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Department of Physics
Undergraduate Students

Physics 311: Mechanics

This course is an intermediate undergraduate level course in classical mechanics. The major topics for Physics 311 include the origin and development of classical mechanics; mathematical techniques, especially vector analysis; conservation laws and their relation to symmetry principles; brief introduction to orbit theory and rigid-body dynamics; accelerated coordinate systems; introduction to the generalized-coordinate formalisms of Lagrange and Hamilton; and an introduction to the theory of chaos and nonlinear dynamics.  The main goal of  the class is mathematical techniques and to introduce the students to the language and mathematical techniques used for solving problems of mechanics;  it also prepares the students for advanced coursework in the physics sequence including electromagnetic fields,  statistical physics and provides the foundation for quantum mechanics by introducing Hamiltonian mechanics.  This class also provides the necessary background for advanced topical classes such as  plasma physics and fluid mechanics.   This course uses vector analysis heavily, and relies upon vector calculus for solving problems.   As such, it is useful to have taken or be concurrently taking Math 321.   Traditionally, the course is taught with three lectures per week and a weekly problem session. 

Topics Covered
This class is intended to give students an introduction to the concepts and mathematics used to describe electromagnetic phenomena. Physics topics usually covered include:

  • Origin and development of classical mechanics 
  • conservation laws and their relation to symmetry principles; 
  • basic orbit theory including planets and scattering
  • rigid-body dynamics
  • accelerated coordinate systems
  • introduction to the generalized-coordinates 
  • Introduction to Lagrangian and Hamilton mechanics
  • chaos and nonlinear dynamics

In addition, the class introduces and uses the following mathematics:

  • Vector analysis, coordinate transformations
  • basic vector calculus, div, the Laplacian, Stoke's.
  • Numerical solutions of coupled first order differential equations (Runge-Kutta integration)

Experiments for this course are covered in Physics 307

Physics 249 or equivalent.

Standard Texts

Classical Dynamics (fourth edition),  J. B. Marion and S.T. Thornton,   Saunders College Publishing 1995. 

Classical Mechanics: A Modern Perspective, 2nd Edition, by Vernon Barger and Martin Olsson (McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York, 1995) ISBN 0-07-003734-5

Mechanics, K. Symon, Addison Wesley (1971).

Mechanics, Course of Theoretical Physics Volume 1, L.D. Landau and E.M. Lifshitz, Permagon Press (1976).

The Feynman Lectures on Physics [as Reference],  R.P. Feynman, R.B. Leighton and M. Sands, Addison-Wesley (1964). 


Last updated: 2/18/2007
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