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PHYS 121 A: Mechanics

MWF 10:30am - 11:20am / PAA A118
Th 5:00pm - 6:20pm / KNE 130
Jason Detwiler Portrait
Jason Detwiler

Syllabus Description:

Welcome to PHYS 121A, my name is Jason Detwiler and I will be your lecture instructor.  This is the first of a three-quarter sequence of introductory calculus-based physics. You should find this course challenging and stimulating, and I hope that you also find it interesting and enjoyable.  Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to develop calculus-based models to describe the physical world pertaining to  motion (in one or more dimensions), momentum, energy, force, rotational motion, and gravity.


Getting started

  • The required material for this course can be found here.
  • Information on accessing the online homework and in-class quiz system can be found here.


Class components

  • This class consists of the following components:
    • Lectures: Research shows that students learn best if they come to class prepared and the class time is used to engage in problem solving and discussion. Therefore you will be expected to have read the assigned reading before class (see schedule below). Once you have done the assigned reading complete the lecture reading quiz. This allows me and you to assess which material to focus on. A significant fraction of class time will be used for in-class quizzes. These require you to bring a web enabled device to lecture, so please contact me if you do not have access to a web enabled device. Finally, a weekly lecture homework allows you to practice quantitative problem solving skills, which will be an important skill to answer exam questions.
    • Labs: These will allow you to apply what you have learned to physical systems and they will allow you to "discover" physical laws. Lab consists of eight in-class labs and an online pre-lab and post-lab associated with each lab. All important lab information can be found under the "Lab Information" menu on the left. But please note that you will receive a grade of 0.0 for the entire 5 credit course unless you do both of the following
      • Attend at least 6 lab in-class sessions
      • Earn at least 50% for the total of the lab on-line components 
    • Tutorials (called "quiz section" in registration): These will focus on developing your conceptual understanding of physical laws though a scaffolded discovery process. All important lab information can be found under the "Tutorial Information" menu on the left.
  • Each component provides a different way of learning the material. The three components are carefully coordinated, but are not necessarily synchronized. For instance, you may sometimes see something in lab before it is discussed in lecture.


Contact info

  • Below is the contact information. In order to get a prompt response, be sure to contact the correct person. Contact your lab or tutorial teaching assistants (TAs) with questions about your lab or tutorial section, including missed or incorrect grades. Contact the lab or tutorial instructors for special accommodations or lab and tutorial related questions, or if your emails to your TA go unanswered. Contact me for special accommodations or course related questions in lecture, or emails to others go unanswered for more than a week. Contact the 12X administrator for questions regarding registering, overloading, etc. Contact the undergraduate adviser if you are interested in becoming a physics major.
  • Lecture instructor Jason Detwiler <>
    Lab instructor Prof. Gordon Watts <>
    Lab TA Lab schedule with TA contact information.
    Tutorial instructor Prof. Peter Shaffer <>
    Tutorial TA Tutorial schedule with TA contact information.
    12X Administrator Susan Miller <>
    Undergraduate adviser Margot Nims <>


Weekly assignment due times

  • Done via Due
    Lecture reading quizzes MasteringPhysics 7:30 AM the morning of each lecture
    Lecture in-class quizzes Learning Catalytics  During lecture
    Lecture homework MasteringPhysics Tuesdays at 11:59 PM 
    Lab pre-labs and post-labs  MasteringPhysics Sundays at 11:59 PM
    Tutorial pretest Link* on tutorial page Sundays at 11:59 PM
    Tutorial homework Paper in tutorial course pack Mondays at 2:30 PM
  • *Note the link becomes available on Friday afternoons, and once started you have 15 minutes to finish. You will be given full credit for an honest attempt.



  • Lectures are from 10:30 AM to 11:20 PM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in lecture hall A118 of PAA. I will post slides under the "Files" menu on the left after class. If you cannot attend lecture, you can find recordings of the lectures under the "Panopto Recordings" menu on the left.
  • The Thursday 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM slot is used for exam preparation and exams as listed below. The location will be Kane Hall room 130; we will not meet any other Thursday.
  • Thursday sessions schedule:
  • The final exam will be on June 10th from 8:30 AM to 10:20 AM in our regular lecture room, PAA 118.
  • Note that there are no make-up exams. So, students with outside professional, service, or career commitments (i.e. military service, ROTC, professional conference presentation, NCAA sports, etc.) conflicting with the exam dates must contact me early in the quarter to make alternative arrangements. Exam scores for students who miss an exam without making prior arrangements will be zero.
  • Here is the schedule for exams, textbook reading, tutorials, and labs: schedule


Getting help

  • If you have a physics question I encourage you to use the "Discussions" board linked from the menu on the left. I will monitor the Discussions board and respond as needed. You can also use this board to organize study groups, or if you are confused about an aspect of the syllabus, class logistics, etc.
  • There is a physics study center where students are encouraged to work cooperatively in small groups before seeking assistance from teaching assistants.
  • Students can also get help from teaching assistants at CLUE.
  • You are strongly encouraged to visit me and/or the other 121 professors regularly during office hours in the physics study center:
  • Prof. Detwiler: Mondays 11:30-12:30 (after class)
  • Prof. Olmstead: Tuesdays 4-5 pm
  • Prof. Chu: Thursdays 4-5 pm



  • Details on how your grade will be calculated can be found here.


Classroom Rules and Courtesies

Everyone with an interest in learning physics is welcome in this class. Science is for everyone, irrespective of age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, creed, or nationality. Diversity of outlook and experiences strengthens science and accelerates its progress. In this class, we aim to provide a welcoming and supportive learning environment for all students.

We have ~200 students in this class, and that requires a few common sense rules to help everyone learn.

  • Please wait for the previous class to leave before you try to enter the room.
  • Please fill in to the center of the seat rows. We want to avoid having late-arriving students climbing over you and/or sitting in the aisles.
  • Please avoid wearing intense fragrances. In a class this size there is bound to be at least a few students who are sensitive to odors.
  • Please do not talk with each other during class unless we have explicitly taken a break for you to work on problems and/or discuss things with your neighbor.
  • Please refrain from doing non-class-related work, email, browsing, etc., during lecture as it can be very distracting, especially to those students sitting behind you.
  • If you know you will need to leave class early, please choose a seat near the aisle in the back of the room.
  • To encourage everyone to participate in classroom discussions, I use random-calling tools for soliciting answers to questions. Please do your best to answer when called upon.
  • Above all, please be respectful toward each other.



We strive to create inclusive and accessible learning environments. If you have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but are not limited to: mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are advised to contact DRS. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor, and DRS.


Reporting Classroom Issues

If you have an issue with how class is being conducted, or with the actions of a professor, teaching assistant, or peer, note that most classroom issues result from misunderstandings that can be clarified by discussing them with your instructor, either singly or as a group. If you either do not feel comfortable bringing the issue to the instructor directly or are not satisfied with your instructor's response, you may report the issue to Prof. Olmstead (the Physics undergraduate faculty advisor) or Prof. Heckel (the department chair). For more serious concerns and conflicts, the following campus resources are available:

Catalog Description: 
Basic principles of mechanics and experiments in mechanics for physical science and engineering majors. Lecture tutorial and lab components must all be taken to receive credit. Credit is not given for both PHYS 114 and PHYS 121. Prerequisite: either MATH 124 or MATH 134, which may be taken concurrently. Offered: AWSpS.
GE Requirements: 
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning (QSR)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:22pm