Physics for future Presidents

Our society faces many key problems that are intimately related to physics, including hot-button topics such as energy, global warming, and terrorism. Misjudge the science, make a wrong decision. Yet, many political leaders and concerned citizens have a hard time evaluating the issues, because they have never been taught the underlying physics. What is radioactivity? What happened in Fukushima in 2011, and what was dangerous about it? And why? Why don’t we have more battery-run cars? What actually is a battery? Could we run cars on solar cells if we just build really good solar cells? What are phenomena such as light, sound, electricity, and magnetism, and how do we use them in technology? What are the facts on global warming? None of these questions are stupid, all of them involve physics, and their answers might change our views or how we would argue for them.

We aim to provide you with some of the essential facts of the physics underlying such questions. A view of our modern world that includes a basic understanding of science and technology is richer and intellectually more satisfying. Knowledge is a better guide to judgment than opinions based on misunderstanding. This course offers you the general education necessary to navigate today’s technological world, thereby helping you to face the associated policy issues more knowledgeably.

In 2011 The Tartan has published an article on our course. Check it out if you're interested!

Course center:

We have a weekly course center where you can come, ask questions about the course material, and get help on your homework. Unless otherwise stated, the course center is every Wednesday from 5:30pm until 7:00pm in 8325 Wean Hall. It will always be staffed by at least one TA. If nobody shows up until 6:30pm, the TA may leave, unless you let us know ahead of time that you intend to come but can only make it after 6:30pm.


Prof. Markus Deserno Wean Hall 6319, email: deserno@andrew..., office hours: TBD
Prof. Gregg B. Franklin Wean Hall 8410, email: gbfranklin@cmu..., office hours: TBD
TA1, Mingyang Hu TA for recitations 11:30am & 12:30pm, email:mingyang@andrew...
TA2, Robert Haussman TA for recitations1:30pm & 2:30pm, email:rhaussma@andrew...

Midterms and final:

The dates for the two midterms have not yet been fixed. They take place during regular class hours, on the following days:

1. midterm Monday, October 7, during class
2. midterm Wednesday, November 13, during class
Final exam Monday, December 16, 5:30pm – 8:30pm (location: DH 1212, where we also have our lectures)


Dept of Physics | 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 | (412) 268-2740
Prof. Markus Deserno
Prof. Gregg B. Franklin
Markus Deserno
Wean Hall 6319
Gregg B. Franklin
Wean Hall 8410

Units: 10    Prerequisites: none

Lecture: MWF 2:30-3:20, Doherty 1212

Recitation: Thursdays, Doherty A200

Course limit: 150 students