Classical Mechanics (Fall 2011)

Our exploration of the theoretical underpinnings of modern physics begins with classical mechanics, the mathematical physics worked out by Isaac Newton (1642–1727) and later by Joseph Lagrange (1736–1813) and William Rowan Hamilton (1805–1865). We will start by taking a close look at Newtonian mechanics and the integral concepts of force, momentum, and gravity. Later, when we turn our attention to Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics, we will delve into potential and kinetic energy, the principle of least action, and chaos theory.

This course marks the beginning of a six-quarter sequence of courses that will explore the essential theoretical foundations of modern physics. The topics covered will include classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, the general and special theories of relativity, electromagnetism, cosmology, and black holes. While these courses build upon one another, each course can be taken independently
as well. Both individually and collectively they will let students attain the “theoretical minimum” for thinking intelligently about modern physics.


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