You are here

PHYS 123 A: Waves

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
WF 12:40pm - 2:10pm
* *
Matt DePies

Syllabus Description:

Topics covered

Phys 123 covers the following topics:

  • simple harmonic motion
  • wave propagation
  • wave interference and diffraction
  • ray optics
  • wave and particle optics
  • fluids
  • entropy
  • heat transfer
  • converting heat to work


This course has multiple components lecture, lab, and tutorial (QZ section in time schedule) each of which has several important aspects.  These are described below after some general information critical to success in this course.

Resources to Succeed

This website describes recommended practices to succeed in this course, and contains a list of resources you may find helpful for a variety of issues students may encounter during your time at UW.  Contact us if you need help finding the resources you need.

One very important practice described in the above website is working collaboratively. We will create a space for you to communicate with your peers in your tutorial section and TA in a Slack channel. See Getting Started for more details.  However, you are encouraged to reach out to other students to find people with whom you can study and learn.

To organize your coursework, we have posted sample weekly schedule here. We recommend downloading it and make your own by moving various cells (except the due dates in red cells).

Office Hours and Posting Questions

During the week the TAs and I will hold office hours on Zoom where you can ask questions.  Office hours

After signing up for Slack using this link, use Slack 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 questions send an email with your course (Phys 123), your UW net ID (the part before in your email address), and name as it appears on Canvas to:

  • the instructor, Matt DePies, at, for personal correspondence related to grades, health issues, etc...
  • the program coordinator at for administrator questions related to registering, overloading, etc...
  • the PHYS 123 TA coordinator (Nikolai Tolich) at for questions about your TA or questions that your TA may not be able to answer.
  • your TA (contact information coming soon) for other questions.

Course Material

You need to purchase the following items:

  • The Tutorial Course Pack,
  • Access code for MyLab and Mastering,
    • See purchasing options here.
  • Textbook: Principles & Practice of Physics, 1st edition by Mazur
    • See purchasing options here.

Getting started

  • Connect to the online homework system using the instructions found here.
  • Slack will be the primary space where you can communicate with your peers and your TA.
    • Use this link and your UW email to join our Slack workspace.
    • Get Slack running on your device. Here are useful tips and features for using Slack. We highly recommend downloading the mobile or desktop app, and turning notifications on so that you don't miss messages from your TA and other members in your tutorial section.

Class components

This class consists of lecture, lab, tutorial and exam components.  You can see all the components required in a given week in Modules.

Important Note: Since each exam includes questions based on the lectures, labs, and tutorials, missing a lecture, lab, or tutorial section can have an impact on your exam performance.  You should be sure to watch all lectures, and work through any lab or tutorial that you miss as soon as possible to minimize the impact on your course grade.

Lecture components:

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

  • Lecture reading quiz (4% of grade):
    • After completing the reading you need to answer questions on MyLab and Mastering before 11:59 pm on the day of the assigned reading (Wednesday and Friday).
    • If you submit your lecture reading quiz after it is due, there is a penalty of 1% deduction of the score for every hour that it is late.
  • Lecture video engagement (4% of grade):
    • After completing the reading you need to watch the lecture video and complete the embedded quizzes before 11:59 pm on the day of the assigned reading (Wednesday and Friday).
    • These will be graded based on engagement, not on correctness.
    • Your lowest two video quizzes will be dropped.  If you miss more than two due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc.), please contact us.
  • Lecture homework (8% of grade):
    • These will be due on Thursdays at 11:59 pm, and will be based on material covered in the previous weeks reading and video.
    • If you submit your lecture homework after it is due, there is a penalty of 1% deduction of the score for every hour that it is late.
    • You can access the lecture homework in MyLab and Mastering.

Lab components: 

  • Labs (12% of grade):

    • Labs will be held synchronously. You are expected to attend during your assigned time each week, but may attend a different time with prior approval from the TA. In order to schedule your labs group meeting times please complete this survey,, by Tuesday, June 22nd at 11:59PM.
    • Schedule
      • In week 1 there will be a workshop to introduce skills that you will need for lab this quarter.  You can attend one of the following workshops:
        • Wednesday 10:30 AM
        • Wednesday 3:30 PM
        • Thursday 10:30 AM
        • Thursday 3:30 PM
        • Friday 10:30 AM 
      • In weeks 2 and 6 you will work as a group to develop a simulations.
      • In weeks 3 and 7 you will work as a group to verify your simulation against measurements with an actual setup. One member of your group, if someone volunteers to come in, or a TA, will need to be present in a lab room (one person per room), to perform the measurements, and the other members of the group will join via Zoom.
      • In weeks 4 and 8 you will explore a new model with your simulation.
      • In week 5 you will make a presentation as a group about the new model you explored.
    • Grades
      • Each week other than the presentation week your group will be graded out of 2 points based on your groups lab notebook and your group discussions.
      • At the end of weeks 3 and 7 your group will be graded out of 8 points based on your groups lab report.
      • In presentation week your group will be graded out of 1 point based on your group presentation delivery, and 8 points on the contents of the group presentation including notes.
      • At the end of weeks 4 and 8 you will be graded out of 1 point for completing a group self assessment.
    • If you cannot attend one weeks lab session contact your TA and try to attend a different lab session.

Tutorials components:

The tutorials include the following graded components:

  • Tutorial pretest (1% 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 become available Friday at 3:30 PM and are due on Sunday at 11:59 pm.
    • Once you start a pretest, you will have 15 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 and medical emergency etc.), please contact us.
  • Tutorial in-class (3% of grade):
    • You need to attend and actively participate in discussion at your tutorial section (QZ section on time schedule) each week to get participation credit.  Each tutorial will be graded based on the following:
      • Adequate (2 points): Actively engaged in discussion throughout tutorial.
      • Needs improvement (1 point):  Multiple periods not engaged in discussion during tutorial.
      • Missing (0 points): Did not attend any tutorial section.
    • If you cannot attend your tutorial section in a given week, you can attend another section.  A schedule of tutorials with their Zoom links can be found here (select "12x" then select "123 Tutorial Schedule").  Be sure to contact your TA to let them know.
    • 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 and medical emergency etc.), please contact us.   
  • Tutorial homework (8% of grade):
    • Each tutorial has homework that is due at 11:59 pm the Monday after you have worked through the tutorial.
    • For each homework, you need to upload a scanned pdf file to the Canvas tutorial homework assignment. For instruction on how to create and upload a pdf, see the Tutorial Information.
    • Only part of the tutorial homework is graded completely (8 pts); the rest is examined for completeness (2 pts).
    • If you submit your tutorial homework after it is due, there is a penalty of 1% deduction of the score for every hour that it is late.
    • If you need to submit tutorial homework late due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc.), please contact us.
    • Your lowest tutorial homework score will be automatically dropped.

All important tutorial information can be found under the Tutorial Information.  Once at the tutorial website select "12x" for information general to all courses in the Phys 121-122-123 sequence.  Select the link for section A or B under "PHYS 123" to get the schedule for all assignments specific to your class.


Exams will be done online.  The exam procedure is described here.

The following dates are preliminary and may change.

  • Midterm exam 1 on July 16th starting between 12:35 and 12:55 pm (PDT). Once you start the exam, you will have 90 minutes to finish the exam.
  • Midterm exam 2 on August 6th starting between 12:35 and 12:55 pm (PDT). Once you start the exam, you will have 90 minutes to finish the exam.
  • Final exam on August 20th starting between 12:35 and 12:55 pm (PDT). Once you start the exam, you will have 90 minutes to finish the exam.

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 us early in the quarter to establish alternate examination procedures.  Exam scores for students who miss an exam without making prior arrangements will be zero.

Each exam is out of 100 points, and have three components:

  • 70 points on lecture material
  • 15 points on tutorial material
  • 15 points on lab material

Exams will count for 60% of your grade.  Your overall exam score will be based on the best of the following two methods:

  • Method 1: 20% from each of your midterms scores and 20% from your final exam score
  • Method 2: 30% from your best midterm score and 30% from your final exam score

We will design the exams such that a student who understands some of the material very well but needs some improvement in the remaining material should get a score around 65%.  If the class average on a given exam is less than 65%, then all the scores for that exam will be adjusted upward so that the average is 65%. Scores will not be adjusted downward even if the class average is higher than 65%.

If a student is found responsible for misconduct during an exam, a score of zero will be given for that exam for this student.  If the misconduct occurs during a midterm, only Method 1 is used to calculate the final grade, and Method 2 is not used.


You will get a grade of 0 for the entire course if you receive less than 26 out of the 39 points possible on the lab assignments.

Otherwise your final weighted percentage is converted to a grade point using the following thresholds.

grade point course score   grade point course score   grade point course score   grade point course score
4.0 92.0 3.0 76.0 2.0 60.0 1.0 44.0
3.9 90.4 2.9 74.4 1.9 58.4 0.9 42.4
3.8 88.8 2.8 72.8 1.8 56.8 0.8 40.8
3.7 87.2 2.7 71.2 1.7 55.2 0.7 39.2
3.6 85.6 2.6 69.6 1.6 53.6    
3.5 84.0 2.5 68.0 1.5 52.0    
3.4 82.4 2.4 66.4 1.4 50.4    
3.3 80.8 2.3 64.8 1.3 48.8    
3.2 79.2 2.2 63.2 1.2 47.2    
3.1 77.6 2.1 61.6 1.1 45.6  

Reading schedule

Reading Schedule

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. Early in the quarter, students will have an opportunity to learn about the study and to remove themselves from the study if they wish. Your instructor 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.

Access and accommodation

Your experience in this class is important to us, 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 contact DRS to arrange accommodations.

Safe campus

We are committed to ensuring a safe environment on campus.  We 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 working with others or 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. 

All the course materials including exam and quiz questions, lecture notes, lecture videos are intellectual properties of the instructor and the University of Washington. Distributing them in any form without permission is forbidden.  

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 or behavioral misconduct, ask us.  we are 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 World (NW)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
August 16, 2021 - 3:54pm