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PHYS 123 A: Waves

MWF 9:30am - 10:20am / PAA A102
Th 5:00pm - 6:20pm / KNE 120
Photo of Nikolai
Nikolai Tolich

Syllabus Description:

Welcome to PHYS 123A, my name is Nikolai Tolich, and I will be your lecture instructor. This is the third 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 simple harmonic motion, wave propagation, wave interference and diffraction, optics, heat transfer, and converting heat to work.

Due to the measures taken by the University, the course will be conducted entirely online. Please note that screenshots or recordings of instructors, other students, and course materials during active video (Zoom) participation sessions are strictly forbidden. Any student caught engaging in this behavior will be reported to the Student Conduct Office.

Given the sudden change not all details have been finalized, and it is also possible that some details may need to change depending on how things proceed.

Getting started

  • You will need an access code for the online homework system used in this course. This access code comes with the textbook. The various options can be found here.
  • Once you have an access code, information on how to access the online homework system can be found here.

Getting help

  • Use the discussion board (click "Discussions" on the menu on the left) for physics questions or syllabus related questions. The TAs and I will monitor this frequently and will respond if needed. You can also use this to organize study groups, or if you are confused about an aspect of the syllabus etc.
  • You are strongly encouraged to attend mine or the TA office hours on Zoom. The complete list of office hours will be published here shortly.
  • For personal correspondence related to lecture, lab or tutorial respectively, contact the lecture, lab, or tutorial instructor. Contact the 12X administrator for questions regarding registering, overloading, etc... 
  • Contact me if emails to others go unanswered for more than a week.
  • Lecture instructor Nikolai Tolich <>
    Lab instructor Prof. Jens Gundlach <>
    Tutorial instructor Prof. Peter Shaffer <>
    12X administrator Susan Miller <>

Class components

  • You can see all the components required in a given week by clicking on the "Modules" menu on the left.
  • Note:
    Asynchronous means that you can do these graded components whenever you choose, but still before a due date and time.
  • Synchronous means that you need to do these at the scheduled timed.
  • This class consists of the following components:
    • Lectures
      Lectures sections will be asynchronous and engagement will occur through graded discussions and numerous office hours through Zoom. The lectures will include the following graded components.
      • Lecture reading discussion:
        After reading the assigned reading for each day (see schedule below) you should complete the discussion assignment related to the reading before 11:30AM.
      • Lecture video quiz:
        At least a week before each scheduled reading I will post videos (under the "Panopto Recordings" menu on the left) and slides (under the "Files" menu on the left) associated with the reading . Quizzes will be embedded in these videos and will be required to be completed before 11:30AM.
      • Lecture homework:
        There will be a lecture homework that will be due about a week after the material was covered in the lecture reading and video.
    • Labs:
      • Labs sections will be asynchronous and online. They will start in week 2
      • The first online lab sessions will be on Tuesday, April 7th and will continue weekly thereafter
      • Your TA will be available via Zoom for the first hour of your lab section. For those who cannot attend the labs during the scheduled time there will be additional times during which TAs will hold Zoom meetings. See the "Zoom" tab in the left sidebar to access these meetings; find a complete schedule with Zoom links here.
      • The Pivot lab activities must be completed by 5:00 PM PDT on Friday nights. Satisfactorily completed labs will be logged into Canvas for attendance credit.
      • Pre-labs and post-labs will be administered via Mastering Physics as in previous quarters.
        • The pre-labs are due at 11:59PM PDT on the Monday preceding a lab, starting 4/13/20 for Pre-lab 2.
        • The post-labs are due at 11:59PM PDT on the Monday following a lab, starting 4/13/20 for Post-lab 1.
    • Tutorials (quiz section in registration):
      Tutorials sections will be synchronous and online through Zoom. They will start in week 2. All important tutorial information can be found under the "Tutorial Information" menu on the left.


  • Your grade will be calculated based on the following contributions

    Component ​Percentage
    ​Exams ​66%
    Lecture reading discussion 4%
    Lecture video quiz 4%
    ​Lecture homework ​8%
    ​Lab Section ​10%
    ​Tutorial Section ​8%
  • Exams

    • Exams will be done online. The following dates are preliminary and may change.
      • Midterm exam 1 on April 23rd at 5:00 PM (PDT).
      • Midterm exam 2 on May 14th at 5:00 PM (PDT).
      • Final exam on June 10th at 8:30 AM (PDT).
    • More details about the exams will be announced soon.
    • 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 establish alternate examination procedures. Exam scores for students who miss an exam without making prior arrangements will be zero.
    • Your exam grade will be based on the best of the following two choices:

      • 22% from each of your midterms scores and 22% from your final exam score
      • 22% from your best midterm score and 44% from your final exam score
      We have chosen the exam questions so the average on each exam should be about 65%. We will not “curve” the exam, so 65% would put you on track for a grade of about 3.0 (Note that this assumes you are doing the other course components). If the average in any exam comes out lower than 65%, we will adjust everyone’s scores up.
  • Lectures

    • Lecture reading discussion:
      You will be given credit for either asking a question or answering a question already asked on the discussion board, or discussing a part of the reading you found particularly interesting. These are graded based on a thoughtful attempt, not on correctness. This is designed to have you carefully think about the reading.
    • Lecture video quiz:
      You will be graded based 80% on participation and 20% based on correctness, and at the end of the quarter your score will be scaled by 1.25 (but not allowed to go over 100%).
    • Lecture homework:
      The lecture homework are done on Mastering physics and can be accessed by clicking "MyLab and Mastering" from the menu on the left.
  • Labs

    • More details about the labs will be announced soon.
  • Tutorials

    • The tutorial section grade is based on participation in each tutorial session as well as completion of pretests, but the largest portion comes from scores on tutorial homework.

Reading schedule

Access and accommodation

  • Your experience in this class is important to me, so 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), please see details here.

Safe campus

  • I am committed to ensuring a safe environment on campus. I suggest you check out the resources available here.

Religious Accommodations

Academic integrity and student conduct

  • The University takes academic integrity and student conduct very seriously. Behaving with integrity and respect is part of our responsibility to our shared learning community. Acts of academic misconduct may include, but are not limited to, cheating by sharing answers on exams.
  • The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution. More information can be found online at
  • If you’re uncertain about if something is academic and behavioral misconduct, ask me. I am willing to discuss questions you might have.
Catalog Description: 
Explores electromagnetic waves, the mechanics of oscillatory motion, optics, waves in matter, and experiments in these topics for physical science and engineering majors. Lecture tutorial and lab components must all be taken to receive credit. Maximum 5 credits allowed for any combination of PHYS 116, PHYS 119, PHYS 123 and PHYS 143. Prerequisite: either PHYS 122 or PHYS 142; and either MATH 126 or MATH 134, which may be taken concurrently. Offered: AWSpS.
GE Requirements: 
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
October 16, 2020 - 9:15pm