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PHYS 116 A: Waves, Optics, Atoms and Nuclei

MWF 2:30pm - 3:20pm / PAA A118
T 5:00pm - 6:20pm / KNE 220
Alvaro Chavarria

Syllabus Description:

Topics covered

Phys 116 covers the following topics:

  • Simple harmonic oscillators
  • Mechanical waves
  • Doppler effect
  • Superposition of waves and standing waves
  • Physical optics
  • Geometrical optics
  • Electromagnetic waves and polarization
  • Quantum physics
  • Atomic physics
  • Nuclear physics


This course has two components: lecture and tutorial.  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:

  • Creating a weekly schedule to organize when you will work on the various course components.  We have posted sample weekly schedule here.
  • Working in groups.  We encourage you to work with others on assignments.  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.
  • If you have any questions, attend office hours so that they can be addressed.

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

Contact Information

For questions send an email with your course and section (Phys 116A), your UW net ID (the part before in your email address), and name as it appears on Canvas to:

  • the instructor, Alvaro Chavarria at, for personal correspondence related to grades, health issues, etc.
  • the program coordinator at for administrator questions related to registering, overloading, etc.

Course Material

The platform for online assignments is MyLab and Mastering through which you also access the e-textbook.

Learning Catalytics is used for in-class quizzes.

The textbook used is College Physics A Strategic Approach, 4th edition, by Knight Jones Field.

Please note that you have already purchased the access code for the eTextbook and MyLab and Mastering as a part of your registration fee.

Information on how to access MyLab and Mastering and troubleshooting for common issues can be found here.


Class components

This class consists of the following components. For more details of each, click the links below.

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, but 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 participate in lectures if possible.

Lectures are from 2:30 to 3:20 PM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in lecture hall A118 of PAA. I will post lecture slides under the Files. Lectures will be recorded on Panopto and will appear after lecture under the "Panopto Recordings" menu on the left. 

Tutorial overview

In tutorial you will work with your peers to 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.

Tutorials are from 5PM to 6PM on Tuesday (unless they are exam days) in a large lecture hall 220 of KNE. Similarly to lectures, tutorial sessions will be recorded on Panopto and posted afterward.

Graded components

  • Pre-lecture reading quiz (25% of grade):
    • After completing the reading you need to answer questions on MyLab and Mastering before 11:59 AM on the day before the corresponding lecture.
    • You have up to 5 attempts for each question. For each wrong answer 10% of the grade is subtracted.  Note that practice problems, adaptive follow-ups, and dynamic study modules available also through Mastering are not graded, but great for your study.
    • Pre-lecture reading quiz score will be scaled by 1.25 at the end of quarter (but not allowed to go over 100%).
  • Lecture/Tutorial in-class quizzes (10% 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 loan for free from the university. See this site for more details. Please contact me 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, but truncated at 100%.
  • Tutorial pretest (5% 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 Monday at 2:30 PM.
    • Once you start a pretest, you will have 30 minutes to complete it without the ability to pause.
    • Your lowest tutorial pretest score will be automatically dropped.
  • Exams (60 % of grade): 

Important note:

Each exam includes questions based on the lectures and tutorials, so missing a lecture or tutorial section can have an impact on your exam performance.  If you miss a lecture 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 October 24th from 5:00 to 6:00 PM in Kane Hall
    • Midterm exam 2 on November 14th from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM in Kane Hall
    • Final exam on December 12th from 2:30 PM to 4:20 PM in PAA A 118

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.

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

    • 80 points on lecture material
    • 20 points on tutorial 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% from your average exam score for the two midterms and the final.
    • Method 2: 20% from your best midterm score and 40% from your final exam score

We try to 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.

Make up policies

This class is planned to be conducted in-person unless the University announces otherwise.  You are expected to participate in class to fully benefit from course activities and meet the course’s learning objectives.  To protect your fellow students, faculty, and staff, if you feel ill and may be contagious, you should not come to class.  When absent, it is your responsibility to contact me in advance (or as close to the class period as possible in the case of an unexpected absence), and to request appropriate make-up work as per policies below.

If you miss assignments due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc.), please contact me so that I can give you the following accommodations.

  • Lecture or tutorial in-class quizzes can be excused. Note the in-class quiz scores are scaled by 1.25 at the end of the quarter, so contact me only if you missed a significant number of them.
  • Pre-lecture reading quizzes' due dates can be extended. Note the pre-lecture reading quiz scores are scaled by 1.25 at the end of the quarter, so contact me only if you missed a significant number of them.
  • Tutorial pretest can be excused. Note that your lowest tutorial pretest score will be automatically dropped, so contact me only if you missed more than one.


  • Your final weighted percentage is converted to a 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 93 3.0 78 2.0 63 1.0 48
    3.9 91.5 2.9 76.5 1.9 61.5 0.9 46.3
    3.8 90 2.8 75 1.8 60 0.8 44.6
    3.7 88.5 2.7 73.5 1.7 58.5 0.7 42.9
    3.6 87 2.6 72 1.6 57    
    3.5 85.5 2.5 70.5 1.5 55.5    
    3.4 84 2.4 69 1.4 54    
    3.3 82.5 2.3 67.5 1.3 52.5    
    3.2 81 2.2 66 1.2 51    
    3.1 79.5 2.1 64.5 1.1 49.5    

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. Please click on this link 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 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: 
Principles of waves, optics, atoms, and nuclei using algebra-based modeling with an emphasis on applications in life sciences. Maximum 5 credits allowed for any combination of PHYS 116, PHYS 119, PHYS 123, and PHYS 143. Prerequisite: either a minimum grade of 1.7 in PHYS 115, PHYS 122, or PHYS 142, a score of 4 or 5 on Physics 2 advanced placement test, or a score of 4 or 5 on Physics C (Electricity and Magnetism) advanced placement test. Offered: AWSpS.
GE Requirements: 
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
July 1, 2023 - 2:26am