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PHYS 121 A: Mechanics

MWF 11:30am - 12:20pm / PAA A102
Th 5:00pm - 6:20pm / KNE 120
Photo of Quentin Buat sitting in a park
Quentin Buat

Syllabus Description:

Zoom link for Remote class

Topics covered

Physics 121 addresses the following topics:

  • one dimensional kinematics
  • momentum
  • energy
  • relative motion
  • forces
  • work
  • motion in two or more dimensions
  • circular motions
  • rotational kinematics and dynamics
  • angular momentum
  • gravity


This course has multiple components: lecture, lab, and tutorial (QZ section in time schedule).  Each component has several important aspects. You can see all the aspects required in a given week in Modules.

This website describes recommended practices to succeed in this course, and this website contains a list of resources you may find helpful for a variety of issues students may encounter during your time at UW.  We highly recommend the following:

  • Create a weekly schedule to organize when you will work on the various course components.  A weekly schedule for you to edit is available here.  To use it, you should remove sections that are not yours, and add in times for out-of-class work as listed at the bottom.  One example of a completed schedule is here.
  • Working in groups.  You will work in groups in tutorials and in labs.  However, we encourage you to work with others on other assignments also.  You can use Ed Discussion to post questions or answer others questions, or to find people interested in forming a study group.  I will also monitor Ed Discussion frequently and will respond if needed. But if you want immediate response, please email me.
  • If you have any questions, attend office hours so that they can be addressed.

Contact us if you need help finding the resources you need.

Contact Information

For questions send an email with your course and section (Phys 121A), your UW net ID (the part before in your email address), and name as it appears on Canvas to:

  • the instructor, Quentin Buat, at, for personal correspondence related to grades, health issues, etc...
  • the program coordinator at for administrator questions related to registering, overloading, etc...
  • the PHYS 121 Lab/Tutorial TA coordinator, Peter Shaffer at, for questions about your TA or questions that your TA may not be able to answer.
  • your TA (lab TAs, tutorial TAs) for other questions.

Course Material

You need to purchase the following items:

  • The Tutorial Course Pack,
    • Only available from the University Bookstore at this direct link.
    • This will be used to fill in your tutorial work and tutorial homework, so you cannot use a used one.
    • The tutorial text has been re-ordered by the Bookstore; copies of the first tutorial will be available in class should the text not have arrived in time.
  • Access code for MyLab and Mastering and Learning Catalytics,
    • See purchasing options here.
    • Connect to the online homework system using the instructions found here.
  • Textbook: Principles & Practice of Physics, 1st edition by Mazur
    • See purchasing options here.


Guidelines for in-person lectures

In the standard in-person part of the syllabus:

  • You are required to wear a well-fitting mask at all times.  
  • If you are symptomatic with COVID, flu, or another illness, please do not attend in person.  Lectures will be available on Panopto.
  • If you arrive early, please fill to the center of the rows to reduce the need for others to climb over you.Please wait for the previous class to exit rather than crowd the entrances.
  • It is highly recommended you join the Husky Coronavirus Testing programand sign up for WANotify if you have not done so already.  If you test positive for COVID or are in close contact with someone who does, notify  Please get a Vaccine Booster (3rd shot) as soon as you are eligible.

Extra Rules and Courtesies for when class is remote

  • If we are remote, please use the "Raise Hand" feature in Zoom and wait until you are called on to ask a question.  You may also use the "Chat" feature in Zoom to ask a question.
  • Please remain Muted unless you are expressly asking or answering a question designed to be heard by the entire class.
  • Please be understanding of connectivity issues - should the speaker's internet go out during class, please stand by for 10 minutes before logging out.
  • You may not share video or audio of this class.

FERPA, Zoom, and Privacy

When class is remote, class will be held via Zoom. These Zoom class sessions will be recorded. The recording will capture the presenter’s audio, video and computer screen. Student audio and video will be recorded if they share their computer audio and video during the recorded session.

When class is in person, class will be recorded via Panopto.  The recording will capture the projector feed, room microphone audio, and a video of the room taken from the projector booth.  The back of students' heads are visible; audio is typically not well recorded unless someone speaks directly into the microphone.  If you do not wish to appear on the video, sit near the back on the sides of the room.

In both cases, the recordings will only be accessible to students enrolled in the course.  These recordings will not be shared with or accessible to the public.

The University and Zoom have FERPA-compliant agreements in place to protect the security and privacy of UW Zoom accounts.

Students who do not wish to be recorded when class is on Zoom should:

o   Change their Zoom screen name to hide any personal identifying information like their name or UW Net ID; and

o   Not share their computer audio or video during their Zoom sessions


Lecture overview

We will use a flipped classroom model, which has been shown to improve student learning.

  • Before each scheduled lecture you need to complete the assigned reading (see schedule below).  Note that you should not expect to understand all the reading after reading it once. However, you should at least be familiar with the concepts covered, even if not necessarily able to apply them.
  • During lecture I will briefly review the reading, but most of the time will be used for you to work on problems individually, and then to discuss them with your peers.  This discussion with peers is one of the most effective ways to learn, so it is important to attend lectures if possible.

Lectures are from 11:30 to 12:20 PM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in lecture hall A102 of PAA. I will post lecture slides under the Files. If you cannot attend lecture in person due to minor illness, quarantine, etc., you can attend lectures via live-streaming on Panopto and participate in the in-class quizzes, the recording of which will be also available under the "Panopto Recordings" menu on the left.  

Everyone's learning is enhanced if we abide by a few simple rules and courtesies that respect everyone's right to be safe and to focus on physics while in class.  Please review these rules here.

The Thursday 5:00 to 6:00 PM slot is used for introduction to lab and tutorial, two exams, and exam preparation. (See schedule below)

Lecture graded components

  • Lecture reading quiz (4% of grade):
    • After completing the reading, you need to answer questions on MyLab and Mastering before 9:00 PM on the day before the corresponding lecture.
    • If you submit your lecture reading quiz after it is due, there is a penalty of 4% deduction of the score for every hour that it is late.
    • At the end of the quarter the total lecture reading quiz score is scaled by 1.25 with a maximum of 100%.
  • Lecture in-class quizzes (4% of grade):
    • Participating in in-class quizzes on Learning Catalytics requires you to bring a web enabled device to lecture. If you do not own a web enabled device, you can borrow one for free from the university. See this site for more details. Please contact us if you have problem accessing to a web enabled device.
    • Some questions may be graded purely on participation, but most are graded 80% for participation and 20% for the correct answer. At the end of the quarter the total in-class quiz score is scaled by 1.25 with a maximum of 100%.
    • If you miss a lecture due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc.), please contact us, and your in-class quizzes can be excused. 
  • Lecture homework (7% of grade):
    • These will be due on Tuesdays at 11:59 PM, and will be based on material covered in the previous weeks reading and lectures.
    • You can access the lecture homework in MyLab and Mastering.
    • 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.
    • If you miss a lecture homework due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc.), please contact us, and we can extend the due date without penalty. 


Lab overview

You will work in groups of 3-4 to design and conduct experiments that test various hypotheses and models in physics. There will be a total of 5 different labs, some of which span two weeks.  Different parts of the experimental process will be covered in each lab:  data collection, data analysis, drawing conclusions, and refining experimental methodology.  Labs B, C, and D will have a second week that focuses on scientific communication skills, allowing you to reflect on the lab reports that you and your lab partners have written and to revise your writing on the basis of your reflections.

Lab handouts will be posted in a folder called “Labs” in the Files section of Canvas.

Lab graded components

  • Lab in-lab (4% of grade):
    • At the end of each lab, you will be graded out of 2 points - based on your lab notebook and your participation in group discussions.
    • If you cannot attend a given lab session, attend another one during the week and explain your situation to the TA. A schedule of labs can be found here. Be sure to contact your TA and your group members to let them know.
  • Lab reports/presentations (8% of grade):
    • Each week after your lab, you will be assigned a Lab HW and asked to submit a portion of your lab notebook and/or lab report.  
    • These should be completed by 11:59 pm on the day before your next lab section.  [This is Monday night for lab sections AN, AO and AP; Tuesday night for lab sections AR, AS and AT; and Wednesday night for lab section AV.]
    • For labs B2, C2, and D2, you need to bring a printed copy of your draft report to your lab section.
    • Lab reports will be graded individually, so each member of your lab group needs to submit a report.  You are, of course, encouraged to work with other students, but your lab report must be written using your own words.
    • If you attend a different lab section in a given week, you still need to submit your report to your regularly scheduled TA.
    • If you submit your lab report after it is due, there is a penalty of 1% deduction of the score for every hour that it is late.


STEM-Fluency overview

STEM-Fluency homework is assigned during most weeks.  These homework assignments have been carefully designed to help you develop fluency in a variety of math and physics topics that form the foundation for the material that is covered in this course. Mastering the basic problems in these units will help prepare you for the more complex problems in this course and in your future studies.  The goal is for you to be able to put your effort into constructing a rich understanding of the content rather than focusing on the foundational ideas and skills. 

Each STEM-Fluency homework will focus on a few topics.  To get credit, you must correctly answer a certain number of questions in a row (usually four) for each of the topics.  Random guessing will not help you finish the assignment, so you will need to make a sincere effort – both for your own benefit and time.

The exercises are primarily intended to give you practice in applying core skills, but they also can help identify if you need assistance with a certain topic. You may find you need more practice on certain topics and there is no time limit on these homework sets. However, if they take you longer than 30 minutes to complete, please stop and reach out to Dean Bretland ( who can make recommendations to ensure that you feel confident with the material as you move forward in the course and that your effort is rewarded.  He can also help if you have problems accessing the system.  If you have difficulties in answering certain types of questions, we also suggest that you reach out to your tutorial or lab TA during office hours.

  • STEM-Fluency homework (2% of grade):  STEM-Fluency homework will be made available and will be due at the same times as the lecture homework (Tuesdays at 11:59 pm).  Note that this displays on the STEM-Fluency website as 12:00 am Wednesday morning, but this corresponds to midnight on Tuesday night.  
  • You can miss one STEM-Fluency homework and still receive full credit for this portion of the course.


Tutorial overview

In tutorial you will work in groups of about four 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 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 or medical emergency, etc.), please contact us, and your tutorial pretest score can be excused. 
  • Tutorial in-class (3% of grade):
    • You need to 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 participate in discussion during the tutorial section.
    • If you cannot attend your tutorial section in a given week, you can attend another section.  A schedule of tutorials can be found here.  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 or medical emergency, etc.), please contact us, and your tutorial in-class score can be excused. 
  • Tutorial homework (7% 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 this page.
    • Only part of the tutorial homework is graded in detail (8 pts); the rest is examined for completeness (2 pts).
    • Your lowest tutorial homework score will be automatically dropped.
    • 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 more than one tutorial homework late due to a valid reason (family or medical emergency, etc.), please contact us, and we can extend the due date without penalty. 


Important note:

Each exam includes questions based on the lectures, labs, and tutorials, so missing a lecture, lab, or tutorial section can have an impact on your exam performance.  If you miss a lecture, lab or tutorial, make sure to work through the missed material to minimize the impact on your course grade.

The exam procedure is described here.

The following dates are preliminary and may change.

  • Midterm exam 1 on February 3rd from 5:00 to 6:00 PM in Kane Hall
  • Midterm exam 2 on February 24th from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM in Kane Hall
  • Final exam on March 16 from 2:30 pm to 4:20 pm in PAA  A102

Note that there are no make-up exams.  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 has 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: 60% of your average score of the exams (2 midterms and the final)
  • Method 2: 20% from your best midterm score and 40% 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 8 percentage points out of the 12 possible percentage points for the lab component.

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.

For students who have a lab or tutorial section at night, night time escort services are available.

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 taking photos or recording instructors, other students, and course materials without permission is 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: 
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. Maximum 5 credits allowed for any combination of PHYS 114, PHYS 117, PHYS 121, and PHYS 141. 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: 
September 23, 2022 - 10:29pm