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PHYS 123 A: Waves

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
TTh 12:40pm - 2:10pm
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Photo of Nikolai
Nikolai Tolich

Syllabus Description:

Welcome to PHYS 123A. My name is Nikolai Tolich, and I will be your instructor. 

In this class everyone is welcome, regardless of other identities you hold in addition to that of physics student.  I expect everyone in this class to treat each other with respect.

Here is a list of resources to help you through this course or other aspects of your time at UW.  Contact me if you need help finding the resources you need. 

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 the following:

  • simple harmonic motion
  • wave propagation
  • wave interference and diffraction
  • optics
  • heat transfer
  • converting heat to work.

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 and Working Collaboratively

If at all possible, please do arrange with fellow students to work through assignments together.  While we cannot all be in the same physical room, please recognize the importance of peer instruction.  You can learn by listening to your peers, but you can also learn by expressing your own ideas and helping to teach your peers.  This is an important part of the in-person instruction, and we strongly encourage you to maintain that practice for the online instruction.

You will be assigned a single TA who can help you with the lecture, lab and tutorial course material.  During the week the TAs and I will hold office hours on Zoom to help you learn from the activities in which you will be engaged.  This is where you can get your questions answered so that you are able to get as much learning as possible from the course activities.  If you cannot attend your TA's or my office hours, you can attend any TAs' office hours (click "Office hours" in the menu on the left for the schedule).

Use the Discussion Board (click "Discussions" in the menu on the left) for physics questions or syllabus related questions.  Students are encouraged to answer each others' questions, but I will also monitor this frequently and will respond if needed.

Contact information

For personal correspondence related to grades, health issues, etc... send an email with your course (Phys 123) and name as it appears on Canvas to me (Nikolai Tolich) at

For administrator questions related to registering, overloading, etc... send an email with your course (Phys 123) and name as it appears on Canvas to Susan Miller at

Class components

This class consists of lecture, lab, tutorial and exam components.  You can see all the components required in a given week by clicking "Modules" in the menu on the left.

Lecture components:

Before each scheduled lecture you need complete the assigned reading (see schedule below).  The lectures include the following graded components:

  • Lecture reading discussion (4% of grade):
    • After completing the reading you need to complete the associated discussion assignment before 12 noon on the day of the assigned reading (Tuesday and Thursday).
    • These are graded based on a thoughtful attempt, not on correctness, and you will be given credit for either asking a question, answering a previous question, or discussing a part of the reading you found particularly interesting.
    • This is a place for you to answer your fellow students questions about the reading.  The TAs will read these to get a sense of common questions, and I will post a general response video, but we will not respond to individual questions.
    • Your lowest three reading discussions will be dropped.  If you miss more than three due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc), please contact me.
  • Lecture video engagement (4% of grade):
    • After completing the reading the you need to watch the lecture video and complete the embedded quizzes before 12 noon on the day of the assigned reading (Tuesday and Thursday).
    • These will be graded based on engagement, not on correctness.
    • Your lowest three reading discussions will be dropped.  If you miss more than three due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc), please contact me.
  • Lecture homework (8% of grade):
    • These will be due on Wednesdays at 12 noon, and will be based on material covered in the previous weeks reading and video.
    • You can access the lecture homework by clicking "MyLab and Mastering" in the menu on the left.

Lab components:

We will use Pivot to perform video experiments.  Your TA will announce how to get access to Pivot during the first week of the quarter. 

  • Lab engagement (10% of grade):
    • Before 12 noon on Monday (starting July 6th) you need to collect and analyze data from video experiments on Pivot.
    • After you start any of the assignments, you can save your work and go back to it as many times as you want before its deadline, allowing you to talk to peers or a TA, and then go back and finish.
    • Your TA will assign pass/fail grades for each lab based on the effort that is apparent from your submission and possibly a more detailed reading of one of the answers.
    • You will need to pass 5 of the 7 weeks of labs or else you will get a grade of 0 for the entire course.
    • In general, we will not accept experiments completed after the deadline.  However, if you could not complete a lab due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc), please contact me, and we can discuss accommodations.

Tutorials components:

The tutorials include the following graded components that combined count for 8% of your grade:

  • Tutorial pretest (1 point each):
    • These become available Thursday at 4:30 PM and are due on Monday at noon.
    • Once you start a tutorial quiz, you will have 15 minutes to complete it without the ability to pause.
    • These are designed to get you thinking about your prior thoughts on topics covered in this course and are graded based on a thoughtful attempt, not on correctness.
  • Tutorial in-class (2 points each):
    • You need to attend and actively participate in discussion at your tutorial section (QZ section) each week to get participation credit.
    • If you cannot attend your tutorial section in a given week, you can attend another section.  Be sure to email your TA to let them know.
    • If you cannot attend any tutorial section due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc), please contact me, and we can discuss accommodations.
  • Tutorial homework (10 points each):
    • These will be due on Mondays at 12 noon, and will be based on the previous weeks tutorial.
    • You need to upload a scanned pdf file to the Canvas tutorial homework assignment.

All the important tutorial information can be found under the "Tutorial Information" menu on the left.  Once at the tutorial website select "12x" and then select the link for section A under "PHYS 123" to get the schedule for all assignments.


Exams will be done online.

The following dates are preliminary and may change.

  • Midterm exam 1 on July 16th at 12:40 PM (PDT).
  • Midterm exam 2 on August 6th at 12:40 PM (PDT).
  • Final exam on August 20th at 12:40 PM (PDT).

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.

Exams will count for 66% of your grade.  Your overall exam score will be based on the best of the following two methods:

  • Method 1: 22% from each of your midterms scores and 22% from your final exam score
  • Method 2: 33% from your best midterm score and 33% from your final exam score

We will chose the exam questions so that the average on each exam should be about 65%.  If the average in any exam comes out lower than 65%, we will adjust everyone’s scores up.

If a student is found responsible for misconduct during an exam, a score of zero would be given for that exam for this student.  If the misconduct occurs during a midterm, Method 1 is used to calculate the final grade.


Your final weighted percentage is converted to the grade point using the following thresholds.

grade point final course score   grade point final course score   grade point final course score   grade point final course score
4.0 91 3.0 74 2.0 57 1.0 40
3.9 89.3 2.9 72.3 1.9 55.3 0.9 38.3
3.8 87.6 2.8 70.6 1.8 53.6 0.8 36.6
3.7 85.9 2.7 68.9 1.7 51.9 0.7 34.9
3.6 84.2 2.6 67.2 1.6 50.2    
3.5 82.5 2.5 65.5 1.5 48.5    
3.4 80.8 2.4 63.8 1.4 46.8    
3.3 79.1 2.3 62.1 1.3 45.1    
3.2 77.4 2.2 60.4 1.2 43.4    
3.1 75.7 2.1 58.7 1.1 41.7  

Reading schedule

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 encourage you to check out the resources available here.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (

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.

Please note that screenshots or recordings of instructors, other students, and course materials during active video (Zoom) participation sessions are strictly forbidden.  Streaming or posting inappropriate materials on any course platform is also not allowed. 

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