PHYSICS 120 : Advancing Physics 1


2020 Semester One (1203) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

For students progressing in physical science. Key topics are mechanics, energy, rotation, oscillations, waves and thermodynamics. This is a calculus based course, focusing on fundamental principles, problem solving and hands-on exercises. Prerequisite: PHYSICS 102, or at least 4 credits in the Mechanics (91524) or Waves (91523) standards in NCEA Level 3 Physics and at least 6 credits in the Differentiation (91578) or Integration (91579) standards in NCEA Level 3 Calculus, or equivalent with departmental approval

Course Overview

PHYSICS 120, together with PHYSICS 121, provide the essential knowledge and skill base for further studies in physics and other physical sciences at the University of Auckland. Both courses are offered in Semesters One and Two, 2020. PHYSICS 120 is a required course for students majoring in Physics (including Medical Physics and Imaging Technology and Photonics pathways) and Geophysics; PHYSICS 121 is a prerequisite for core second-year physics courses.

In PHYSICS 120, students are introduced to physical phenomena, their underlying principles, and selected technological applications related to classical mechanics, thermodynamics, oscillations and waves. Further emphasis is placed on developing awareness in knowledge construction and also proficiency in modelling, practical laboratory skills, data analysis, and scientific communication. A range of teaching and learning approaches are used, such as direct and interactive instruction, laboratories, collaborative exercises, and independent study.

PHYSICS 120 assumes and builds on knowledge equivalent to NCEA Level 3 Physics and Mathematics, and students are advised to take recommended mathematics courses concurrently with this course. Students who would like to consolidate the basics or do not have the prerequisite from previous studies would benefit from studying PHYSICS 102 and MATHS 102 prior to joining PHYSICS 120.

Course Requirements

Restriction: PHYSICS 160

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: Disciplinary Knowledge and Practice
Capability 2: Critical Thinking
Capability 3: Solution Seeking
Capability 4: Communication and Engagement
Capability 5: Independence and Integrity
Graduate Profile: Bachelor of Science

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Articulate the big ideas from each topic (mechanics; oscillations and waves; thermodynamics), indicating that they have understood the core concepts. (Capability 1)
  2. Translate a physical description of a first-year university physics problem to a mathematical formulation, using sketches or diagrams where appropriate. (Capability 1, 2 and 4)
  3. Evaluate the process and outcomes of an experiment qualitatively and quantitatively. (Capability 1, 2 and 3)
  4. Solve analytical/numerical problems and complete practical tasks that require application of core concepts to new situations. (Capability 2, 3 and 5)
  5. Justify , in written and verbal form, their approaches to solving a problem or completing a practical task. (Capability 2, 3, 4 and 5)
  6. Check the validity of the solutions they have reached by methods such as dimensional analysis, order-of-magnitude estimates, literature review, and etc. (Capability 2, 3, 4 and 5)
  7. Solve basic physics problems and create plots using a computer program (e.g. in Python). (Capability 1, 2 and 4)
  8. Take responsibility for their own learning by consulting available resources, reflecting and asking questions, seeking positively challenging opportunities and taking action to overcome difficulties. (Capability 3, 4 and 5)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Assignments 24% Individual Coursework
Laboratories 16% Individual Coursework
Quizzes 6% Individual Coursework
Tests 14% Individual Test
Final Exam 40% Individual Examination
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Final Exam
To achieve an overall pass in this course, students must obtain:
  • a pass in laboratories (including lab work and reports),
  • an aggregated pass in assignments, tests and quizzes,
  • at least 30 % in the final exam.


Key Topics

  • Mechanics (17 classes): Dimensional analysis; order-of-magnitude estimates; vectors; linear kinematics; projectile motion; forces; equilibrium; Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation; uniform (and non-uniform) circular motion; rotational motion; torque; moment of inertia; linear and rotational momentum; collisions; work, kinetic energy, potential energy and interactions; conservation laws.
  • Oscillations and Waves (8 classes): Simple harmonic motion; pendulum; damped and driven oscillations; resonance; mechanical waves; wave equation; sound waves; superposition; standing waves; interference.
  • Thermodynamics (8 classes): Work, heat, temperature, thermal energy; ideal-gas law and basic thermal processes; first law of thermodynamics; specific heat capacity and latent heat; calorimetry; heat transfer mechanisms; molecular speeds and collisions; pressure in a gas; irreversible processes and the second law of thermodynamics; heat engines and refrigerators; Carnot cycle.

Learning Resources

Required text

Knight, R. (2016). Physics for Scientists and Engineers: A Strategic Approach with Modern Physics (4th edition). Pearson. [Global edition]. 

The required text is available in hard copy and as an electronic textbook (eText). Hard copies are available for lending at the university library and for purchase -- second-hand or new -- at “ubiq”, the bookshop on campus, and elsewhere. The eText can be purchased online. This textbook is used in both Physics 120 Advancing Physics I and Physics 121 Advancing Physics II in 2020.

Other course texts are listed in the Reading List ( and can be freely accessed online.

Drop-in tutoring

Daily drop-in tutoring is available at 302-170 between 11 am and 3 pm, from Week 1 to Week 12, in the Science Assistance Room ( Physics tutors wear green sashes and are located near the window facing Wellesley St. This learning support supplements regular classes and lecturers' office hours.

Special Requirements

 Two evening tests are held from 6.25 to 7.30 pm on Friday 3 April and Thursday 28 May in Semester One, 2020. Location to be advised in class and on Canvas. 

To achieve an overall pass in this course, students must obtain:
  • a pass in laboratories (including lab work and reports),
  • an aggregated pass in assignments, tests and quizzes,
  • at least 30 % in the final exam.

Workload Expectations

This course is a standard 15 point course and students are expected to spend 10 hours per week involved in each 15 point course that they are enrolled in.

For this course, you can expect a weekly average of 6 hours of classes, 2 hours of reading and thinking about the content and 2 hours of work on assignments and/or test preparation.

Digital Resources

Course materials are made available in a learning and collaboration tool called Canvas which also includes reading lists and lecture recordings (where available).

Please remember that the recording of any class on a personal device requires the permission of the instructor.


The content and delivery of content in this course are protected by copyright. Material belonging to others may have been used in this course and copied by and solely for the educational purposes of the University under license.

You may copy the course content for the purposes of private study or research, but you may not upload onto any third party site, make a further copy or sell, alter or further reproduce or distribute any part of the course content to another person.

Academic Integrity

The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting their learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the internet. A student's assessed work may be reviewed against online source material using computerised detection mechanisms.

Inclusive Learning

All students are asked to discuss any impairment related requirements privately, face to face and/or in written form with the course coordinator, lecturer or tutor.

Student Disability Services also provides support for students with a wide range of impairments, both visible and invisible, to succeed and excel at the University. For more information and contact details, please visit the Student Disability Services’ website at

Special Circumstances

If your ability to complete assessed coursework is affected by illness or other personal circumstances outside of your control, contact a member of teaching staff as soon as possible before the assessment is due.

If your personal circumstances significantly affect your performance, or preparation, for an exam or eligible written test, refer to the University’s aegrotat or compassionate consideration page:

This should be done as soon as possible and no later than seven days after the affected test or exam date.

Student Feedback

During the course Class Representatives in each class can take feedback to the staff responsible for the course and staff-student consultative committees.

At the end of the course students will be invited to give feedback on the course and teaching through a tool called SET or Qualtrics. The lecturers and course co-ordinators will consider all feedback.

Your feedback helps to improve the course and its delivery for all students.

Student Charter and Responsibilities

The Student Charter assumes and acknowledges that students are active participants in the learning process and that they have responsibilities to the institution and the international community of scholars. The University expects that students will act at all times in a way that demonstrates respect for the rights of other students and staff so that the learning environment is both safe and productive. For further information visit Student Charter (


Elements of this outline may be subject to change. The latest information about the course will be available for enrolled students in Canvas.

In this course you may be asked to submit your coursework assessments digitally. The University reserves the right to conduct scheduled tests and examinations for this course online or through the use of computers or other electronic devices. Where tests or examinations are conducted online remote invigilation arrangements may be used. The final decision on the completion mode for a test or examination, and remote invigilation arrangements where applicable, will be advised to students at least 10 days prior to the scheduled date of the assessment, or in the case of an examination when the examination timetable is published.

Published on 05/03/2020 09:35 p.m.