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PX154-10 Physics Foundations

Undergraduate Level 1
Module leader
Jon Duffy
Credit value
Module duration
10 weeks
100% exam
Study location
University of Warwick main campus, Coventry
Introductory description

This module looks at dimensional analysis, thermodynamics and waves. Thermodynamics studies heat transfers and how they can lead to useful work. Even though the results are universal, the simplest way to introduce this topic is via the ideal gas, whose properties are discussed and derived in some detail.

The second half of the module covers waves. Waves are time-dependent variations about some time-independent (often equilibrium) state. They carry energy, momentum and information and much of their behaviour is similar whatever their nature. The module covers phenomena like the Doppler effect (this is the effect that the frequency of a wave changes as a function of the relative velocity of the source and observer), the reflection and transmission of waves at boundaries and some elementary ideas about interference.

Module web page

Module aims

To introduce the style and content of physics at university and to cover ideas about waves, matter and thermodynamics.

Outline syllabus

This is an indicative module outline only to give an indication of the sort of topics that may be covered. Actual sessions held may differ.

Introduction to University Physics:
Concepts - Mechanics, Fields and Thermal physics. Their use to predict and explain phenomena. The need for mathematics.

Dimensional Analysis:
Relation between dimensions and units. A physical law can always be written using dimensionless variables. Illustrative examples: wavespeed in a shallow channel and along a tight string; GI Taylor's t2/5 law for the spread of a fireball, the Planck length, period of a pendulum and the role of a second dimenionless variable.

Heat and Gases:
Thermal equilibrium, zero'th law. Temperature scales. Thermal expansion. Heat capacity. Phases of Matter. Kinetic theory of gases: equation of state and isotherms, kinetic model of gases, equipartition of energy. Heat capacity, compressibility. Particle interactions, van der Waal's equation, condensed phases. First law of thermodynamics. Thermodynamic systems and processes. Conservation of energy, heat is a form of energy. Internal energy and heat capacity. Adiabatic processes. Second law of thermodynamics. Reversible and irreversible processes. Carnot cycles, heat engines, refrigerators and heat pumps.

Types of wave: sound waves in gases and solids, water waves, light waves. Different elastic moduli in solids. Description of a travelling wave and relation between speed, frequency and wavelength/wavenumber. Idea of a plane wave and use of complex numbers. Impedance, power and intensity. Reflection and transmission at a boundary, standing waves, normal modes and beats. Doppler effect. Nature of Light: wavefronts, reflection and refraction, refractive index, polarization. Huygens construction. Coherence and interference. Two-slit experiment, intensity in interference pattern. Phase difference and path difference.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Use dimensional analysis to establish how physical quantities can depend on each other
  • Describe the solid, liquid and gas phases of matter
  • Work with the kinetic theory of gases
  • State and use the first and second laws of thermodynamics to solve problems involving heat transfers and work
  • Solve wave problems involving: travelling and standing waves, the Doppler effect, boundary conditions and normal modes
  • Describe the nature of light: its electromagnetic origin, its polarization and the role of the refractive index
  • Describe interference effects using complex number notation
Indicative reading list

University Physics, Young and Freedman

View reading list on Talis Aspire

Subject specific skills

Knowledge of mathematics and physics. Skills in dimensional analysis, modelling, reasoning, thinking.

Transferable skills

Analytical, communication, problem-solving, self-study

Study time

Type Required
Lectures 30 sessions of 1 hour (30%)
Private study 70 hours (70%)
Total 100 hours
Private study description

Working through lecture notes, solving problems, wider reading, discussing with others taking the module, revising for exam, practising on past exam papers


No further costs have been identified for this module.

You must pass all assessment components to pass the module.

Assessment group B
Weighting Study time
In-person Examination 100%

Answer 4 questions

  • Answerbook Pink (12 page)
  • Students may use a calculator
Feedback on assessment

Personal tutor, group feedback

Past exam papers for PX154


This module is Core for:

  • UPXA-GF13 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (BSc)
    • Year 1 of GF13 Mathematics and Physics
    • Year 1 of GF13 Mathematics and Physics
  • UPXA-FG31 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (MMathPhys)
    • Year 1 of FG31 Mathematics and Physics (MMathPhys)
    • Year 1 of FG31 Mathematics and Physics (MMathPhys)
  • UPXA-F300 Undergraduate Physics (BSc)
    • Year 1 of F300 Physics
    • Year 1 of F300 Physics
    • Year 1 of F300 Physics
  • UPXA-F303 Undergraduate Physics (MPhys)
    • Year 1 of F300 Physics
    • Year 1 of F303 Physics (MPhys)
  • UPXA-F3F5 Undergraduate Physics with Astrophysics (BSc)
    • Year 1 of F3F5 Physics with Astrophysics
    • Year 1 of F3F5 Physics with Astrophysics
  • Year 1 of UPXA-F3FA Undergraduate Physics with Astrophysics (MPhys)
  • Year 1 of UPXA-F3N2 Undergraduate Physics with Business Studies