Physics for future Presidents
What every world leader needs to know
(also known as PffP, Physics C10, and L&S C70V)


taught by

Bob Jacobsen

Professor of Physics


and by
Richard A. Muller

Professor of Physics

(click on the photo for a more interesting one)

(or, for a high-res version

of the photo above , click here)


Welcome to "Physics for Future Presidents." The title is serious. The official designation is Physics C10 or L&S C70V (the course is cross-listed), and sometimes called qualitative physics -- but this is not trivial physics. You will be learning material that is generally not learned by the physicist until after earning a Ph.D. After every lecture, you should come away with the feeling that what was just covered is important for every world leader to know. (Except, perhaps, for the material on Relativity, which is just interesting.)


The schedule and HW assignments for the semester are now posted: Schedule & HW.

Note that we hit the ground running: the first reading assignment, Chapter 1, is due on the very first lecture! Start early -- it is a long chapter. Also your 'bio' is due on that date. Instructions for the bio are here: bio instructions.


: The Syllabus is posted below.


By 11:30 pm on the day of the first lecture, send the following email:


In the subject line of your email put your LAST NAME, FIRST NAME, your student ID number, and then the words PffP bio. So the subject line should look like this, but with your name in place of President Obama's (unless you are President Obama):

Obama, Barak, 84083242, PffP bio

In the body of the email itself, copy the following list of questions and put in your answers after each one.

1. full name (first, middle initial, last):
2. Student ID# (SID):
3. Name for to address you. First name? Nickname? :
4. Secret name, for posted grades (12 character limit). If you use your student ID, then the grade is public:
5 . email address:
6 . telephone (where do I call if you are late for the final exam?):
7 . year (Freshman? Senior?):
8 . major (or a guess for future major):
9. which are you enrolled in: Physics or L&S:
10. most advanced physics you have studied (if any), e.g. "HS physics" or "none":
11 . physics subject you are most interested in learning about in this course:
12. Why are you taking this course?
13. Team membership, if any. (What position? What event?) Do you work (earn money), or plan to work?
14. Tell us about yourself. What do you do when not studying? Participate in sports? Work? Play a musical instrument? Write? Compose? Sing? Dance? Watch movies, sports? Politics? Activism? Read? (Fiction? Nonfiction?) Fix cars? Cook? Join any clubs? Volunteer? Ambitions? Anything about yourself you are willing to share. Don't be shy.


Then send the email (make sure the subject header is correct first, i.e. LastName, First, Student ID, PffP bio) to:


Keep a copy to send to your GSI, once you know who that is. (We'll post that as soon as we know it.)

If you do this correctly (right header, etc.) then you will be granted one quiz point. Submit it incorrectly and you will get 0 quiz points. Fail to do it and you may be dropped in favor of a waitlisted student.

We apologize for the formality of this, but we have about 400 students, and unless it is done correctly, our computers can't sort them without our intervention.




This page will serve as an online Syllabus. Almost everything you need to know will be posted here. Here are some key facts:

1. Attendance at the lectures is REQUIRED. (But it is easy to get excused provided you notify your GSI prior to the missed lecture.) Three unexcused absences and your A become a B, or your C becomes an F. For more information see below.

2. HW is due in the first week. This includes both a reading assignment (due Thursday; there may be a pop quiz), and sending an email answering 14 questions to the instructors. See above. Additional homework will be required every week. See Weekly HW below.

3. This is an early drop course. If you are going to drop the course, you must do so by the end of the second week. If you don't, then you must take the course or get an F/NP.

4. Required text. The book for this semester is "Physics and Technology for Future Presidents". Do not try to use an earlier book! The older ones do not have all of the content. The textbook is available at the local bookstores. Do not confuse this text with Prof. Muller's popular book, which has a similar name. The popular book was published by Norton, and is about half as long, and contains about half of the material we will cover. However, the popular version is a good one to give as a present to curious parents and friends, since it is designed to be read quickly, and is cheaper. See the images of the two covers:


This is the required text: This is the popular book -- it is not the class text:


5. Exam schedule. No makeup exams: I will not give makeup exams or change the dates; however, I will let team members who are on travel take it proctored by their coach, and I will sometimes excuse students who have serious conflicts (e.g. a death in the family or a wedding of a sibling). So check the dates now. If you have several exams on the same day, I will be sympathetic, but you'll still be required to take it on schedule. Here is the plan:

           Midterm 1 (Chapters 1-5): Tuesday March 1 in class

           Midterm 2 (Chapters 6-9): Tuesday April 5 in class

           Final exam (Chapters 1-13): Wednesday May 11, check schedule of final exams.

6. Prerequisites. No big deal. See below.

7. Schedule of HW, reading, and lectures has been posted. You'll see we cover about 1 chapter each week. It's a brisk pace.

8. Quiz slips. . You may need one on Thursday (if there is a pop quiz on Chapter 1). Print out a page, and cut into 7 slips. Bring extras with you, in case someone nearby needs one. (Good way to make friends -- or money, your choice.) You can download them here.


Please note that if you take this class, attendance at the lectures is REQUIRED. So please don't sign up unless you intend to get there every TuTh at 9:30 am. If you do make it on time, I promise to make it worth your while. My goal is for this to be the best course you have ever taken. If there are times when you can't make the lecture (you are off competing on a team, or you have to pick up a friend at the airport), then you may be excused provided that you follow the following procedure prior to missing the class.

I check attendance (and reading) by giving surprise quizzes. For these, you should bring with you a few copies of quiz strips. Print out a page, and cut into 7 slips. Bring extras with you, in case someone nearby needs one. (Good way to make friends -- or money, your choice.) You can download them in pdf format.

Lecture absence excuses. Absence will be excused if email is sent to your GSI before the missed lecture, and if it contains a reasonable excuse (e.g. you were killed in a terrorist incident, you have to be away to compete in a sporting event, or your friend had to be picked up at the airport). Don't make up excuses; if you do, and I find out, you will get an F in the course. If you have more than 2 unexcused absence ( I count into the total any HWs that were not emailed in) I will lower your grade by 1 grade or more. (Your A+ will become a B+. If you are earning a C you will get an F, since I don't like to give Ds.) To be excused, send a carefully-formatted email to your GSI prior to the missed lecture. The "subject" MUST be in the following format: Last name, first name, day of month to be excused and month. So, for example, the subject might look something like this:

Last Name, First Name, 5 November

The text of your email excuse should be your reason for missing lecture. It could be due to illness, or a need to pick up a friend at the airport. Don't be creative; be honest. If there was some reason that you could not send the email prior to the lecture, then send it afterwards to your GSI with an explanation for the lateness.


No prior physics is required. In fact, even if you had no physics in high school, you will not be at a disadvantage. Moreover, even if you are a physics major, you will find that most of the material is new. Physics majors spend so much time learning the math and to abstract calculations that they often do not get to the important results. This course is now open for physics majors too, in fact, is is an excellent supplement for your other physics courses.

The course does use some math. But I have never had a student complain that the math was too hard. I expect everyone to be able to use calculator notation, the symbols used on calculators when the numbers are large or small. So, for example, one billion is 1E9. That means 1 followed by 9 zeros. (The "E" stands for "exponent", and really means "10 to the power of".) Likewise, one billionth is written as 1E-9. This is equivalent to what is called "scientific notation." There will be a discussion of such notation in the discussion sections in the first week.

In addition, you need to be able to find square roots. That means that for homework and exams you probably should have a calculator that will do this. Quick review: take the square root, multiply it by itself, and you'll get the number. Check your knowledge by verifying the following examples. If you have trouble, come to the first discussion section with questions and requests for review.

examples of Math required

(will be reviewed in discussion sections)

sqrt(81) = 9

sqrt(2) = 1.414 (approximately)

sqrt(1E40) = 1E20

sqrt(2E40) = 1.414E20 (approximately)

sqrt(2E-40) = 1.414E-20 (approximately)

2E5 x 3E9 = 6E14 (i.e.numbers in front multiply; exponents add)

6E5/2E9 = 3E-4



IMPORTANT: For those enrolled in the course there are three HW requirements for the first week of classes.

HW 1. This is a reading assignment: read Chapter 1 and be prepared for a brief quiz. I've put this chapter online, in case you don't yet have the book yet. it is available in both html and pdf formats.

HW 2. Read this page (which is the syllabus) to see if there is anything else applicable to you.

HW 3. Submit your bio.


On the following Tuesday January 25, the first of the weekly assignments is due. See below.

Weekly Homework (starting Tuesday January 25, 2011)

The HW and reading is given in the posted schedule. You will read the entire textbook. Typically, we will cover one chapter each week. Reading is due by the start of the lecture, as posted in the schedule. You are NOT required to answer the questions at the ends of the chapters. Those are only to test your knowledge, and are for your own private use. Most of them were taken from previous quizzes or exams.

Weekly email HW. Every week you are expected to find and read an article on physics or technology from a newspaper or magazine. It should be a serious article. Good sources are
            -The New York Times (which has a science section every Tuesday)
                        available online at
            -Science News (a brief but excellent newsletter available
                         in the library and on newstands)
            -Popular Science, Scientific American, Discover, New Scientist,
                         or some similar magazine
   (the best weekly newsmagazine!)
            -San Francisco Chronicle (online at

            -Do NOT use unless you are cautious.
                         Its articles tend to be superficial and misleading, and that
                         could lead to a lower score for you.
            -NEVER use the Yahoo science page. It is too frequently low quality.


By the evening of the due date (11 pm) submit a one to three paragraph essay to your GSI via email. Write your essay in the body of your email; do not attach an external file (such as a Word document or pdf file). The "subject" of your email should be in the following format:

Last name, First name, HW, day month (that HW is due)
                 for example:
Bush, George, HW, 2 September

Remember to email it to your GSI, not to the instructor (Jacobsen)! (Again I apologize for this formality, but teaching 400 students without error isn't easy.)

Your homework grade will be 0 (if you didn't hand it in), 1 (if you did a poor job), 2 (if you did a good job), or 3 if you did an exceptionally good job (only for the best two or three emails for that week). I plan to post the best submission every now and then so that others can see what we like. Note: you do NOT have to understand the article you read, as long as you can clearly state what aspects of the article you did not understand! Try to write something that other students will find interesting.

For each homework submission email, do the following (or you will lose points)
        1) State your name, SID, and secret name
        2) Include citation or link to article. (Which newspaper? Page number? Who wrote it?)
        3) No attachments allowed. Simply email text to your GSI. I suggest that
         you write your summary in a word processor and spell check it, and then cut
         and paste into an email.
         4) 300 or 350 words is about right. Use about 1/2 - 3/4 of that
         to summarize the article, and the rest to draw connections to
         class or ask relevant questions.

Half of the homework grade will be based on the quality of the writing. Imagine that you are briefing the U.S. President on an issue that you consider important. Your essay should be a pleasure to read! You will lose credit if you have more than one misspelling, or have any error in grammar (run-on sentence etc.). If English is not your primary language, please state your primary language at the beginning of the email.

Late homeworks are usually not accepted, unless there is an extraordinary excuse. The fact that you had an exam the next day, or a huge project, is not extraordinary. You can always prepare your homework a week or two in advance, but please don't submit it more than a few days in advance of the due day. Email your excuses to your GSI, not to Jacobsen. 

Exams and Grades

Exams. We will have two midterm exams and a final exam. Each exam will have an essay question, some short answer questions and a series of multiple-choice questions.

The first midterm exam is definitely scheduled for Tuesday March 1st, 2011, in class (9:30 am). If you cannot be present at that time, contact Jacobsen immediately. The exam will consist of several parts: an essay question, several short-answer questions, and approximately 20 multiple choice questions. For sample exams, see the old exams from previous semesters. To see how the GSI will grade the essays, look at essay guidelines.To see some essays that scored a perfect 20 in past semesters, see explosions and nukes.

The second midterm exam is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday April 5th. It will be in class, and similar in format to the first midterm. If you cannot be present at that time, contact Jacobsen immediately. For sample exams, see the old exams from previous semesters. To see how the GSI will grade the essays, look at essay guidelines. To see some essays that scored a perfect 20, see eyes and Greenhouse effect.

The final exam is scheduled for 1130 AM - 230 PM on Wednesday May 11, 2011. If you cannot be present at that time, contact me immediately. If you have other exams scheduled on this day, consider dropping those classes; we will not give you the final exam either early or late. The exam will consist of several parts: One or two essay questions, some short answer questions, and approximately 40 multiple choice questions. It will be like two midterm exams. For sample exams, see the old exams from previous semesters.

Grades. Your final grade will be based on the following breakdown:

·             quizzes: 10%

·             midterm exams: 20% each

·             final exam: 40%

·             homework: 10%

The grade distribution will be approximately the following: 30% of the students will earn an A, 45% a B, and 25% a C or below. This is the same distribution that is used for Astronomy 10. Beware: it is easier to earn a C than you might think, and it is not hard to slip from a C to an F (all you have to do is have three unexcused quizzes or HWs, in any combination). Every semester I have students who got a C, and write me saying that now they can't register in their chosen major, or they will lose their scholarship, and they seek my help. All I can do is cry with them. The easiest way to get a C is to miss a few quizzes or forget to hand in a few homeworks. For permission to hand in your HW late (or to do one that you missed) you must seek permission from your GSI. For exam issues, I (Jacobsen) am the only person to contact.

Cheating:. Two years ago I flunked two students who were talking to each other on the final exam. (They said that they were only discussing how to spell a word.) I consider that very light punishment. In the future, I am determined not to be so lenient. Last semester I caught 8 students cheating on quizzes -- in some cases having others take the quiz for them. They were also severely punished.


GSI information. The names of the GSIs and the discussion sections they teach are listed below. Learn the name of your GSI; you will need to know that to put on quizzes, exams, HW.

Office Hours:Visit any GSI. Get to know them all! Office hours are held in 473 Birge Hall.


GSIEmailSection(s)Office Hour(s)
Sebastian Wickenburg (head GSI)swickenburg@gmail.com111 (Mon 1-2)M 12-1
Paul Davispfdavis@berkeley.edu105 (Fri 1-2)F 2-3
Jordan Malinjmalin@berkeley.edu109 (Mon 11-12)W 11-12
Philippe Marchandpmarchand@berkeley.edu108 (Wed 2-3)Tu 11-12
Sean O'Kelleyseaning@berkeley.edu104 (Thu 11-12)F 12-1
Thomas Reynoldsthomasreynolds@berkeley.edu107 (Tue 1-2), 112 (Tue 12-1)Th 12-1
Brooke Thayerbrooke.thayer@berkeley.edu110 (Tue 2-3)Tu 1-2
Robin Torresjrobint@gmail.com102 (Tues 12-1)Th 11-12
Mark Vansanshoustyle@gmail.com101 (Mon 1-2), 106 (Mon 12-1)M 2-3
Joel Zylberbergjoelz@berkeley.edu103 (Wed 3-4)W 1-2


To contact Bob Jacobsen

His email address is

His office hours:

Tuesday 8:20 to 9:15AM and Thursday 8:15 to 9:15AM in 307 LeConte, or (much better) by appointment. You can also usually find him staying after lecture to answer questions.

You may call him at his cell phone (510) 708-5988, before 10 PM, if possible. For an emergency, call any time.