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.

I 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. The Course Center takes place on Wednesday evening, between 6:30pm and 8:30pm, and it is staffed by the TA. Important: If nobody shows up by 7:30pm, the TA has permission to leave, but if you wish to come but cannot make it before 7:30, please send him an email; he will then wait for you.


Prof. Markus Deserno Wean Hall 6319, email: deserno@andrew..., office hours: TBD
TA, Samuel Foley Wean Hall 6303, email:samuelf1@andrew...

Midterms and final:

The midterms 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 Tuesday, December 10, 5:30pm–8:30pm. Location: Wean Hall 5415.


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

Units: 9    Prerequisites: none

Lecture: MWF 2:30-3:20, Baker 136A

Recitation: Thursdays, Doherty A200

Course limit: 100 students