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An Introduction Course on Mechanics

Ji Wang's picture


We are currently offerring an introductory course on mechanics for junior students for all fields and subjects.  It is a so called general knowledge course for students to know more on certain subjects and fields before a decision on choice of a major is made.  Since the Mechanics Department in our University has not been popular for so long, we have decided to evangalize our field with more glorious history of Mechanics: Newton, Bernoulli, Euler, Clausius, Faraday, and Einstein.

 I am planning to give students an indepth introduction about major breakthoughs in Mechanics with major players, basic principles, significance, and applications.  Besides, may contribution to human civilization and modern engineering will also be emphasized.  I will not deal with the derivation of equations and their solutions.

Since the course was announced last year, we got enthusiastic responses from students (in Mechanics scale:-).  We shall have about 40 students, more than any Mechanics class I have taught.

Here are the major components of the class:

1. Newton and Gravity

2. Bernoulli and Fluid Mechanics

3. Clausius and Thermodynamics

4. Faraday and Electromagnetodynamics

5. Einstein and Relativity

I have been debating with myself if Quantum Mechanics should included, but I feel it does fall into the Mechanics categorey we are used to.

I am seeking your comments on the course we are trying to offer here at Ningbo University.

Ji Wang


Dear Ji,

Congrats! If you introduce such a course in China, sure enough, they will also think of doing something similar in India too. ;-)

I do have a few suggestions.

1. IMHO, some maths should be kept in.

For instance, a lot can be understood by noting that the inverse square law appears in many different contexts from gravity to electromagnetism and that the underlying character of the physical law is the same in all such diverse cases (and why).

If your audience can handle it, it's also OK to keep some discussion couched in terms of (ordinary) differentials. After all, Newton's main point was nothing but that it is a physical quantity of the first order differential (velocity) whose constancy implies the absence of force (or dynamical agents), not a physical quantity defined as the zeroth order differential (the position); that force comes into analysis as a second-order differential effect (whether you express the definition as F = dp/dt or as F = ma).

Completely removing mathematics is not advisable because the student (and sometimes his teacher) is deprived the opportunity to appreciate the quantum leaps in the advancement of the physical understanding.

2. I would suggest including some elasticity history. The candidates are right from Galileo to Hooke to Euler to Cauchy and Coulomb etc.

3. I presume you will of course add others too. For instance, Reynolds in fluid mechanics.

4. In an introductory course, IMO, both relativity and quantum mechanics are better left out. Not because they are poor physics theories but because so much irrationality surrounds their exposition that a general introductory course is more likely to end up reinforcing errors rather than clarifying them. The two topics are better handled once the student has already had a better grasp of the contents and the methods of classical physics.

5. Finally, I would like to mention (once again) that people should also really consult Mr. David Harriman's innovative course on physics. See the relevant Web site of the van Damme Academy for more details: It's very very relevant here. Some articles by Mr. Harriman regarding development and philosophy of science are also available at This can be good reference material.


Ji Wang's picture

Hi Ajit:

Thak you very much for the suggestions.  I shall definitely take a look of the Physics websites you suggested because actually I am teaching Physics---the classical part.

It is natural to mention almost all the great mechanicians along the way. 

About the equations and mathematics of the class, I have to think further.  It is supposed to be a general knowledge course, but the students do have the essential knowledge on calculus and physics.  It is possible to solve a few problems, but they may have been covered in Physics.  Either way, I have to find the best way to handle this.

Again, thanks.  The class is already started, and I am also listening to the students for their suggestions.  I shall share my findings as the class goes.

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