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PHYS 123 A: Waves, Light, and Heat

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MTh 9:10am - 10:40am
PAA A118
David P. Smith

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 component has several important aspects. You can see all the assignments 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 teams.  You will work in teams in tutorials and in labs.  However, we encourage you to work with others on other assignments also.  You can use Ed Discussion to find people interested in forming a study group. 
  • If you have any questions,
    • attend office hours so that they can be addressed.
    • post your question on Ed Discussion to see if your fellow students can help you. If nobody responds within 24 hours, email your TA with the link to your Ed Discussion post. We will respond within a reasonable time, but please do not expect immediate response. 

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

Contact Information

For questions send an email with your course and section (Phys 123A), your UW net ID (the part before in your email address), and name as it appears on Canvas to:

  • the instructor, David Smith 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, Usama Al-Binni at, if you want to discuss how your team is functioning, if you have 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.
    • This will be used to fill in your tutorial work and tutorial homework, so you cannot use a used one.
  • Access code for MyLab and Mastering,
    • See purchasing options here.
    • Connect to the online homework system using the instructions found here.
  • Textbook: Principles & Practice of Physics, 2nd edition by Mazur
    • See purchasing options here.


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 be 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 9:10 to 10:40 AM on Monday and Thursday in lecture hall A118 of PAA.  I will post lecture slides under Files.  Lectures will be recorded on Panopto which will be also available under the "Panopto Recordings" menu on the left. 

Lecture graded components

  • Lecture reading quiz (6% of grade):
    • After completing the reading you need to answer questions on MyLab and Mastering before 11:59 PM on the day before the corresponding lecture.
    • 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.
    • At the end of the quarter the total lecture reading quiz score is scaled by 1.25 with a maximum of 100%.
    • You have 5 attempts per question. For each wrong answer 5% of the grade of that question is subtracted.
  • Lecture 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 the lecture instructor 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%).


Lab overview

In lab, you and your team members will learn how to:

  • Design and execute experiments.
  • Develop or test models of the physical world or simulations that may include alternative physical laws.
  • Quantify uncertainty in measurement and modeling.
  • Write a scientific report with valid conclusions and discussion of results.
  • Function effectively on a professional team:
    • discuss each other's ideas
    • share work among team members in a fair fashion
    • resolve any conflicts if they arise

Lab graded components

  • Lab in-lab (4% of grade):
    • At the end of each lab your team will be graded out of 2 points based on your team's lab notebook and your team discussions.  You need to have the TA complete the check off sheet before you leave the lab in order to get credit.
    • If you cannot participate in one week's lab session in-person, please see the makeup policy.
  • Lab assignments (8% of grade):
    • Lab assignments consisting of either homework, reports, or presentations due at 11:59 PM on Friday.
    • Lab homework are to be submitted and graded individually and can be repeated as many times as you like before the due date until you understand the material.
    • Lab reports and presentations are due a week after the lab in which the data was collected and these will be graded as a team, so all members of a team need to contribute in some way that your team determines is fair.
    • If you submit your lab assignment after it is due, there is a penalty of 1% deduction of the score for every hour that it is late.


Tutorial overview

In tutorial you will work in teams of around four students.  Your team will discuss problems designed to develop 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.  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 Thursday at 11:00 AM 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.
  • 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 engage in discussion during the tutorial section.
    • If you cannot participate in your tutorial section in a given week, please see the makeup policy.
    • Your lowest tutorial in-class score will be automatically dropped.  However, you are still responsible for submitting the associated tutorial homework on time.
  • 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 this page.
    • Only part of the tutorial homework is graded completely (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.

Makeup policies


Contact the lecture instructor if, due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc.), you miss a significant number of lecture in-class quizzes, so that we can excuse them, or you miss a lecture homework, so that we can extend the due date without penalty.  Note the lecture in-class quizzes scores are scaled by 1.25 at the end of the quarter, so there is no need to contact us if you miss just a few.


  • To get the Lab in-lab credit:
    • If you cannot participate in one week's lab session in-person due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc.), do the following in this order:
      1. Try arranging a Zoom meeting during your lab with your lab team.  This is a burden on lab partners, so please be considerate as this privilege is reserved for students who run any risk to others by being in the lab (other exceptions must be cleared by the instructor.)
      2. If the above option does not work, contact the TA for another session (from PHYS 123 or 119) to see if you can participate with another lab team in their session within the same week.  A schedule of labs can be found here.  Be sure to contact your TA and your team members to let them know that you will participate in another section.
      3. If the above two options do not work, contact the TA for another session (from PHYS 123 or 119) to see if you can make up the lab by yourself in their session in the following week.
      4. If you cannot attend any lab section due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc.), please contact the TA coordinator, and we will discuss accommodations.
  • To get the Lab assignments credit
    • You are responsible for submitting the lab report with your original lab team, even if you missed a lab or you conducted an experiment with another team. So, make sure to coordinate and discuss with your lab team how you can contribute to your team's report.
    • If you could not contribute in writing a lab report with your team or missed doing other individual lab assignment due to a valid reason, please contact the TA coordinator to discuss accommodations.


If you cannot participate in your tutorial section in a given week, you can participate in another section, but you cannot do this on a regular basis.  A schedule of tutorials can be found here.  Be sure to contact your TA to let them know.

Note that your lowest tutorial pretest, in-class, and homework assignments are automatically dropped.  Contact the TA coordinator if, due to a valid reason (family and medical emergency etc.), you miss more than one tutorial pretest or tutorial in-class, so that we can excuse them, or you need to submit more than one tutorial homework late, so that 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 midterm exam procedure is described here.

The following dates are preliminary and may change.

  • Midterm exam 1 on Thursday, 13th July, 9:10 AM - 10:40 AM, PAA A118
  • Midterm exam 2 on Thursday, 3rd August, 9:10 AM - 10:40 AM, PAA A118
  • Final exam on Thursday, 17th August, 9:10 AM - 10:40 AM, PAA A118

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 the lecture instructor 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% from your average exam score for the two midterms and the final.
  • 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 8 out of the 12 possible percentage points for the lab component
  • OR you participate in less than six of the eight labs*.

*See makeup policy if you miss any labs due to valid reasons.

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. 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.

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: 
Explores oscillatory motion, electromagnetic waves, optics, waves in matter, fluids, thermodynamics, and related experiments for physical science and engineering majors. Lecture, laboratory, and tutorial 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: 
May 26, 2023 - 4:32am