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Physics LibreTexts

About the Course

  • Page ID
  • Course Goals, or "Why You Should Be Excited For 7A"


    This course is a direct response to data which suggests that undergraduates who have completed a conventional introductory physics class walk away with a very poor understanding of what physics is really all about. Typical curriculums place large emphasis on lectures, tests, and equations, and introduce material in more or less the following order:

    • 1-D Motion (How to describe simple motion)
    • 2-D Motion (How to describe more complex motion)
    • Force, and Newton's Laws (What makes things move?)
    • Momentum and Energy (How do things interact?)
    • Torque and Angular Momentum (What makes things spin?)

    And if you're lucky, you might see a brief discussion of other topics at the end. This approach leaves students with the following impression: "Physics is about applying equations", or maybe more specifically "Physics is primarily about applying Newton's laws".

    This takeaway makes any self respecting physicist feel a little bit sad. Physics should be about elegant explanations and surprising results. Physics should be about our effort to describe nature in her most native language -- to discover those things which appear to be truly fundamental. For those reasons, professors and graduate students came together in 1995 to breathe life into the PHY 7 series.

    The result: A model approach

    In PHY 7A, the goal is to gain a deep understanding of fundamental physics principles regarding energy, interactions, and thermal phenomena, without having to memorize a bundle of facts or formulas. Rather than organizing information in the form of upwards of one-hundred topics, each quarter focuses on only a few models. Where traditional courses place emphasis on lectures and tests, research has shown that group practice leads to better retention and understanding, and so extra focus is placed on discussion sections.

    To combat the sentiment that physics is about Newton's laws or modeling motion mathematically, topics are introduced in the following order:

    • Energy-Interaction Model (Energy is Fundamental)
    • Heat, and the Three-Phase Model of Matter (Chemistry is physics)
    • Particle Model of Matter (Matter is made of atoms -- what does that tell us?)
    • Models of Thermodynamics (Apparently it tells us a lot)

    Introduction to the Energy-Interaction Model

    To see more video lectures by David Webb, go to

    We hope this approach gives you insight into the scientific philosophy and underlying principles of physics.