PH 2201, Intermediate Mechanics I

This course emphasizes a systematic approach to the mathematical formulation of mechanics problems and to the physical interpretation of the mathematical solutions.  Topics covered include: Newton's laws of motion, kinematics and dynamics of a single particle, vector analysis, motion of particles, and gravitation.  Recommended background:  PH 1110, PH 1120, PH 1130, PH 1140, MA 1021, MA 1022, MA 1023, MA 1024 and concurrent registration in or completion of MA 2051.  (The more important courses are in bold.)

The concepts of PH 1110 serve you very well for PH 2201.  The problems in this course are more challenging, however, and emphasis is placed on your problem-solving skills and effective communication of your solutions.  PH 2201 problems tend to be very practically oriented.  If you continue on to PH 2202, you will learn new, more theoretical physics.

The text is "An Introduction to Mechanics," 2nd edition, by Kleppner and Kolenkow (ISBN 978-0-521-19811-0), available in the bookstore.  Clickers may be borrowed from ATC, to the right of the Helpdesk in the Gordon Library.  Beware that failure to return them at the end of the term will result in a $75 charge to your account, in addition to a hold on your account.

We meet in OH 223 on MTThF at 11:00. Instructor: Professor NA Burnham,

Course objectives

Final grade determination

60 %
The three exams.  10% penalty for make-ups.
30 %
Lowest two scores of the twelve homework assignments dropped.  No make-ups or late submissions are allowed.
10 %

Answers to clicker questions during class.  You earn one point for answering and two points for answering correctly.  Four lowest daily scores dropped; no make-ups or late submissions are allowed.  Proper operation of your clicker is your responsibility.  

Your class attendance is expected, although not required.  If your final numerical grade lies on the border line between two letter grades, then your class participation will determine which letter grade you shall receive.  After the second exam, I'll give you an indication of how you are doing.  Please respect my decision not to discuss grades by email.


The syllabus is embodied by this calendar.  The colors of the text are to help you distinguish between the three units of the course on:  i), mathematics and forces (Chaps. 1-3); ii) linear momentum and energy (Chaps. 4-6);  iii) angular momentum and orbits (Chaps. 7, 10).
Week of Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
What's due 
Today's topic

Polar Coords.
18.January MLK Day
Force I

Force II
Force III
Force IV
Force V

Force VI
Momentum I
Momentum II
4.5, 4.6
Exam 1
Chaps. 1-3

Momentum III
4.7, 4.8
Momentum IV
4.9, 4.10

8.February --
Energy I
Energy II
5.5, 5.6

Energy III
Energy IV
15.February --
7.4, 7.5

Advising Day
Exam 2
Chaps. 4-6
7.6, 7.7
7.8, 7.9

Orbits I
Orbits II
Orbits III
Orbits IV

Exam 3
Chaps. 7, 10


The exam problems will be similar to the assigned homework.  Typically, there will be three problems.  One problem will be similar to C15 homework and two similar to C14 homework, the solutions to which are already posted at our myWPI site.  The exams are closed book and closed notes, although you may bring a formula sheet, limited to one side of a Letter page.  There is a 10% penalty on make-ups.  Each exam is worth 20 % of your final grade.  No calculators or other electronic devices are allowed.

Homework assignments

There are twelve homework sets of four problems each.  If you cannot attend class, I expect to see your work in my mailbox (near the Physics Department office) at 11 am on the due date.  If you are not able to perform your homework on time, I still recommend that you do it, as exam problems will be similar.  You are encouraged to collaborate on the homework problems, but you must each write up your own solutions.  The grader will use the grading guidelines below.  No homework shall be accepted late. 

1.11, 1.15, 1.21, 1.22
HW1 2.9, 2.12, 2.17, 2.A
HW2 2.5, 2.6, 3.12, 3.A
HW3 3.B, 3.C, 3.D, 3.E
HW4 4.3, 4.A, 4.B, 4.C.  Symbolic solutions first!
HW5 4.13, 4.22, 4.26, 4.D.  Symbolic solutions first!
HW6 5.6, 5.A, 5.B, 5.C
HW7 5.D, 5.E, 5.F, 5.G
HW8 7.3, 7.8, 7.9, 7.14
HW9 7.16 (And what is the minimum period?), 7.23, 7.31, 7.36
HW10 10.A, 10.B, 10.C, 10.D
10.8, 10.9, 10.10, 10.11. Symbolic solutions first!

Grading guidelines

I will use the following scheme for grading.  You'll notice a big emphasis on effective communication, an aspect of your education that corporations examine during the hiring process.  You will not be graded on your answer, you will be graded on your solution.
Points For each problem (out of five possible points):
-5 No symbolic solutions
Symbolic solution has wrong dimensions
-1 to -5  Write-up hard to read or understand
No sketch
No commentary
-1 Vectors confused with scalars or vice versa
Missing or incorrect units on numerical answers
-1 No boxes around symbolic and numerical answers
  In general, for any given problem:
 5 =  Excellent -- write-up clear and correct
 4 = Good -- write-up clear and mostly correct, or understandable and correct
 3 = Acceptable -- write-up understandable and mostly correct, or poor write-up and correct, or clear write-up and incorrect
  And for an entire assignment:
-5 Electronic submission
-1 No name
-1 Ragged edges
-1 No staple

Communication and office hours

My office is OH 219.  I am sometimes in my lab, OH 009, in the Physics Library, OH 118, or in the department office, OH 119.  My mailbox is between the doors of OH 118 and 119.  Email (checked twice daily), web, office phone with voice mail (508) 831-5365; fax (508) 831-5886; my basic weekly schedule, with office hours, is posted at  Please put "PH 2201" in the subject line of your emails for a faster response.  The web address for this page is  My research is described at and at links therein.


There is often a physics graduate student in the physics library, OH 118.  He or she sits near the sign labeled "Physics Help".  The principal reason for Physics Help is actually introductory physics, not our class.  Still, the Helpers might be able to assist you.  There should be a schedule posted on the library door.

The PLA for this course is William C McCarthy.  His email address is, and his office hours in OH 118 are 9-10:00 TF and 12-1:00 MWR.

If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability or if you have medical information to share with me, please see me.  Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact the Disability Services Office (DSO) as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion.  The DSO is located in Daniels Hall, (508) 831-5235.

Academic dishonesty

Individual integrity is vital to the academic environment because education involves the search for and acquisition of knowledge and understanding, which are, in themselves, intangible.  Evaluation of each student’s level of knowledge and understanding is a vital part of the teaching process, and requires tangible measures such as reports, examinations, and homework.  Any act that interferes with the process of evaluation by misrepresentation of the relation between the work being evaluated (or the resulting evaluation) and the student’s actual state of knowledge is an act of academic dishonesty.  The moral equivalent of academic dishonesty in larger society is treason.

In Intermediate Mechanics, you are encouraged to collaborate on the homework, although you must prepare the homework for submission yourself.  You may bring to the classroom exams a formula sheet; it is limited to one side of a standard Letter-sized page.  During an exam, you may have only the exam, your formula sheet, and writing implements on your desk.  (No calculators, telephones, or other electronic devices.)  You may not give or receive information during exams, except to ask the instructor to clarify a question.

Educational research has shown that:

  1. The most learning occurs in an environment characterized by high expectations and respect and care for individual students, and where the value of collaboration is stressed over competition.
  2. The most learning occurs in an active classroom environment where students take responsibility for learning rather than being passive receptors of the professor’s knowledge.
  3. Students can learn as effectively or more effectively from peers than from a professor.
  4. Facilitating development of students’ communication, teamwork, and interpersonal skills is as important as helping them learn physics.
  5. Professors and students are equals in the learning process.  I have as much to learn about teaching and people as they have to learn about physics.
Above three sections adapted from: Disability Services Office, Dean of Students Office, Prof. Phillies, Prof. Demetry.

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N.A. Burnham, January 2015