PHYS 123 General Engineering Physics III • 6 Cr.


Third in a three-course survey of physics for science and engineering majors. Course presents fundamental principles of oscillating systems and wave phenomena, including optics, simple harmonic motion, waves, sound, light, optical instruments, interference, diffraction, and polarization. Conceptual development and problem solving have equal emphasis. Laboratory work presents methods of experimental analysis (modeling, errors, graphical analysis, etc.) and prepares students for upper-division research. Prerequisite: PHYS 122.


After completing this class, students should be able to:

Thinking like physicists Outcomes
  • Recognize and articulate systematic behaviors in nature revealed by their own observations, especially those that are often overlooked through being obvious.
  • Construct knowledge that does not depend on any outside authority; knowledge based on personal observation, reasoning, and possibly on physical laws or principles previously validated by the student. Students can explicitly articulate where they have done so and can devise instances where they can do this in other settings beyond the course.
  • Demonstrate that they perceive that nature is governed by a small set of physical laws and principles and exemplify this understanding by o explicitly employing natural laws as components of a structured approach to design or problem solving.
  • Employing a common approach to design and problem-solving in example cases that are fundamentally related but have diverse surface features.
  • Represent the situation in general analytical, design and problem-solving settings, verbally, graphically, and mathematically, employing a structured approach to problem solving that leads from inputs to answers explicitly utilizing or respecting applicable physical laws.
  • Exhibit a spectrum of problem solving skills including linear causal analysis, and global bookkeeping type analysis (e.g. application of conservation laws). They will productively employ methods to begin constructing solutions before the complete reasoning path is evident. Students will also develop skills needed to validate results or claims by reasoning backward to check for consistency with fundamental principles.
Communications outcomes:
  • Communicate science in authentic forms including accurate reporting of apparatus and procedures, construct arguments that reason physically from observations to conclusion using physical law and mathematics appropriately. The level of rigor expected is appropriate to the level of the course (that is, it increases through the sequence).
  • Evaluate the quality of their observations and physical reasoning through understanding of origins and analysis of measurement uncertainty, limitations of theory and apparatus, and correct application of physical laws and principles.
  • Read physics content written at the college level including texts, journal articles and physics problems.
  • Interpret and generate clear physical reasoning (e.g. physics problem solutions) using multiple representations including algebraic (symbolic), numerical, graphical, oral, written, and pictorial representations.
Specific Course Outcomes
  • Extend the "Thinking like a physicist" outcome to discrete oscillating systems and oscillations of continuous media (and fields) obtaining in such cases the function characterizing the motion of an oscillating system or wave from which all other kinematic and dynamic features of the behavior can be calculated. They will be able in this process to employ Newton's laws, Maxwell's equations, energy considerations and assumptions about continuous media as needed in this process and will recognize the role of differential equations in the general case.
  • Outline the path described above for damped and forced oscillating systems, and for mechanical and electromagnetic waves.
  • Distinguish the properties of waves arising from the medium from those imposed by the boundaries (including sources). Students will exhibit this understanding by explicitly employing these distinctions to identify productive approaches to problems or when predicting the outcomes of experiments with waves.
  • Describe Wave Optics and Geometric Optics as two physical models of the same behaviors and be able to identify the conditions that govern their respective applicability. They will be able to employ each model in appropriate settings to predict optical phenomena and behaviors and to solve typical end of chapter problems.
  • Connect fundamental laws and physical principles to their ordinary experiences and to illustrations of experiences that they will soon encounter in their professional careers (e.g.: physics, chemistry, engineering, earth and space sciences, computer science, as well as related industries).
  • Describe what physicists find unifying and elegant in the simplicity of having few laws of great power and be able to describe or illustrate this in a several distinct topical areas.