PHYS 2211 Module 1

1: Units and Measurement

This image might be showing any number of things. It might be a whirlpool in a tank of water or perhaps a collage of paint and shiny beads done for art class. Without knowing the size of the object in units we all recognize, such as meters or inches, it is difficult to know what we’re looking at. In fact, this image shows the Whirlpool Galaxy (and its companion galaxy), which is about 60,000 light-years in diameter (about 6 × 1017 km across). (credit: modification of work by S. Beckwith (STScI) Hubble Heritage Team, (STScI/AURA), ESA, NASA)

The image is of the Whirlpool Galaxy, which we examine in the first section of this chapter. Galaxies are as immense as atoms are small, yet the same laws of physics describe both, along with all the rest of nature—an indication of the underlying unity in the universe. The laws of physics are surprisingly few, implying an underlying simplicity to nature’s apparent complexity. In this text, you learn about the laws of physics. Galaxies and atoms may seem far removed from your daily life, but as you begin to explore this broad-ranging subject, you may soon come to realize that physics plays a much larger role in your life than you first thought, no matter your life goals or career choice.

1.1 The Scope and Scale of Physics

  • Describe the scope of physics.
  • Calculate the order of magnitude of a quantity.
  • Compare measurable length, mass, and timescales quantitatively.
  • Describe the relationships among models, theories, and laws.

1.2 Units and Standards

  • Describe how SI base units are defined.
  • Describe how derived units are created from base units.
  • Express quantities given in SI units using metric prefixes.

1.3 Unit Conversion

  • Use conversion factors to express the value of a given quantity in different units.

1.4 Dimensional Analysis

  • Find the dimensions of a mathematical expression involving physical quantities.
  • Determine whether an equation involving physical quantities is dimensionally consistent.

1.5 Estimates and Fermi Calculations

  • Estimate the values of physical quantities.

1.6 Significant Figures

  • Determine the correct number of significant figures for the result of a computation.
  • Describe the relationship between the concepts of accuracy, precision, uncertainty, and discrepancy.
  • Calculate the percent uncertainty of a measurement, given its value and its uncertainty.
  • Determine the uncertainty of the result of a computation involving quantities with given uncertainties.

1.7 Solving Problems in Physics

  • Describe the process for developing a problem-solving strategy.
  • Explain how to find the numerical solution to a problem.
  • Summarize the process for assessing the significance of the numerical solution to a problem.

Module 1 Class Activities

Module 1 Self Assessment Practice Problems