Physics 321, Intermediate Mechanics

The course

The lectures are based on Arnold Sommerfeld's "Lectures on Theoretical Physics: Mechanics" (English translation). Sommerfeld's lectures, formerly published by Academic Press, are out of print in the United States, but are currently published by Levant Books of Kolkata, India, and are available online. Sommerfeld was a master of exposition, using just the mathematics needed to solve the problem at hand. Certain topics such as the principle of virtual work and d'Alembert's principle are less commonly taught today on the undergraduate level, which in my view is a great loss. In addition, Sommerfeld gives a great deal of historical perspective and presents some wonderful nuggets such as the Euler pendulum, which oscillates harmonically independent of amplitude, and the statics of a steam engine. Many of the derivations and examples presented here follow in Sommerfeld's footsteps. Sommerfeld's analysis of the Kepler problem is particularly nice. The only significant addition to Sommerfeld's work presented here are two lectures on special relativity, the philosophy of which follows from my own freshman/sophomore-level text. In addition, the treatment of open systems and the derivation of Lagrange's equations from d'Alembert's principle differ slightly, with the latter taken from Goldstein's famous graduate text on mechanics.

The plan

There are effectively 15 weeks for this course. The schedule consists of two 75 minute classes per week. I plan to give 13 lectures during the semester to present an overview of the topic at hand. The rest of the time will consist of presentations of problem solutions and more detailed aspects of the material by you, the students. The idea is to divide you into groups of 3-4 students per team and have each team make presentations in turn. Expect lots of interaction between the presenting team, other class members, and the instructor. Team membership is posted here.

Homework and tests

Problem solution homework will be assigned each week. Some of the homework problems will be those presented in class by the student teams. In addition to the problem solutions, I will expect reading summaries with particular attention paid on your part to things that you don't understand from the reading.
In addition to homework, there will be two tests during the semester. I haven't decided whether they will be in-class or take home tests. There will also be a final examination, possibly a take home version.
Current assignments will be posted here.


Grades for the course will be computed based on the following considerations:


Other material