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PHYS 321 A: Electromagnetism I

Meeting Time: 
TTh 8:30am - 9:50am
PAA A118
Jason Detwiler Portrait
Jason Detwiler

Syllabus Description:

TTh 8:30-9:50, PAA A118

Instructor: Jason Detwiler (
Office: PAB B444
Office Hours (on Zoom): Tuesdays 3:00-4:30pm PT (Zoom link)
Best way to contact: Canvas Mail

TAs: Jesse Ashworth, Mark D'Souza, Yasmene Elhady, Eric Lester, Tommy Nguyen
Office Hours (on Zoom):
Jesse Ashworth - Fridays 5:00-6:00pm PT (Zoom link)
Tommy Nguyen - Mondays 5:30-6:30pm PT, through November 8
Mark D'Souza - Mondays 5:30-6:30pm PT, from November 15 onward (Zoom link)
Note: No TA office hours during the week of November 22 (Thanksgiving week) or during finals week

Tutorial Zoom Links
AA-1 (TA: Yasmene Elhady):
AA-2 (TA: Tommy Nguyen):

AB-1 (TA: Yasmene Elhady):
AB-2 (TA: Jesse Ashworth):

AC-1 (TA: Eric Lester):
AC-2 (TA: Jesse Ashworth):

AD-1 (TA: Mark D'Souza):
AD-2 (TA: Eric Lester):

AF-1 (TA: Mark D'Souza):
AF-2 (TA: Tommy Nguyen):

Welcome to PHYS 321 (Autumn 2021)

This the first of a three-quarter sequence of electromagnetism for advanced undergraduates. This first course focuses on Electrostatics: static electric fields and electric potentials in vacuum and in matter.

Course goals:

  • Develop a basic familiarity with classical field theory, with a focus on scalar fields and curl-free vector fields
  • Develop an intuition for static electric fields and electric potentials in vacuum and in matter
  • Develop a toolkit of mathematical skills for manipulating scalar and vector fields and solving related problems

Lectures will be held in person and students are encouraged to attend to participate in class discussions. The lectures will be recorded and made available in the Panopto Recordings area on Canvas and can be viewed remotely. All assignments are handed in electronically. Tutorials will be completely virtual. Exams will be in-person only.

Griffiths, "Introduction to Electrodynamics," 4th Ed. The bookstore is ordering more books. In the meantime, you can do the readings using this pdf of the first 2 chapters.

Pre-Lecture Questions:
Pre-lecture questions will be posted to Canvas and will be due by 8pm the night before lecture for full credit; half-credit will be awarded through the start of lecture.

In-Class Questions:
In-class questions will use Poll Everywhere. These will be unscored.

Weekly Homework Sets:
Homework problems will usually be taken from Griffiths, sometimes with minor modifications. Solutions to some of these problems can be found online, however students wishing to pass exams are strongly advised to make an effort to solve the problems on their own before looking for help. Students are also strongly encouraged to work on homework with a group of peers after attempting solutions on their own. Strive to understand each problem to the point where you would be able to solve it without help if you were asked the same question again.

Homework assignments will be posted to Canvas and are due at the start of class on the assigned due date. You must post a pdf of your solutions to Canvas (numerous smartphone / desktop apps are available to convert photos to a pdf, the department and libraries also have copiers that scan to pdf). Late homework is penalized 25% per day for two days (including weekends and holidays), after which time solutions will be posted and no further credit is available. 2 problems will be fully graded at random, and you will receive a smaller amount of credit for completing the full assignment. See below for the regrade policy.

There will be two in-class midterms and one final exam. You will be allowed to bring one 8.5x11" page of your own hand-written notes (you may use both sides). A calculator should not be necessary but you may use a non-web-enabled calculator if you would like. See below for regrade policy.

In tutorial you will work in groups of about 3-4 students. Your group will discuss problems designed to help you construct a conceptual understanding of physical laws though a research-based, scaffolded-discovery process. Initially you may find the questions challenging and not easy to answer on your own. Tutorial sections are designed to be a comfortable environment for you to make mistakes and to refine your ideas. In the process you will learn how to reflect on your reasoning and to identify where you might make errors.

Tutorial graded components:

  • Tutorial pretests (2% of grade):
    • These are designed to get you thinking about your ideas on topics covered in this course. They are graded based on a thoughtful attempt, not on correctness.
    • These typically become available Thursdays at 10:00am PDT and are due on Sundays at 11:59pm PDT.
    • Once you start a pretest, you will have 25 minutes to complete it without the ability to pause.
    • Your lowest tutorial pretest score will be automatically dropped.
    • If you miss more than one tutorial pretest due to a valid reason (family or medical emergency, etc.), please contact Jesse, and your tutorial pretest score can be excused.
  • Tutorial participation (3% of grade):
    • Tutorials will be held over Zoom. Turning your camera on is not required, but you are expected to actively participate regardless.  See this document for instructions on using Zoom in physics tutorials.
    • The in-class tutorial packet is provided for you.
    • Each tutorial section is split into two subsections, separately run by two TAs.  See this page to find out which subsection you are assigned to.
    • Please attended the section you are registered for / assigned to, if able. If you cannot attend your tutorial section in a given week, you can attend a different section.
    • A schedule of tutorials, together with Zoom links, can be found at the top of this syllabus page.
    • Your lowest tutorial in-class score will be automatically dropped. However, you are still responsible for submitting the associated tutorial homework on time.
    • If you miss more than one tutorial in-class due to a valid reason (family or medical emergency, etc.), please contact your tutorial TA, and your tutorial in-class score can be excused.
  • Tutorial homework (10% of grade):
    • Each tutorial has homework that is typically due at 11:59pm PDT the Sunday after you have worked through the tutorial.
    • The tutorial homework packet is provided for you.
    • For each homework, you need to upload a scanned pdf file to the Canvas tutorial homework assignment.
    • Only part of the tutorial homework is graded in detail (8 points); the rest is examined for completeness (2 points).
    • Your lowest tutorial homework score will be automatically dropped.
    • You can submit tutorial homework up to 1 week late for a 50% deduction.
    • If you need to submit a tutorial homework late due to a valid reason (family or medical emergency, etc.), please contact your tutorial TA, and the due date can be extended without penalty.

Your course grade will be computed from the following elements:

  • Two midterm exams: 17% each (34% total)
  • Final exam: 26%
  • Homework assignments: 20%
  • Tutorials: 15%
  • Pre-lecture quizzes: 5%

At the end of the quarter scores will be rescaled with 4.0 corresponding to 95% of the total available points. If this results in fewer 4.0 earners and/or a course mean below the historical averages for this course, grades will be curved up.

Regrade requests for homework or exams can be made for up to 1 week after grades are posted. Your regrade request should be submitted directly to the relevant grader by email -- their contact info is posted on the corresponding homework or exam page in canvas. The regrade request should clearly state your argument, and must refer to the solutions when relevant.

Other 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 ~120 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 very sensitive to perfumes.
  • 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.

Additional Covid-related guidelines:

  • By campus-wide mandate, students are required to wear a mask at all times in the classroom, and eating and drinking are not permitted. See this notice from UW Community Standards and Student Conduct for details.
  • Prof. Detwiler (only) has received permission for our lecture hall to remove his mask while lecturing to aid in clarity / student understanding.
  • Spread out in class to the extent possible to maximize social distancing.
  • After class Prof. Detwiler will meet students with brief questions outside the building under the awning. Please form a socially-distanced line there if you have a quick question.

Access and Accommodations:
Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

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.

If you are a student athlete or musician with schedule conflicts, or have other essential conflicts (presenting at a research conference, job interview, etc.) please contact Prof. Detwiler well in advance of the expected conflicts

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, please contact Physics Student Services. Our Academic Counselors are well-versed in resources for dealing with classroom and interpersonal issues, as well as in helping you evaluate their severity. If you wish a complaint to remain anonymous as your issue is being reported to Prof. Olmstead (the Physics undergraduate faculty advisor), Prof. Yaffe (the department chair), Safe Campus (see below), or other campus resources, our Physics Student Services team will respect your request. You are also welcome to come directly to Prof. Olmstead, who will maintain your anonymity while discussing any information with the chair and/or the instructor; you may also directly contact the department chair, Prof. Yaffe.

For more serious concerns and conflicts, the following campus resources are available:

  • Safe Campus: for advice and resources on safety and violence prevention, or to report a threat or concerning behavior, contact Safe Campus at 206-685-SAFE or Physics Department Student Services passes on all reports of threats or concerning behavior to Safe Campus, maintaining anonymity if requested.
  • Community Standards and Student Conduct: for reporting student misconduct
  • Title IX: for reporting discrimination on the basis of sex
  • Office of the Ombud: when you are not sure who to go to or what to do

Research Study Information:
This course is part of a research project examining student reasoning ability and attitudes about physics with the goal of  improving physics teaching.  By enrolling in this course you are automatically included in the study. Students will have an opportunity to learn about the study and to remove themselves from the study if they wish. Your instructor and TAs will not know whether or not you participate. Later in the quarter, this link will become active and allow you to review the details of the study, contact a member of the research team, or remove yourself from the study.

Catalog Description: 
First of a three-quarter sequence. Charges at rest and in motion; dielectric and magnetic media; electromagnetic waves; relativity and electromagnetism; physical optics. Prerequisite: a minimum grade of 2.0 in PHYS 227; and either PHYS 228, MATH 207, AMATH 351, MATH 208, AMATH 352, MATH 209, AMATH 353, MATH 224, MATH 334, MATH 335, or AMATH 401. Offered: ASp.
GE Requirements: 
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
October 15, 2021 - 10:53am