MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF PHYSICS
8.01 Fall 1997
WHAT IS 8.01?
8.01 is an introductory course in Classical Mechanics.
Mechanics means that it deals with the motion of objects: we
will study how the motion of an object can be understood and
predicted in terms of the forces that are acting on the object.
The adjective classical, in this context, means that we will
restrict our study to speeds that are slow compared to the speed
of light, so we will not have to take into account the effects of
relativity. It also means that we will restrict our study to
objects which are generally large, compared to atoms or
molecules, so that we will not need to consider the effects of
quantum theory. (You should be aware that modern physicists tend
to regard even relativity as ``classical,'' but not when they
teach freshman physics!) Fortunately, almost any situation we
are likely to meet in everyday life satisfies these restrictions,
so the results of classical mechanics have a wide variety of
applications in science and engineering.
Why is 8.01 a required course for MIT students? There are three
main reasons, one obvious and two more subtle.
The course will have succeeded in its aims if you come away from
it with a grasp of the basic principles governing the motion of
objects, a feel for the scientific method, and an understanding
of the techniques of problem solving.
- The contents of the course — the physical laws and principles you will learn, and the methods of applying them to practical problems — are important and relevant in many other fields. A civil engineer designing a bridge, an automobile designer laying out the specifications for the engine or the safety air-bag of a new model, or a geologist estimating the likely severity of the next California earthquake all are using, directly or indirectly, the principles of classical mechanics.
- The structure and development of classical mechanics is a good example of the aims and methods of science. We will see how experimental results and mathematical representations are combined to create testable scientific theories, and how the impossible complexities of most real-life physical situations can be reduced to soluble problems by identifying the essential physical features and ignoring the rest. This way of working is what distinguishes the scientific approach to situations from the many other ways of looking at them (e.g. artistic, political, business, ...).
- Because the same basic principles can be used in a wide variety of different applications, the study of classical mechanics is an excellent introduction to the art of problem solving. By the end of the course you should be able to extract the essential features of a problem, use them to set up and solve the appropriate mathematical equations, and make quick and easy checks on your answer to catch simple mistakes.
HOW DOES THE COURSE WORK?
This course is designed in a way which is somewhat different from
most of the other courses you will have encountered in high
school or at MIT. Our goal will be to provide you with a large
set of resources, from which you can choose the ones that you
find most useful. In this way you will be in charge of your own
learning. You will have the opportunity to structure your
studies to take maximum advantage of what you already know,
concentrating your efforts on material that is new and difficult.
Your main resource and the starting point for your week's
work is the written Study Guide, which was prepared especially
for this course. Although it is not quite a complete discussion
of the physics, it defines the content of the course. The
Study Guide is divided into one unit for each week, and each unit
- a brief overview setting out the main themes of the week's work;
- a detailed summary explaining what you need to know and giving cross-references to problems to try; if you understand everything in the summary, you can be sure of doing well on the examinations;
- a list of new ideas that you can use both as a quick review, and as a checklist to make sure that you have covered the needed topics;
- a set of problems and questions designed for self-testing and learning problem-solving skills.
Answers are given to all problems. In addition, some come
with hints to help you get started, while others come with fully
worked-out solutions to show you how to apply the ideas and
equations in the summary to problem solving.
Furthermore, many study guide units include Supplementary Notes which discuss how particular points relate to the real
world, or how they relate to more advanced concepts. You don't
need to know this material to get a good grade, but it should
provide a starting point if you are curious to see how the topics
in 8.01 fit into the broader context of modern physics.
The most thorough discussion of the physics of 8.01 is
contained in the textbook, University Physics, 9th edition,
by Hugh Young and Roger Freedman. When the summaries of the
Study Guide are not enough, you can turn to the textbook, which
provides the detailed derivations and explanations of all the
results and formulae. It also has more worked examples and
problems, problem-solving hints, etc. You should certainly buy
this book as it contains material essential to the course.
Weekly Demonstrations and Introductory Lecture:
Each week begins with an introductory lecture, given
by the Course Examiner. This consists of demonstrations showing
you real-life illustrations of the physical principles you will
be learning that week, together with brief discussions of
important aspects of the material. The Course Examiner is
responsible for writing the weekly homework assignments and the
examinations, and for deciding your final grade, so you might
view this lecture as a useful guide to the aspects of the
material that he considers important!
Your main source of help above and beyond the written material is
your class instructor. You will be assigned to a class which
meets 3 hours a week: two hours in groups of no more than 22
students, and one hour on Fridays in a group about twice as
large. On most Fridays (see the schedule below) the class will
include a 25 minute weekly quiz.
The class time will be split between mini-lectures, teaching
problem-solving techniques, and answering questions, always
concentrating on the more difficult aspects of the week's work.
The classes are deliberately kept small so that your instructor
will be able to give each of you individual attention— you
shouldn't hesitate to ask him or her about any aspect of the
material that troubles you, whether it's a general concept or a
specific problem. Your class instructor does not determine your
grade (this is the job of the course examiner), so you should
think of him or her as an ally who will help ensure that you get
as much as possible out of the course.
Class time is limited, however, so you cannot expect your
class instructor to cover every topic in the Study Guide.
The classes will be most useful if you learn the more
straightforward things on your own, so your instructor can
concentrate on the subtle topics in the course.
Homework will be assigned weekly, and will be discussed in
your classes, and also at the tutorial sessions and TV help
sessions described below. The problems will mostly come from the
Study Guide, but some will be based on the results of an
experiment demonstrated in the lecture. They will not be
collected or graded, but you will certainly find them essential
in preparing for the quizzes and the final exam. We encourage
students to get together in groups to discuss the homework.
Tutorials and Problem Solving Help:
There may not be enough time in class to go over all the
problems that you want to, or to have all your questions
answered. In that case you will want to avail yourself of the
final line of defense, an optional two-hour Tutorial Session on Thursday evenings. A number of class instructors and
graduate teaching assistants will be available to answer
questions and help you with problems.
TV Help Sessions on How to Solve Problems:
Each week Prof. Walter Lewin will tape a one-hour broadcast
to help you with your homework. The tapes will be broadcast 24
hours a day on the MIT cable TV system (channel 10), and will
also be available at several other locations, which will be
announced with each assignment. It is strongly recommended that
you first try to solve the homework problems yourself, and then
view the tape for any necessary help. Try to watch one of these
tapes early in the course, and you will probably get hooked on
Your progress will be monitored by Weekly Quizzes held during the
Friday morning class. These will last 25 minutes and cover the
work done that week. Approximately half of each Weekly Quiz will
consist of a problem that will be only a slight modification of
one of the assigned homework problems. Three times in the
semester there will be a 50-minute Review Quiz which will cover
all the material since the last Review Quiz. There will also be
a 3-hour Final Examination during the normal period at the end of
the term. Grading policy will be discussed later in this
WWW Home Page:
At http://web.mit.edu/8.01/www, the web site (maintained by
the Course Examiner) includes quizzes and solutions from the past
three years. It will also be used to post all announcements,
homework assignments, and quiz solutions as the coming term
progresses. (Announcements and assignments will also be handed
out in lecture, but quiz solutions will be available only on the
web.) You are invited to use the
feedback page to send
anonymous email to the Course Examiner. Feel
free to relay comments, complaints, or suggestions about the web
site or about any aspect of the course. Comments will be
forwarded, if and only if you ask, to any of the class
Alan Van Heuvelen's ActivPhysics 1 is recommended but
NOT required. We have never used this or any similar program
before, so its use is an educational experiment, from which we
hope that some of you will give us feedback. The program uses
simulations, video clips, and audio tracks to help students
develop a conceptual understanding. It contains a large number
of problems and solutions, many of which are illustrated by
animated simulations. The simulations should prove especially
useful for students who have difficulty visualizing physical
situations. The package could also be attractive to those
students who prefer computer screens to printed pages.
Unfortunately, this program does not run in the Athena
environment, so to use it you will have to have access to a
computer with a CD-ROM drive — either a Macintosh, or a PC
running Windows 95. Since not all students have this equipment,
we encourage students who are interested in trying the software
to work in groups. Perhaps the students who do not have
computers can supply the software, in return for access to their
HOW TO USE THE STUDY GUIDE
While the course offers many resources, as discussed above, we
expect that most of you will spend more time with the Study Guide
than with anything else. The material in the Guide defines the
course content from the point of view of the Course Examiner, so
if you understand the contents of the Guide you can be confident
of a good grade. Furthermore, the structure of the Guide is
designed to help you organize your study so that you get
through the work in as short a time as possible, while still
learning the material effectively and thoroughly.
You will each develop your own studying style as the course
progresses, but here we would like to suggest a plan of action
with which you might want to start. The overview is the
natural place to begin your reading, since it lays out in general
terms the topics to be discussed. Then you can move on to a very
careful reading of the summary. When you find a topic in
the summary that needs further explanation, you can ask your
class instructor or turn to the textbook.
The next step (although you may want to interweave this step with
the reading of the summary) is to attack the weekly
homework assignment. Each week there may be one problem based on
a demonstration done in lecture, but the other problems will
mostly be assigned from the Study Guide.
As you work these problems you will be able to find out for sure
if you really understood what you read in the
summary. It is easy to fool yourself into thinking that you
understand something, so the problems should be viewed as the
true test of whether you are catching on. To make sure that you
are motivated to work hard on these problems, the Course Examiner
promises that approximately half of each Weekly Quiz will consist
of a problem that will be only a slight modification of one of
the assigned homework problems. If you really understand how to
do these problems, you have achieved all that is expected.
The problems are arranged in groups of problems on a similar
topic. If you can't get one of the assigned problems, you should
seek help from the resources listed above, or from a friend.
Once you learn how to do the problem, we strongly advise that you
test your new-found understanding by trying one of the other
problems from the same group.
The problems in the Study Guide are each one of three types:
When you have finished doing the assigned problems—plus
any additional problems that you have used to test your
understanding of problems for which you needed help—you
should be ready for the week's quiz. Look at the New Ideas
section to make sure that you covered everything. The text of
this section is mostly verbal, but it includes a subsection on
Equations Introduced in This Unit. The New Ideas
sections are particularly useful in studying for the Review
Quizzes and Final Exam. Since the subject of this course is very
cumulative, it is a good idea each week to read over the New Ideas sections from each of the previous weeks. They are brief,
but should help to keep the ideas fresh in your mind.
- S-type problems, for which complete solutions are given. To offer some guidance in the technique of problem solving, the solutions are broken into what we regard as the key steps to solving a problem: conceptualize, formulate, solve, scrutinize, and learn. We suggest that you read the description of these steps in the Introduction to the Study Guide. While there is no cause to be rigid in the use of these labeled steps, when we wrote the solutions we found the labels surprisingly useful in guiding our explanations. We suspect that if you keep these steps in mind, you will also find them a useful guide in attacking difficult problems.
- H-type problems, which come with hints in the form of questions, and answers to these questions.
- Problems with just the answer given.
One final note—the Study Guide has been specially written
for this course, and it is therefore quite new. We have done our
best to ensure that it is as clear and accurate as possible.
However, if you find any mistakes or have any comments, we would
greatly appreciate it if you would let us know: send e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org, or written mail to Prof. Alan Guth,
room 6-209. You can also send anonymous comments and suggestions
by using the feedback page on the 8.01 web site. The web site
will also be used to post any corrections to the Guide that are
discovered during the term.
Your grade is based on a combination of your marks on the nine
25-minute Weekly Quizzes, the three 50-minute Review Quizzes, and
the three-hour Final Exam. Only the best seven of your
nine Weekly Quizzes will be taken into account, so although you
must work steadily there is no need to panic if you have one (or
even two) bad day(s). There will be no make-up quizzes, so in
the case of excused absences, the remaining grades will be
averaged. A grade of zero will be assigned for unexcused missed
Review Quizzes. Excuses for these must be requested in advance of
the quiz (if you are physically able to do so) from the Course
Administrator. Acceptable excuses will be rare, but will be
granted for verifiable and significant medical reasons, for
religious holidays, and also for serious personal situations,
such as deaths in the family. For conflicts with athletic
events, we try to make alternative arrangements for the student
to take the exam. Excuses which are not acceptable include
doctor's appointments, malfunctioning alarm clocks, the advent of
daylight savings time, oversleeping for any reason, or travel
plans. To request an excused absence for a Weekly Quiz, see your
The contribution each test component makes to your grade is shown
in the table. To ensure uniformity, the Review Quizzes and the
Final Exam will be team graded. The Weekly Quizzes are graded by
your class instructor, but these grades will be normalized using
the results of the team-graded exams. The final decision on your
grade rests with the Course Examiner.
SUMMARY OF COURSE CONTENT
The course is divided into 13 units, each representing one week's
work. Working on the principle of simplifying and idealizing
situations to explore fundamental concepts, we start by dealing
with objects considered as simple point particles (units 1-4)
before progressing to interactions of two particles (units 5 and
6) and then to various strategies for handling systems consisting
of large numbers of particles, such as solid bodies, liquids and
gases (units 7-13).
||Space, Time and Science
||Physics and the scientific method; properties of
space and time; vectors, uniform acceleration, uniform circular
||Mass, Force and Newton's Laws
||Definitions of mass and force; Newton's laws and
applications; practical and fundamental forces
||The Motion of a Point Particle
||Kinetic and potential energy; work; conservation
of energy; force and potential energy
||Systems of Particles
||Momentum; conservation of momentum; Newton's third
law; collisions; internal energy and internal forces
||Energy and Momentum
||Friction and other dissipative forces
||Rotation about an Axis
||Angular velocity and acceleration; rotational
kinetic energy; moment of inertia; torque and angular
||Rotation in Three Dimensions
||Equilibrium for a rigid body; statics; torque,
angular momentum, and angular velocity as vectors; planetary
||Motion of a Rigid Body
||Kinetic Theory and the Ideal Gas
||Model of an ideal gas; pressure; temperature, heat
and internal energy
||Model of an ideal liquid; buoyancy and Archimedes'
Principle; equation of continuity and fluid flow; Bernoulli's
equation; surface tension
||Course summary and review problems
Click here for 1997 course schedule.
Back to the 8.01 Home Page.
Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 1997 12:23 pm