Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics XXIV: Distance Variations of Fields and Forces

This question was inspired by chapters 13, 14, and 15 of Matter & Interactions and would, I think, make a good final exam question even in courses where M&I isn’t used. The story line in those chapters makes a wonderful progression through different charge distributions and their fields and interactions with other similar charge distributions. […]

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Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics XXIII: A Question About Fields

This question came to me while I was planning for this semester’s introductory calculus-based e&m course (using Matter & Interactions of course). My overall desire and plan is to move away from the traditional number crunching type of problems, where all students really do is manipulate coordinate components of vectors or perhaps vector magnitudes, all […]

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Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics XVIII: The Maxwell Equations

The Maxwell equations contain everything mentioned in an introductory calculus-based electromagnetic theory course, and then some. They contain detailed mathematical structure and deep insight into electromagnetic fields. They are a magnificent playground for learning the various theorems of vector calculus, and applying these theorems to the fields of particles naturally leads to things like divergence, […]

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Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics XVI: Superposition Arguments

Superposition is a powerful principle in physics, especially in introductory electromagnetic theory. A charged particle’s electric field exists independently of the fields of any other particles. A thorough understanding of superposition can prevent the frequent misunderstanding that fields can somehow be “blocked,” which is subtly different from saying that the net field at a point […]

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Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics XV: Symmetry Arguments

Symmetry is part of the foundation¬†of contemporary physics, but it is seldom emphasized in introductory physics in proportion to its significance. There may be some value in discussing how symmetry applies to otherwise traditional introductory problems rather than just replicating numerical examples from a textbook (even a good textbook). These questions illustrate symmetry in electromagnetic […]

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Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics XIV: Simple DC Circuits

This post continues this series into second semester introductory calculus-based physics, usually electromagnetic theory. This question addresses basic DC circuits. In a traditional introductory e&m course, circuits are presented with so many idealizations that according to such treatments simple circuits shouldn’t work at all! Two of the most important idealizations are that potential differences along […]

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Conceptual Understanding in Introductory Physics III: Interpreting Physical Quantities

This series continues with a question which, I hope, causes readers and students to reflect on something that is frequently omitted from traditional introductory physics courses. I contend that words are all we have to convey conceptual understanding in physics or any other topic. Yet, in science courses, and especially in physics courses, we tend […]

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