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Last updated: Thu Oct 18 11:56:20 am 2018 (EDT) by Tibor Nagy

PHY 241 Fall 2018

Michigan State University


Course Coordinator: Matthew Comstock, Tibor Nagy
Teaching Assistant:

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Instructor Information

Professor Matt Comstock
Homepage: http://www.pa.msu.edu/~comstock/
Office: BPS 4238.
Phone: (517) 884-5645.
Email: comstock@pa.msu.edu
Office hour: by appointment.

Dr. Tibor F. Nagy.
Homepage: http://www.pa.msu.edu/~nagy_t/
Office: BPS 1253.
Phone: (517) 884-5508.
Email: PA: nagy_t@pa.msu.edu or MSU: nagytibo@msu.edu.
Office hour: Wednesday, noon-1:00 PM, BPS 1248.

Teaching Assistants: Molly Janasik (janasikm@msu.edu), Dan Oleynik (oleynikd@msu.edu), Connor Sloan (sloanco1@msu.edu).

Course Description

In this class we are trying something new, teaching physics that affects biology on the molecular and cellular level. If you have taken physics in high school, you may remember learning about how big things work: boxes sliding across a floor, planets orbiting the sun, disks rotating in a DVD player. These examples are all quite useful in teaching you the physics of everyday life, but the physics of a cell is quite different. This is partially because all biology happens in water, but also because every object is so small. However, the physics is in many ways easier to understand because it is easier to keep track of all the objects. While physics, chemistry, and biology are well established fields, some of the scientific questions you will explore in this class have only recently been tackled. A primary theme for this first semester is the concept of motion -- and the difference between coherent, directed motion and the random motion that occurs at the molecular level, and understanding how the laws of physics apply to life at the cellular level.

You can expect this course to be significantly different from the standard physics course. This course will be activity-based and requires the sharing of ideas and working in groups. Activities will include thought experiments, working with open-ended questions, solving problems and (a few) experimental investigations. You should be aware there are no lectures, as this is a cooperative learning environment. Learning physics involves learning a set of skills. Just as one doesn’t learn how to play basketball by listening to a lecture on basketball, our belief is that one doesn’t learn physics by listening to a lecture on physics. You will be actively engaged in problem solving rather than working plug and chug problems. This does not mean problems will require greater mathematical complexity but rather they will require greater thought on your part. The modeling approach used in physics is a general skill that can be applied to a variety of other disciplines, scientific and otherwise.

Class Hours

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:00 to 4:50 PM in 132 Hubbard Hall.

Helproom Hours

Teaching Assistants: Molly Janasik (janasikm@msu.edu), Dan Oleynik (oleynikd@msu.edu), Connor Sloan (sloanco1@msu.edu).

Hours: Molly: Monday, 3:00-5:00 PM; Thursday: Dan: 12:30-2:30 PM; Friday: Connor: 1:00-3:00 PM.

Room: BPS 1248.

Exam Information

There will be three midterm exams and a cumulative final examination. Midterm exams will be held during class. These will be composed primarily of free response questions. Exam questions will be taken from the reading materials, topics discussed during class sessions, and the LON-CAPA homework. The final exam will be held on December 13, 8-10 PM.

Grading Information

The course grade is determined by contributions from several sources: LON-CAPA pre-class and post-class homework, in-class activities, and exams. Each of these contributes to the final grade in the following percentages:

Homework (pre-class reading questions and post-class problems): 30%.
Three midterm exams: 3*10% = 30%. Final exam: 25%. In-Class Activities: 15% (*Collected assignments: 10%, *Class attendance and participation: 5%. *We will drop your single lowest grade for these two categories. The automatically dropped grades will cover the first missed assignment with or without a valid excuse. Only in rare and well-documented circumstances will additional instances of late work be accepted or excused.

There are no midterm make-ups. If you miss a midterm and provide a valid excuse (a written note from a doctor, dean etc.) your final exam score will be multiplied to compensate.

You must take the final and if you miss it due to a valid excuse (see above) you will have to take a make-up, otherwise you will get a 0.0 for the course.

The course grading scale is as follows:
4.0 ≥ 92%
3.5 ≥ 84%
3.0 ≥ 76%
2.5 ≥ 68%
2.0 ≥ 60%
1.5 ≥ 52%
1.0 ≥ 44%

The Spartan Code of Honor: As a Spartan, I will strive to uphold values of the highest ethical standard. I will practice honesty in my work, foster honesty in my peers, and take pride in knowing that honor is worth more than grades. I will carry these values beyond my time as a student at Michigan State University, continuing the endeavor to build personal integrity in all that I do.


There is a course page located on MSU’s D2L system. Course reading materials are available in the D2L system. Students should be automatically enrolled in the course. Students should expect to receive announcements, assignments, etc, through their D2L email address as well as in class. Important documents (including this syllabus) will be distributed in class and will be posted on the course page. Students should also be automatically enrolled in the course’s LON-CAPA page. This page will be used to administer pre- and post-class homework.
Pre-class homework is due Monday evenings at 11:59 PM. Post-class homework is due Sunday evenings at 11:59 PM. The material is organized by topics over the course of the semester. For each topic, there are three stages: 1. Read the material before the first day that it will be discussed in class and do the pre-class homework, which is a few free-response and quantitative questions. 2. Material will be worked on in groups during class discussions using conceptual activities, laboratory investigations, and computer simulations. Groups will be composed by the instructors. Some of these assignments will be collected for a class participation grade. 3. Post-class homework is due after the material has been discussed in class. The written course material establishes the expected learning outcomes for this course, and students are expected to read and think about ALL of the material on a given subject before coming to class.