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Unit information: Core Physics I:Mechanics and Matter in 2019/20

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing and student choice.

Unit name Core Physics I:Mechanics and Matter
Unit code PHYS10006
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Schwarzacher
Open unit status Open

A-Level Physics and Mathematics or equivalent



School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science


Mechanics and Matter

The unit will build on work in the Physics and Mathematics A2 programmes and put the concepts taught in school on a firm mathematical footing. Students will be brought up to a level of understanding and knowledge that will enable them to continue with studies in these areas in the second year Physics programmes.


  • to provide a sound mathematical basis for the understanding of mechanics based on A2 mathematics and the mathematics being taught concurrently in level 4 mathematics;
  • to develop the use of vector techniques (vector products) for solving problems in mechanics;
  • to introduce students to the concepts behind rotational mechanics, the analogy with linear mechanics in terms of conservation laws, the concept of the Moment of Inertia (I) and how it can be obtained for simple symmetrical objects around principal axes, and the relationship between I and angular velocity;
  • to explore the limitations of Newtonian Mechanics and to introduce Einstein's theory of Special Relativity;
  • to provide students a sound understanding of macroscopic thermodynamis and the Laws of Thermodynamics;
  • to introduce students to the statistical physics ideas needed to obtain a microscopic understanding of thermodynamics;
  • to introduce students to the microscopic (atomic) nature of matter, the arrangements of atoms in matter in terms of molecules and crystals, the differences between gases, liquids and solids, the basic ideas behind inter-atomic interactions in terms of simple bond types and energy levels.

Intended learning outcomes

  • Students should be able to add, subtract and multiply vectors in 3 dimensions and be able to use these methods to solve problems in mechanics.
  • Students should understand Newton's laws of motion and will be able to apply them correctly to solve problems for both linear and rotational motion.
  • Students should understand and be able to calculate the work done in a system according to the vector expression
  • Students should understand and be able to apply concepts of conservation of energy, momentum and angular momentum to solve problems in linear and rotational mechanics.
  • Students should be able to construct and solve the Equation of Motion for simple mechanical systems.
  • Students should be able to determine, by integration methods, the moment of inertia of regular bodies.
  • Students should understand the Lorentz Transformation equations, understand the consequences of simultaneity as realised in the expressions for time-dilation and Lorentz contraction, should have a basic understanding of invariant quantities and should be able to apply these principles correctly to solve simple problems in relativistic physics.
  • Students should be able to understand and solve collision problems in both relativistic and non-relativistic cases and be able to recognise when relativistic physics needs to be applied.
  • Students should appreciate some of the principles behind modern particle physics by solving simple problems involving the relativistic collisions of fundamental particles.
  • Students should be familiar with and able to write down different formulations of the 0th, 1st and 2nd Laws of thermodynamics and to apply them to the solution of problems in thermodynamics.
  • Students should recognise the connections between thermodynamics and mechanics in terms of the conservation of energy and the mechanical equivalent of heat, work done on thermodynamic systems etc.
  • Students should be familiar with the concept of an equation of state and be able to write down the equation of state of an ideal and Van der Waals gas.
  • Students should be able to solve simple problems involving heat engines, ideal gases, heat flow and entropy changes and to understand the concept of concept of thermodynamic efficiency.
  • Students should be able to demonstrate a basic understanding of the entropy of a system in terms of the number of microstates in the system.
  • Students should be able to describe the microscopic differences between gases, liquids and solids and to be able to describe them in terms of the simple ideas of inter-atomic interactions.

Teaching details

Lectures, Small group tutorials, workshops

Assessment Details

Formative Assessment Students hand in worked solutions to problems to their tutors who mark and supply feedback. Students will attend problems classes and will attempt and discuss problems. Summative Assessment Please indicate the contribution of each element of assessment to the final unit mark. Final examination : 80% Tutor assessment : 20%

Reading and References

Tipler and Mosca - Physics for scientists and Engineers - Freeman Worth 2008