Physics 2 : 2018-19 @ Caltech

News Course Information Sections, Office Hours and Grading Schedule Calendar Notes Homework/Solutions

Course Information

Ph2a (2018-19 Fall Term)

Welcome to Ph2a: Waves and Oscillations

This is an introductory course on the generic properties of vibrations and waves, including both discrete and continuous media, with application across a broad range of phenomena and fields. Lecture demonstrations will be used to introduce and develop the concepts. Abstractions and concrete examples will also be discussed.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:
  • Explain oscillatory and wave phenomena including resonance, damping, normal modes, superposition, interference, diffraction, dispersion, phase velocity and group velocity.
  • Understand that many phenomena may be described at least approximately within the general framework of simple harmonic motion
  • Apply your understanding to problems of mechanical motion and electronic currents
  • Apply Taylor series expansion to approximately describe additional phenomena as simple oscillations

    Lecturer:

    Frank Porter
    348 Lauritsen, Ext. 6777
    Office Hour: After lecture, or by email/appointment

    Head TA:

    Ashmeet Singh
    414 Downs-Lauritsen
    Office Hour: Monday 7pm, Downs-Lauritsen 414
    e-mail:

    Course Secretary:

    Meagan Heirwegh
    156 Linde Hall, Ext. 4336
    e-mail:

    Lecture and Recitations:


  • Lectures: Tuesdays 11-11:55am in 201 E. Bridge and Thursdays 11-11:55am in Lauritsen 269.
  • Recitations: Wednesday and Friday. Check out the Sections, Office Hours and Grading Schedule tab above for more details.

    Textbooks:

    George King, Vibrations and Waves
    It is well-written and an excellent match to the desired content of the course. We should be able to get through it all. The text is also available on reserve in Sherman Fairchild Library.

    Section Changes:

    You are encouraged to find a recitation section that is both enjoyable and beneficial. If you are dissatisfied with your assigned section, feel free to sit in on another one. If you decide to change sections, get the signature of the instructor of the new section, on your yellow card. Section times and locations are available on the the Sections, Office Hours and Grading Schedule tab above and also the registrar's webpage (http://schedules.caltech.edu/FA2018-19.html#dept_details_PHYSICS).

    Homework Assignments:

    Homework will be due at 11 am on Tuesdays (just before lecture), in the homework box outside 201 E Bridge and returned to a group location (the return cubbies in Bridge Annex) if you've filled out the FERPA; otherwise they can be picked up from Meagan Heirwegh in 156 Linde Hall. Assignments are listed on the Homework/Solutions tab above. Solution sets will be posted on the web one week after the homework is due. You are strongly encouraged to check your work when it is returned to you. Problem sets are essential for mastering the material in this class! You are encouraged to approach and solve problems in a comprehensive way, focusing on the ``flow of thought and logic" instead of just getting the final answer ``right". Have a look at some guidelines and an solved example problem to help you approach problems better.

    Extension Policy:

  • Please scan and e-mail all late assigments to the appropriate grader (also cc Ashmeet, the head TA at ). The grader will grade it and send the student a brief e-mail mentioning their score and where and why points were taken off. List of graders and which assignments they are responsible for is listed in the Sections, Office Hours and Grading Schedule tab above.
  • Late homeworks (after the due date) will be accepted throughout the remaining part of the term but the amount of credit you will get will fall exponentially as days progress by, such that a homework submitted a week late will get half the credit. This sets the ``half life" of credit to be 7/ln2 days = 10.0989 days. Please put a note at the top of your problem set if it is late, stating the actual due date and the date you are submitting it.
  • One extension (for up to one week) is allowed without question (your silver bullet) after which the exponential credit decay follows on this silver bullet too. Please put a note at the top of your problem set that you are using your silver bullet.
  • Additional extension requests (due to illness or other extreme hardship) require a note from the dean to the Head TA.

    Assessment, Exams & Grading:


    Under the theory that you learn best by doing, the problem sets will be heavily weighted. The plan is to compute grades based on:

    Component Percent of grade
    Homework 70
    "Quizz" 10
    Final (individual) 10
    Final (group) 10

    In the hopes that it will be a bit more fun and motivating, we are changing somewhat from the traditional sequence of quizzes and final as well. For the "quizz" we will arrange for one recitation during the quarter to be a flipped section, with students doing the problems. Grading on this will largely amount to a "participation grade", i.e., not so much on getting the right answer as on effort. The final is proposed to be in two steps. We'll work out the details as we get closer, but the idea is along the lines of: Everbody does the final as an individual, and gets an individual score. The class will be divided into small groups (randomly, we plan), and each group will collaborate on the final and turn in a group exam for a group score. Everyone in the group gets the same score for this. If someone gets an individual score higher than their group score (we hope this doesn't happen), they will be protected in the sense that the higher of their individual and group scores will be assigned as their group score.

    Slack and Piazza:

    We will be using Slack as a collaborative and interactive online workspace where you can ask questions, discuss concepts and brainstorm with the course instructors and your fellow classmates. Don't slack in using Slack! To join our Slack workspace, register with your Caltech email (The restriction is that you must have a Caltech IP address (use VPN if needed).) at: https://join.slack.com/t/ph2a2018/signup and after which you can access it at https://ph2a2018.slack.com. You should also download the Slack app on your phone and stay connected with all the awesome physics Ph2a has to offer!

    We are also using Piazza as a platform to encourage questions and discussion. And yes, you can post anonymously here (unlike Slack). Please join the class' Piazza here.

    Ombuds:

    Ombudsfolk are student volunteers who represent the students of each of the undergrad houses. They collect suggestions, comments, complaints, etc, and discuss them with the course instructor and TAs at periodic meetings (free lunch!). Talk to your ombudsperson! Each house should select an ombudsperson. Prof. Porter and the recitation TAs will have lunch with the Ombuds on Tuesday, 10/16 at noon and then again on Tuesday, 11/6 at noon. Students are also encouraged to discuss any problems regarding the course, directly with Prof. Porter, or head TA, Ashmeet after lecture/recitation or by appointment.


  • Ashima Agarwal (aagarwa3 AT caltech.edu) : Ruddock
  • Andrea Hands Arocha (ahands AT caltech.edu) : Dabney
  • Liana Merk (lmerk AT caltech.edu) : Page

    Collaboration Policies:


    Collaboration is encouraged and and is intended to reflect real-life problem-solving experience. A good practice is to first give problems a good try by yourself. Then maybe you will have the satisfaction of explaining it to your colleague. However, whatever you turn in should be what you think you understand. Imagine someone asking you to explain it. If you use some resource on the web for a problem, reference it!

    You may consult Homework Exams/Quizzes
    Course textbook
    (including answers in the back)
    and posted class notes
    Yes Yes
    Other books Yes No
    Solutions manuals No No
    Wikipedia/online encyclopedias Yes No
    Problem specific web sources from
    Quora/physics stack-exchange
    No No
    Your notes (taken in class) Yes Yes
    Class notes of others Yes No
    Your hand copies of class notes of others Yes Yes
    Photocopies of class notes of others Yes No
    Electronic copies of class notes of others Yes No
    Course handouts Yes Yes
    Your returned homework/quizzes/exams Yes Yes
    Solutions to this year's prior
    homeworks/quizzes/exams (posted on webpage)
    Yes Yes
    Homework/quizzes/exams of previous years No No
    Solutions to homework/quizzes/exams
    of previous years
    No No
    Emails from TAs Yes No
    For computational aids, you may use: Homework Exams/Quizzes
    Calculators Yes Yes
    Computers Yes No
    Mathematica Yes No