PHYSICS 120 : Advancing Physics 1


2024 Semester Two (1245) (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, 2024. PHYSICS 120 is a required course for students majoring in Physics, Applied Physics and Environmental Physics; 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: People and Place
Capability 2: Sustainability
Capability 3: Knowledge and Practice
Capability 4: Critical Thinking
Capability 5: Solution Seeking
Capability 6: Communication
Capability 7: Collaboration
Capability 8: Ethics and Professionalism
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, 3, 4 and 6)
  2. Translate a physical description of a first-year university physics problem to a mathematical formulation, using sketches or diagrams where appropriate. (Capability 3, 4, 5 and 6)
  3. Evaluate the process and outcomes of an experiment qualitatively and quantitatively. (Capability 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8)
  4. Solve analytical and numerical problems, and complete practical tasks that require application of core concepts to new situations. (Capability 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7)
  5. Justify, in written and verbal form, their approaches to solving a problem or completing a practical task. (Capability 3, 4, 6 and 8)
  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 3, 4 and 5)
  7. Solve basic physics problems and create plots using a computer program (e.g. in Python). (Capability 3, 4, 5 and 7)
  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 6, 7 and 8)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Assignments 15% Individual Coursework
Laboratories 25% Individual Coursework
Tests 20% Individual Test
Final Exam 40% Individual Examination
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Final Exam


Tuākana Science is a multi-faceted programme for Māori and Pacific students providing topic specific tutorials, one-on-one sessions, test and exam preparation and more. Explore your options at

For more information and to find contact details for the Physics Department Tuākana coordinator, please see:

Key Topics

  • Mechanics (18 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 (9 classes): Simple harmonic motion; pendulum; damped and driven oscillations; resonance; mechanical waves; wave equation; sound waves; superposition; standing waves; interference.
  • Thermodynamics (9 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.

Special Requirements

 Two evening tests are held on-campus from 6.00 to 8.05 pm NZT in Semester Two, 2024. Dates are 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),
  • sufficient overall marks and sit 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, a typical weekly workload includes:

  • 6 hours of lectures
  • 2 hours of reviewing the course content
  • 2 hours of work on assignments and/or test preparation

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience

Students need to enrol and participate in the single stream in this course: M/W/F 11 - 1 pm. The class meets three times a week in the Physics Teaching Laboratory (303-G03). Please ensure that there is no timetable clash with any of the three weekly meeting times for the stream that you enrol in.

Mini lectures will be available as recordings. Other learning activities will not be available as recordings.

Attendance on campus is required for the labs (including lab prep).

The activities for the course are scheduled as a standard weekly timetable.

Learning 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.

  • 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 2024.
Other Readings:
  • Other course texts are listed in the Reading List ( and can be freely accessed online.
Drop-in tutoring
  • Drop-in tutoring will be available on weekdays from Week 2 to Week 12 (excluding public holidays, mid-semester break, and the last day of the semester). More details will be updated on Canvas. This learning support supplements regular classes and lecturers' office hours.

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.

We will continue to provide multiple communication channels (in-person, Piazza, email, via the class rep) to facilitate discussions and promote productive learning.

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 for potential plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct, using computerised detection mechanisms.

The Academic Integrity Course is available online (link below), and enrolled undergraduate students should complete the online course by the end of their first semester of study.

Class Representatives

Class representatives are students tasked with representing student issues to departments, faculties, and the wider university. If you have a complaint about this course, please contact your class rep who will know how to raise it in the right channels. See your departmental noticeboard for contact details for your class reps.


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.

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

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.

Learning Continuity

In the event of an unexpected disruption, we undertake to maintain the continuity and standard of teaching and learning in all your courses throughout the year. If there are unexpected disruptions the University has contingency plans to ensure that access to your course continues and course assessment continues to meet the principles of the University’s assessment policy. Some adjustments may need to be made in emergencies. You will be kept fully informed by your course co-ordinator/director, and if disruption occurs you should refer to the university website for information about how to proceed.

The delivery mode may change depending on COVID restrictions. Any changes will be communicated through Canvas.

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 students may be asked to submit 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. In exceptional circumstances changes to elements of this course may be necessary at short notice. Students enrolled in this course will be informed of any such changes and the reasons for them, as soon as possible, through Canvas.

Published on 07/11/2023 08:09 a.m.