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Physics & Astronomy

Sara Salimbeni

"How and why do things work?" The study of physics comes from the human need to understand the natural world around us. The primary reason to study physics is to satisfy your hunger for knowledge and curiosity regarding natural phenomena. Moreover, physics is a fundamental science and it is needed as part of a foundation for many of the other natural sciences. In addition, physics is the basis for most modern technology.

Through your study of physics, you will develop a grounding in a variety of physics concepts. You will understand forces and energy, electricity and magnetism, and topics that will challenge your brain, like relativity and quantum physics. However, studying physics doesn't mean memorizing formulas, but rather learning a methodology of investigation; you will acquire a mindset and skills essential for your life. In doing experiments and solving problems you will have to analyze, to reason logically, to discriminate between important and irrelevant information, and to write and explain in a clear and concise way your reasoning and your deductions. These are valuable skills that can be applied in a range of careers.

Curiosity about the world around us, and the observation of physical phenomena, is the first step in learning physics. Students at Marlboro experience physics via active discussion in class and direct laboratory experiments. During the introductory level classes, students learn the basic concepts of physics and astronomy, basic skills of problem solving and the scientific method. Intermediate level classes and advance tutorials are designed for students with deeper interest in the subject. These courses stress more problem solving and mathematical formulation and the experimentation skills used by professional physicists.

I have a doctorate degree in astronomy. After my doctorate, I spent four years doing astronomical research. My research focuses on understanding the formation and evolution of galaxies. Together with my passion for astronomy and cosmology, I am interested in doing plan work on most physics’ topics. I encourage students to pursue their own interest in any of the sub-fields of physics, including interdisciplinary work.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • Astronomy
  • Cosmology
  • Most topics in undergraduate physics 
  • Physics Education 
  • Physics and Sustainable Development

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

An introductory physics class involving some laboratory work, suitable for students considering a plan in physics, science students, or non-science students who want a physics foundation. Topics include vector algebra, kinematics, dynamics of single and many-particle systems, gravitation, energy, momentum, conservation laws, circular and rigid body motion. Prerequisite: Mathematical proficiency up to but not necessarily including calculus Introductory | Credits: 4

Second half of the year-long introductory physics sequence. This class is suitable for students considering a plan in physics, science students, or non-science students who want a physics foundation.  Topics include gravitation, fluids, oscillations, waves and thermodynamics. Prerequisite: General Physics I     Introductory | Credits: 4

A laboratory course intended to introduce experimental methods in physics. Topics include mechanics and thermodynamics. You will acquire familiarity with a variety of laboratory instruments, techniques and statistical tools. You will also learn how to record and present your observations and results. This class will help you to further develop experimental common sense and "physical intuition". Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in General Physics I or permission of the instructor. Introductory | Credits: 2

An introduction to the physical principles behind energy, energy uses and their effect on the environment, suitable for science students and non-science students. Some of the included topics are: mechanical energy, conservation of energy, heat and work, production of energy (e.g solar, fossil fuels). PrerequisiteHigh School Agebra Introductory | Credits: 3

A survey of modern astronomy, designed to be accessible to non-science students. Topics include the birth, life and death of stars as well as galaxies and their origin and evolution. This class will be an opportunity to explore fundamental physics concepts and quantitative thinking. As part of the class we will spend time conducting naked-eye observations, using binoculars, small telescopes and the MacArthur Observatory. The course will also meet on four evenings for two hours to perform observations of the sky.  Introductory | Credits: 3

Is there life in the universe beyond earth? How can we find it?  How life begun, evolved and distribute within the universe? How the existence of life beyond earth would affect us? Astrobiology is multidisciplinary field that aims to answer some of these questions. The first exobiology NASA project was in 1959, since then the interest of scientist in astrobiology has been always rising.  This seminar has the goal to create a space for a multidisciplinary discussion about introductory topics related with this subject. Guest faculty will be invited to assure a multidisciplinary view of this subject. Prerequisitenone.  Introductory | Credits: 2

Our knowledge of the solar system is continuously expanding thanks to recent space missions.  This seminar is aimed at exploring some of the new research and discoveries made.  Selected articles presenting these discoveries will be analyzed in class and used as the starting point to discuss more general topics in astronomy. Prerequisitenone.  Introductory | Credits: 2

An introduction to observational astronomy designed to be accessible to non-science students. The primary goal of this course is for you to learn about astronomy by observing the night sky. During this class you will learn constellations and celestial objects.  We will use some small telescopes and the MacArthur Observatory, but will primarily conduct naked-eyes observations. Prerequisite: none. Introductory | Credits: 2

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

An introduction to the physics of electric and magnetic phenomena. Topics include electrostatic forces, electric and magnetic fields, induction, Maxwell's equations, and some DC circuits. Prerequisite: General Physics I and II and Advanced Calculus (may be taken concurrently). Intermediate | Credits: 4

A combination lab-theory course covering DC, AC and digital circuits as well as geometrical and wave optics. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor. Intermediate | Credits: 4

A sophomore-level introduction to quantum mechanics, including wave-particle duality, the Schrodinger equation and its application to the structure of atoms, molecules, and solids; nuclear physics; elementary particles. Prerequisite: General Physics I & II and Electricity and Magnetism. Intermediate | Credits: 4

An introduction to Einstein's special relativity, investigating how this theory has changed our understanding of space and time. The class will also focus on the discussion of some of the science presented in science fiction movies that incorporate Einstein's theory. Special relativity can be understood completely with only a little math, and this makes this course suitable both for science students and non-science students willing to know more about one of the theories that dramatically changed our understanding of physics during the 20th century. Multi-Level | Credits: 2

Advanced lab course for students on Plan in physics, astronomy or a related field. Students will choose several of the following experiments to perform: weighing the earth (by measuring Newton’s gravitational constant “G”), measuring the speed of light “c,” investigating the emission spectrum of a near-blackbody radiation source and using it to determine Planck’s constant “h,” exploring the chaotic dynamics of a driven pendulum and investigating the diffraction and interference of light. Each lab will culminate with a lab report (written, preferably, using LaTeX; see NSC 534, Writing Math). Prerequisite: Permission of instructor. Intermediate | Credits: 3

This Classical Mechanics class is suitable either for students in transition to advanced physics classes or for students with a good physics foundation who want to study Classical Mechanics more in depth. This class provides a complete analysis of the classical mechanics of particles, systems of particles, and rigid bodies. It introduces the mathematical formalism needed for the quantum theory of physics as well. Some of the included topics will be: Oscillations and Nonlinear Oscillations and Chaos, some Methods in the Calculus of Variations, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian Dynamics. Prerequisite: General Physics I, Calculus I and II and III, or approval from the Teacher. Intermediate | Credits: 4

An introduction to modern astronomy and astrophysics, including some recent research topics. Appropriate for students who already have a good foundation in physics. Topics will include stellar structure and evolution, galaxy structure and evolution, and the structure of the universe and cosmology. Advanced | Credits: 4

Good Foundation for Plan

Students contemplating a plan in physics are encouraged to have a wide scientific background.

a)         Students willing to do a traditional plan in physics should attend General Physics I and II during their first year, Electricity and Magnetism and Modern Physics during their second year. In addition, they should expect to take at least some of the following classes and tutorials: Experiments in Physics, Astrophysics, Classical Mechanics, Quantum Physics, Electrodynamics, Statistical Mechanics.  Less “traditional” and interdisciplinary plans are also welcome. The foundation needed for these plans will be discussed on a case by case basis.

b)         Astronomy is one branch of physics. In addition to spending time in the observatory, astronomy students should take the standard physics curriculum, replacing some of the more advanced physics coursework with relevant tutorials in astronomy and astrophysics. In particular, prospective astronomy students should take the physics course series for their first two years.

c)          A solid mathematical background is required, since this language, together with English, is used to express physical concepts. Students willing to do a plan in physics should attend the series of calculus courses. Linear Algebra and a course in Differential Equations are strongly suggested as well.

d)        Today, those studying physics intensively use computers for simulations and/or data analysis. Students thinking to have an experimental part of their plan might need to develop skills in programming.

e)         Some branches of chemistry and physics are tightly linked; basic knowledge of chemistry is also strongly encouraged.


Sample Tutorial Topics

  • Observational Astronomy
  • Topic of research in Astronomy
  • Solar Physics
  • Planetary Science
  • Acoustics and the Physics of Musical Sound
  • Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics
  • Quantum Mechanics
  • Electrodynamics