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PH1011   Physics 1A

Academic year(s): 2019-2020

Key information

SCOTCAT credits : 20

ECTS credits : 10

Level : SCQF Level 7

Semester: 1

Planned timetable: 12.00 noon lectures, one afternoon from five each week, 2.00 pm - 3.00 pm tutorial and 3.00 pm -5.30 pm lab

This module covers the core subjects of mechanics, waves and optics, and also provides an overview of the physical properties of matter. It is suitable for those who have studied physics to the level of Higher Physics or equivalent. It includes lectures on Newton's laws, work and energy, simple harmonic motion, the different types of wave motion, geometrical and wave optics, and the nature and composition of nuclei, atoms, molecules and solids, and their interactions. Relevant laboratory work is an important part of the module.

Relationship to other modules

Pre-requisite(s): Students must have Higher or A-Level physics and mathematics (both at grade B or better), or equivalent.

Anti-requisite(s): You cannot take this module if you take AS1002

Learning and teaching methods and delivery

Weekly contact: Typically 4 lectures, 1 problem-solving workshop, 1 tutorial and 1 x 2.5-hour laboratory.

Scheduled learning hours: 85

Guided independent study hours: 115

Assessment pattern

As used by St Andrews: 2-hour Written Examination = 60%, Class Test = 15%, Laboratory Work = 25%

As defined by QAA
Written examinations : 75%
Practical examinations : 0%
Coursework: 25%

Re-assessment: 2-hour Written Resit Examination = 60%, combined with existing Laboratory Work = 25%, existing Class Test = 15%


Module coordinator: Dr P Woitke
Module teaching staff: Dr P Woitke, Dr J Lovett, Dr B Sinclair, Dr C Rae

Additional information from school


The two first level modules in physics provide a balanced introduction to university physics, assuming a prior knowledge of mathematics and physics that corresponds to Higher grade passes at B in these subjects. The modules include appropriate coverage of the traditional disciplines of classical physics, but also exposure to the ideas of modern physics including quantum concepts, and to applications including laser physics and optical communications. It is intended that the two modules should be similar in standard to that of the Advanced Higher in Physics although the syllabus will not match in every detail.


Learning Outcomes

Students who take Physics 1A and/or Physics 1B should acquire


  • an understanding of the topics covered in the module, such that they can explain the physical principles involved,
  • an ability to solve qualitative and quantitative problems based on the lecture material,
  • a competence in using some of the standard equipment in physics laboratories,
  • an appreciation of uncertainty analysis in experimental work,
  • an ability to model a real-world problem using physical concepts.



Mechanics 1

Foundations of mechanics and kinematics. Vectors and scalars. Motion with constant acceleration in one and two dimensions. Calculation of projectile trajectories including maximum height, time of flight, range etc. Newton’s laws of motion. Forces, mass and acceleration. Work and frictional forces. Conservative and non-conservative forces. Gravitational potential energy, spring potential energy, kinetic energy and energy conservation. Impulse and the conservation of linear momentum in the absence of external forces. Elastic and inelastic collisions.


Waves and Optics

What is Light? Ideas of waves and particles, and how light is generated. Ray Optics: Snell's law, and the use of a lens for imaging. Thin lens formula. Oscillations: SHM of spring. Velocity, acceleration and phase, for mechanical oscillations. Extension to a pendulum. Relation between SHM and circular motion. Energy in SHM. Tuning fork and other resonators, and damping. Travelling Waves: Transverse and longitudinal travelling waves, and connection with oscillations. Sound waves, waves on strings, Electromagnetic waves. Transverse velocity and acceleration. Energy carried by a wave. Doppler effect for sound, extended to light and the red shift. Superposition, beats, phase change on reflection. Standing Waves: Standing waves on strings. Nodes and antinodes. Resonant wavelengths and frequencies in strings and pipes. The laser resonator. Wave Optics: Young's slits and two beam interference. Temporal and spatial coherence and its relevance to interference patterns. Michelson interferometer and its use in precision length measurements. Anti-reflection coatings and thin-film interference. Multiple-beam interference. Wavelength separation by diffraction grating.


Properties of Matter

Atomic basis of matter: Atoms and molecules, Dalton's and Avogadro's hypotheses, atomic weight, the mole, Avogadro's number. Thermal physics and kinetic theory: Temperature scales and the gas laws. Evidence for and assumptions of simple kinetic theory. Derivation of pressure formula. Molecular speeds and kinetic energy. Mean free path. Thermal conductivity, convection and radiation.

The condensed state: Estimates of atomic size and spacing. Interatomic forces. Elasticity: stress, strain, Hooke's law, Young's modulus, stored energy. Nature of atoms: charge quantisation, measurement of e and e/m for electrons. Behaviour of charged particles in electric and magnetic fields. Electrical conduction in solids. Drift velocity, Hall effect. The nucleus: radioactivity, alpha, beta, and gamma rays, exponential decay, half life, nuclear size. Isotopes, radioactive series. Protons and neutrons.


Laboratory work (9 sessions)

Lab Skills development programme incorporating: Measurement precision and accuracy; Error propagation; Use of Instrumentation; Data analysis and graphical representation using Excel; Laboratory notebook keeping.  Experimental Investigation: Properties of Matter (Heat Capacity); Mechanics (Centripetal Acceleration); Waves and Optics (Sonometer).


Maths workshops.


Recommended Books

Please view University online record:


General Information

Please also read the additional information in the School's handbook for 1st and 2nd level modules that is available via