Computer Simulation Laboratory

Clark University
Physics 125/225
Spring 2002

Instructor: Harvey Gould, BP 350,
Teaching Assistant: Natali Gulbahce,
Office Hours: Harvey Gould, no appointment necessary. Natali Gulbahce, by appointment (preferably by e-mail).

Prerequisites: one semester of physics and calculus or permission of the instructor. No background in computer programming is assumed.

Recommended Textbook: An Introduction to Computer Simulation Methods: Applications to Physical Systems, second edition, Harvey Gould and Jan Tobochnik, Addison-Wesley (1996). Drafts of the third edition by Gould, Tobochnik, and Wolfgang Christian will be made available so it is not necessary to purchase the second edition.

It also is recommended that you purchase one or more Java programming books. The Java tutorial at Sun is very helpful. Also see the Java Documentation at Sun. Other useful Java-related sites can be found here.

Students should also have a three-ring binder to keep their computer output and laboratory reports.

Discussion: Tuesday, Thursday 1:15 pm - 2 pm, Room 359 BioPhysics. An extra graduate discussion will be scheduled later in the semester.

Laboratory: The laboratory meets Tu/Th 10 am - 12 pm or 2 - 4 pm in BP Room 253A.

Description of Course

Physics 125 is an introductory course on the computer simulation of physical systems. The goals of the course are to introduce the methods of computer simulation, gain a greater intuitive understanding of basic concepts in physics, learn how computer simulation is changing the nature of physics and related disciplines, and learn object oriented programming skills. Catalog description.

The course is project oriented with students proceeding at their own pace depending on their background and interests. The course is still being taught on an experimental basis. The primary programming language of the course is Java. However, I am still learning Java and how to teach it. I hope that the more advanced students will help teach Java to the rest of us. The course should be an excellent learning experience if you are self-motivated and do not mind some disorganization.

During the first part of the course, I will survey some of the main applications of computer simulations in physics, including the simulation of the motion of planetary motion, chaos and nonlinear systems, self-organized critical phenomena, random systems, fractal phenomena, and thermal systems. Then students will choose topics that interest them the most.

Physics 125 fulfills the scientific perspective requirement. Physics 225 is taught concurrently and can be taken for graduate credit. An additional discussion section will be arranged for graduate students and for undergraduates wishing to study the more advanced chapters.

Structure of Course
The weekly discussion periods will introduce the physical system of interest and the corresponding model, suggest algorithms and programming strategy, and present methods for analyzing the results. Discussions of programming will usually take place in the laboratory.

The overall strategy of the course is to lead students to conceptualize a physical system, develop a computer experiment, and analyze and explain the data that they generate. The premise is that this process will lead students to a greater intuitive understanding of a physical system as well as an understanding of the methods of computer simulation.

It is expected that you will spend approximately 12-15 hours per week on the course including attendance at the scheduled discussion and laboratory periods and the preparation of project reports. The maximum of 12-15 hours is necessary to protect you from unreasonable demands by the instructor and from the tendency of some students to become overly involved in their projects. The minimum is necessary in order that students make reasonable and steady progress in a course that is project-oriented. Graduate students are expected to spend 15-20 hours per week.

Attendance Policy
Attendance at the discussions and at the assigned laboratory sections is required. The only generally accepted excuse for absence is illness. If more than two laboratory projects or reports are missed without prior arrangement with the instructor, you will be asked to drop the course.

Grades will be based on the difference between what you learned at the end of the course and what you knew at the beginning. That is, each student will be evaluated differently. Student performance will be based on the following (in approximate order of importance).

Laboratory (Room BP 253A) Physics home page

Updated 16 April 2002.