closed notes.  If something is unclear to you or you disagree with the grading, please give me a call, send me an e-mail, or drop by my office.


Cheating:  Dishonesty seriously undermines the academic pursuit; therefore, it is my philosophy that the punishment for cheating should not simply erase its 'beneficial' effects, but be enough of a deterrent that the 'benefit' of cheating not be worth the risk.  For example, I prefer to fail from the course a student who has cheated on an exam.  According to the University Academic Honesty Policy, all instances of dishonesty are recorded by the Registrar’s office.  On tests, “cheating” is fairly clear-cut.  On homework, there’s some gray; in this class, you should feel free to work together, but the work you turn in must be your own / reflect your own understanding.


Late work:  Except in extenuating circumstances, late work will not be accepted.


Grade: If at anytime you are interested in reviewing your standing in the course feel free to give me a call, send me an e-mail, or drop by my office.

Homework                                45%

Projects                                    10%
Exams                                      45% (15% for each exam)


Final Course Grade Assignments:  Final grades will be assigned according to the following: 


                     93               ≤   A       (4.0)        ≤  100%                                

90                ≤   A-     (3.7)        <  93 ⅓             

86 ⅔          ≤   B+    (3.3)        <  90                                      

83             ≤   B       (3.0)        <  86 ⅔             

80                ≤   B-     (2.7)        <  83 ⅓             

76 ⅔        ≤   C+    (2.3)        <  80                                      

73            ≤   C       (2.0)        <  76 ⅔             

70               ≤   C-      (1.7)        <  73 ⅓             

66            ≤   D+    (1.3)        <  70                                     

63            ≤   D       (1.0)        <  66 ⅔             

60                ≤   D-     (0.7)        <  63 ⅓             

0                   ≤   F       (0.0)        <  60                  


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