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Its all about 1 Sec

Just what’s a second, just? . The question was open to interpretation ever since the first long case grandfather clocks began marking off seconds from the mid-seventeenth century and introduced the concept into the world at large. The answer, simply, is that a second is 1/60th of a moment, or 1/3600 th of one hour. But that is simply pushing the question down the road a little. In the end, what is a hour? . That answer is connected to the best means of time keeping ancient civilizations had, the motion of the Earth throughout the heavens. The quantity of time it can take for the Earth to turn once around its axis, or for it to rotate about the sun, is pretty stable, and also for much of human history, it sufficed as a method of marking the passage of time.

Days, hours, minutes, they are only derivatives of planetary movement. Not Enough Time. Today, however, when computers execute operations in the speed of 4 billion cycles per second, we are in need of a better measure. The rotation of Earth, and its orbit, change slightly with time. Earth’s rotation, for instance, is slowing slightly. So measuring a second based on rotation would mean a second would get gradually longer with time. Eventually, we could not compare the second of today to the second of yesterday.

Therefore, to pin down a really timeless measure of a second, scientists in the 50s devised a better clock, one based not on astronomical processes, But also about the movement of the fundamental bits of atoms, whose subtle vibrations would be, for all intents and purposes, locked in for eternity. Today, one second is defined as 9, 192, 631, 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom. That is a mouthful. That number seems arbitrary because each definition of a second has by necessity been based on the one which came before.

We have gotten better at pinning down the exact span of a second, however it still has its origins in early astronomical observations. The 2nd today, the one engraved in cesium, is based on a collection of observations of the Earth’s orbit from the astronomer Simon Newcomb between 1790 and 1892. It had been known as the ephemeris second, and was just a fraction of a year, as characterized by Newcomb’s tables. When scientists moved to their new atomic clock, in 1967 they calibrated it with his measurements. When hit by a laser, the single electron in a cesium atom’s outermost shell will cycle back and forth between two states, known as a hyperfine transition. It may be magnetically aligned in either the same direction as the atom’s nucleus, or the contrary direction, and under a laser’s beam, it is going to flip back and forth between both of these States quickly at a pace that has never changes.

Prof H C Verma- An Interview

Dr. H.C. Verma needs no introduction. All engineering aspirants best recognize him as the author of their Bible – ‘Concepts of Physics’. The idol for all JEE aspirants, the favorite of all students who have ever attended his Introductory Physics Class (PHY102 or PHY103) class, the godfather of all children from various underdeveloped localities close to IIT Kanpur, the pedagogical ‘Guru’ and a great social engineer- he is all of them.

Dr. H C Verma (http://home.iitk.ac.in/~hcverma) is a Professor in the Department of Physics at IIT Kanpur. Here are some of the excerpts of his interview with Mohit Kumar Jolly, who gets the pleasure to talk to him regards various facets of his personality.

NERD: Sir, you have been in this institute (IIT Kanpur) for almost two decades. What trend have you witnessed in technical and research activities over the time and student involvement in them?

Dr. Verma: The technical activities have gone up very significantly. When I was a student here, the only such activity I saw was through the Physics Society- talks by professors and paper reading contests. Now, students are getting more involved in research activities. They participate in SURGE and go out for summer training at various research centers and universities all across the world.

NERD: Your book ‘Concepts of Physics’ is nationally reputed and respected as the Bible of Physics. What was your motivation and inspiration for authoring that book?

Dr. Verma: (Laughs) I started teaching Physics at the reputed Patna Science College in 1979. I was asked to teach students in B.Sc., M.Sc as well as those in standards 11 and 12. I was a big fan of the book by Resnick and Halliday, but I was unable to motivate students of standards 11 and 12 for understanding physics by teaching with that book. It was indeed a shock for me.

Over the years, I realized that I enjoyed that book because I studied it in my M.Sc., when I was mature enough to appreciate its beauty. I looked for other physics books for my students but could not find one containing the same implicit beauty of physics. Finally, I decided to give a try at authoring one such book and took 8 years to complete it.

NERD: You have been taking various initiatives for innovative physics teaching at school level by devising many simple demonstration experiments for students. Can you please elaborate on your favorite experiment?

Dr. Verma: (Smiles) I have devised around 150 simple experiments and have an emotional attachment with all of them, but the one which has clicked the teachers the most is the ‘Dettol Bottle Experiment’. It demonstrates the internal reflection of light from a water surface in a dettol bottle.

We take a dettol bottle, fill it partly with water and make it turbid by adding dettol or soap. Then a laser beam is introduced through the sides, which gets internally reflected by the water surface. Due to turbidity, the path traced by the beam is clearly visible and the internal reflection of light can be easily seen.

Invariably, all the teachers who have seen this experiment have given it a loud applause, and as they have told me, similar has been the reaction when they have performed this in their class in schools.

NERD: ‘Bal Vigyan Mela’ has been a great success and appreciated throughout. What were the difficulties you faced in organizing it and what did you learn from them?

Dr. Verma: It was a gigantic task, but was managed well. The administration was very helpful. A team of 40 odd people was made to look after the academic part. 664 students participated in it, most of which were from classes 6, 7 and 8 of low-key schools from Nankari or Barasirohi. 120 experiments were demonstrated and then the final ‘Mela’ had 8000 visitors.

It was a beautiful experiment in education, where we demonstrated that science can be taught without the use of blackboard, equations, text books and homework, since we used none of them in this six-week long programme. All training was through interesting experiments followed by discussion. A total of 36 themes were identified, including air pressure, thermal conductivity, torque, mirrors and lenses, buoyancy, acid base detection and what not. Each theme had 3-4 experiments. After this 6-week training, each child knew as much science as any high school student will know.

The confidence and enthusiasm with which the children were demonstrating the experiments, explaining the science and answering the questions to the audience was simply great. They hardly cared whether the person they are teaching is a faculty at IIT-K. They were the real icons of the day, November 18,2007.

NERD: You have been the spearhead of social transformation through Shiksha Sopan. Are you in favour of introducing social engineering as a course for students so that the society as a whole can benefit from science?

Dr. Verma: ‘Jeevan Vidya’ group is trying something similar. They did it in some colleges in Madhya Pradesh. They will be the better personnel to answer such questions. I go more for the field work.

NERD: It has been felt that the very instinct for gaining knowledge is drastically low among students once they clear JEE. Do you think that efforts like ‘Anveshika’ can regain their interest in science?

Dr. Verma: The roots for this problem lie in the school education, which is unable to set a nice goal for the students. I receive mails from students of class 11 and 12 that the goal of their life is to crack JEE. These are all false targets. Once the goal is achieved, they have nothing to do.

The education in science has such a beautiful path to follow, but science is taught in history fashion in schools. The bigger joy of discovering nature is not experienced and put forth.

“Target of cracking JEE is a false target.”
Anveshika is essentially an open ended laboratory where uncommon experiments are set up without constraints of any board syllabus or examination. New experiments are continuously evolved as and when any idea strikes the students or the teachers. Students in classes 9, 10 and 11 need to work in such areas.

NERD: What do you feel has been the most important contribution by you to the scientific community in terms of your research area?

Dr. Verma: Science is a very vast subject and I really enjoy it. Even a small piece of discovery by me gives me immense pleasure and I feel myself to be a part of the great scientific community all across.

NERD: Your home page states that the present education system in the country lacks the basic elements of practical knowledge, ethical and virtuous values. What pedagogical techniques or improvements would you suggest at IIT Kanpur?

Dr. Verma: Well, as you see, it is too late for students as they are already forged by 15 years of school education. Yet, we can try. When I take the first year B.Tech course on physics, I perform small experiments in class to correlate theory with practical, and tell them stories about the interrelation of different aspects of education.

Just pumping in information is not the pedagogy to be followed with IIT students. They probably need no professor for it. But we give them too much of information and no education. The music masters teach one ‘Raga’ to their disciples and rest is left to their creativity. Such pedagogy needs to be implemented here too.

NERD: IIT-K is one of the best technical institutions of India, and yet we have no such central repository where technical publications by students and faculty over the years are at least listed. Don’t you find this to be a very pathetic situation?

Dr. Verma: It is a very good observation made by you and I hope your endeavor NERD solves it.

NERD: No platform exists in IIT-K where people working on various research areas can write for the general audience. NERD is such an initiative. What plans would you suggest to sustain it?

Dr. Verma: NERD is an attractive idea. There are two aspects involved with people involved in research- their own personal careers and the satisfaction of being heard by a larger audience. If they are provided an opportunity with not much time constraint, they will contribute to NERD and this would be beneficial for the campus community in general. I would personally love to contribute as much, and with 300 faculty members in IIT-K, you need not worry about its sustainability.

NERD: What do you think was the vision of setting IIT-K? How far we have realized it in half a century?

Dr. Verma: IITs were set up to develop a technological base which can drive India into a global competition. Yes, IIT-K is an international brand name now. I have seen a significant contribution of students recently in managing the show, despite the fact that they come after 15 years of forging.

NERD: You have been the apple of every eye throughout the country. What are your plans after retiring as a faculty?

Dr. Verma: (Smiles) Wherever I will be, I will be serving science and education. I will put a Teacher Resource Center where teachers of various subjects from schools and colleges can interact and learn to enjoy the subject they are teaching. During an IIP (Introductory Interaction Program) in Agra, I interacted with a group of teachers just for 6 hours, emphasizing the need for experiment based classroom teaching and demonstrating around 25 experiments at various levels (class 6 to class 12). Two of the teachers came to me after the workshop and told that they were proud of the profession they were in.

“The first authority to spoil a child is the teacher.”
The education system is not controlled by the government or the HRD ministry, but the first authority to spoil a child is teacher. Teachers have to be made realized that they are in a noble profession and shoulder a great responsibility. This has been my part time effort and I will dedicate myself completely to it soon.

NERD: Describe Dr. H.C. Verma in one line. What is your final message for the students?

Dr. Verma: (Thinks) I have experienced that science is very enjoyable. I try to integrate myself with education, science and society at large.

My message for the students that there is much more to explore in nature. Don’t focus just on the course content. If you can appreciate the implicit beauty of science and engineering, it will be great.

NERD: Thank you Sir! It was a great pleasure talking to you.

This interview was originally published in V1 N1 of NERD – the campus science and technology magazine of IIT Kanpur, founded by Mohit Kumar Jolly in 2008.

Concepts of Physics (Interview with Dr. H C Verma)

Dr. H.C. Verma needs no introduction. All engineering aspirants best recognize him as the author of their Bible – ‘Concepts of Physics’. The idol for all JEE aspirants, the favorite of all students who have ever attended his Introductory Physics Class (PHY102 or PHY103) class, the godfather of all children from various underdeveloped localities close to IIT Kanpur, the pedagogical ‘Guru’ and a great social engineer- he is all of them.

Dr. H C Verma (http://home.iitk.ac.in/~hcverma) is a Professor in the Department of Physics at IIT Kanpur. Here are some of the excerpts of his interview with Mohit Kumar Jolly, who gets the pleasure to talk to him regards various facets of his personality.

NERD: Sir, you have been in this institute (IIT Kanpur) for almost two decades. What trend have you witnessed in technical and research activities over the time and student involvement in them?

Dr. Verma: The technical activities have gone up very significantly. When I was a student here, the only such activity I saw was through the Physics Society- talks by professors and paper reading contests. Now, students are getting more involved in research activities. They participate in SURGE and go out for summer training at various research centers and universities all across the world.

NERD: Your book ‘Concepts of Physics’ is nationally reputed and respected as the Bible of Physics. What was your motivation and inspiration for authoring that book?

Dr. Verma: (Laughs) I started teaching Physics at the reputed Patna Science College in 1979. I was asked to teach students in B.Sc., M.Sc as well as those in standards 11 and 12. I was a big fan of the book by Resnick and Halliday, but I was unable to motivate students of standards 11 and 12 for understanding physics by teaching with that book. It was indeed a shock for me.

Over the years, I realized that I enjoyed that book because I studied it in my M.Sc., when I was mature enough to appreciate its beauty. I looked for other physics books for my students but could not find one containing the same implicit beauty of physics. Finally, I decided to give a try at authoring one such book and took 8 years to complete it.

NERD: You have been taking various initiatives for innovative physics teaching at school level by devising many simple demonstration experiments for students. Can you please elaborate on your favorite experiment?

Dr. Verma: (Smiles) I have devised around 150 simple experiments and have an emotional attachment with all of them, but the one which has clicked the teachers the most is the ‘Dettol Bottle Experiment’. It demonstrates the internal reflection of light from a water surface in a dettol bottle.

We take a dettol bottle, fill it partly with water and make it turbid by adding dettol or soap. Then a laser beam is introduced through the sides, which gets internally reflected by the water surface. Due to turbidity, the path traced by the beam is clearly visible and the internal reflection of light can be easily seen.

Invariably, all the teachers who have seen this experiment have given it a loud applause, and as they have told me, similar has been the reaction when they have performed this in their class in schools.

NERD: ‘Bal Vigyan Mela’ has been a great success and appreciated throughout. What were the difficulties you faced in organizing it and what did you learn from them?

Dr. Verma: It was a gigantic task, but was managed well. The administration was very helpful. A team of 40 odd people was made to look after the academic part. 664 students participated in it, most of which were from classes 6, 7 and 8 of low-key schools from Nankari or Barasirohi. 120 experiments were demonstrated and then the final ‘Mela’ had 8000 visitors.

It was a beautiful experiment in education, where we demonstrated that science can be taught without the use of blackboard, equations, text books and homework, since we used none of them in this six-week long programme. All training was through interesting experiments followed by discussion. A total of 36 themes were identified, including air pressure, thermal conductivity, torque, mirrors and lenses, buoyancy, acid base detection and what not. Each theme had 3-4 experiments. After this 6-week training, each child knew as much science as any high school student will know.

The confidence and enthusiasm with which the children were demonstrating the experiments, explaining the science and answering the questions to the audience was simply great. They hardly cared whether the person they are teaching is a faculty at IIT-K. They were the real icons of the day, November 18,2007.

NERD: You have been the spearhead of social transformation through Shiksha Sopan. Are you in favour of introducing social engineering as a course for students so that the society as a whole can benefit from science?

Dr. Verma: ‘Jeevan Vidya’ group is trying something similar. They did it in some colleges in Madhya Pradesh. They will be the better personnel to answer such questions. I go more for the field work.

NERD: It has been felt that the very instinct for gaining knowledge is drastically low among students once they clear JEE. Do you think that efforts like ‘Anveshika’ can regain their interest in science?

Dr. Verma: The roots for this problem lie in the school education, which is unable to set a nice goal for the students. I receive mails from students of class 11 and 12 that the goal of their life is to crack JEE. These are all false targets. Once the goal is achieved, they have nothing to do.

The education in science has such a beautiful path to follow, but science is taught in history fashion in schools. The bigger joy of discovering nature is not experienced and put forth.

“Target of cracking JEE is a false target.”
Anveshika is essentially an open ended laboratory where uncommon experiments are set up without constraints of any board syllabus or examination. New experiments are continuously evolved as and when any idea strikes the students or the teachers. Students in classes 9, 10 and 11 need to work in such areas.

NERD: What do you feel has been the most important contribution by you to the scientific community in terms of your research area?

Dr. Verma: Science is a very vast subject and I really enjoy it. Even a small piece of discovery by me gives me immense pleasure and I feel myself to be a part of the great scientific community all across.

NERD: Your home page states that the present education system in the country lacks the basic elements of practical knowledge, ethical and virtuous values. What pedagogical techniques or improvements would you suggest at IIT Kanpur?

Dr. Verma: Well, as you see, it is too late for students as they are already forged by 15 years of school education. Yet, we can try. When I take the first year B.Tech course on physics, I perform small experiments in class to correlate theory with practical, and tell them stories about the interrelation of different aspects of education.

Just pumping in information is not the pedagogy to be followed with IIT students. They probably need no professor for it. But we give them too much of information and no education. The music masters teach one ‘Raga’ to their disciples and rest is left to their creativity. Such pedagogy needs to be implemented here too.

NERD: IIT-K is one of the best technical institutions of India, and yet we have no such central repository where technical publications by students and faculty over the years are at least listed. Don’t you find this to be a very pathetic situation?

Dr. Verma: It is a very good observation made by you and I hope your endeavor NERD solves it.

NERD: No platform exists in IIT-K where people working on various research areas can write for the general audience. NERD is such an initiative. What plans would you suggest to sustain it?

Dr. Verma: NERD is an attractive idea. There are two aspects involved with people involved in research- their own personal careers and the satisfaction of being heard by a larger audience. If they are provided an opportunity with not much time constraint, they will contribute to NERD and this would be beneficial for the campus community in general. I would personally love to contribute as much, and with 300 faculty members in IIT-K, you need not worry about its sustainability.

NERD: What do you think was the vision of setting IIT-K? How far we have realized it in half a century?

Dr. Verma: IITs were set up to develop a technological base which can drive India into a global competition. Yes, IIT-K is an international brand name now. I have seen a significant contribution of students recently in managing the show, despite the fact that they come after 15 years of forging.

NERD: You have been the apple of every eye throughout the country. What are your plans after retiring as a faculty?

Dr. Verma: (Smiles) Wherever I will be, I will be serving science and education. I will put a Teacher Resource Center where teachers of various subjects from schools and colleges can interact and learn to enjoy the subject they are teaching. During an IIP (Introductory Interaction Program) in Agra, I interacted with a group of teachers just for 6 hours, emphasizing the need for experiment based classroom teaching and demonstrating around 25 experiments at various levels (class 6 to class 12). Two of the teachers came to me after the workshop and told that they were proud of the profession they were in.

“The first authority to spoil a child is the teacher.”
The education system is not controlled by the government or the HRD ministry, but the first authority to spoil a child is teacher. Teachers have to be made realized that they are in a noble profession and shoulder a great responsibility. This has been my part time effort and I will dedicate myself completely to it soon.

NERD: Describe Dr. H.C. Verma in one line. What is your final message for the students?

Dr. Verma: (Thinks) I have experienced that science is very enjoyable. I try to integrate myself with education, science and society at large.

My message for the students that there is much more to explore in nature. Don’t focus just on the course content. If you can appreciate the implicit beauty of science and engineering, it will be great.

NERD: Thank you Sir! It was a great pleasure talking to you.

This interview was originally published in V1 N1 of NERD – the campus science and technology magazine of IIT Kanpur, founded by Mohit Kumar Jolly in 2008.

Best books on Physics for preparing for IITJEE/NEET/AIIMS

Books are known as the best friends of human beings. However, they also play a pivotal role in making us prepared for various types of examinations. In recent years, many examinations have the ability to change our lives for good. If a student can score flying marks in these exams, the student can get admitted into reputed institutes of the country. For instance, if someone is preparing for IITJEE entrance examinations, then that student needs to consider books that can be of value to them. Hence, one needs to select study books as all the books do not have the same quality, and the students can be misguided by studying the wrong books.
On the other hand, Physics is one subject that is at the same time can be easy as well as difficult to prepare. Though a student can take the help of the internet, a good Physics book is a quintessential thing in the study table of the student. Here is the list of best Physics book for IIT JEE and AIIMS.
Concepts of Physics by HC Verma
The ideas put forward by HC Verma are quite easy to understand and apply. This book also comprises of plenty of questions. However, the concepts are quite lucidly mentioned.
Halliday, Resnick & Walker
This book covers all complex theories and plots in the simplest of things. It also gives a real world experience of every concept related to Physics. This book can help a student to score very high marks.
NCERT Physics-Part 1 and Part 2
This book is designed by expert professors and academicians from all over India. Hence, they have rendered this book a very clear design with the help of which all students can score good marks in IITJEE and AIIMS examinations.

How to improve your performance in AIIMS by using PhysicsGuru

How to improve your performance in AIIMS by using PhysicsGuru?

It is a widely accepted fact that many ambitious students are increasingly selecting online assessment portals to prepare successfully for their competitive exams. One such online portal with the help of which they can prepare for their exams is the PHYSICSGURU.

It is an online portal that caters to the need of several students with the aid of which they can undertake various lessons related to Physics. PHYSICSGURU is a name which the students can associate with trust. As the exams date comes near, students make use of PHYSICSGURU to prepare them by participating in several mock tests in Physics.

PHYSICSGURU has a large number of sample test questions, and they are set in such a manner that they resemble the exact look of a question paper same like that of the IIT JEE and NEET entrance exam papers. In this context, it is worthwhile to note that the fees charged by PHYSICSGURU are very minimal and hence it appeals to several students who belong to various economic classes.

One just has to create an account by logging in www.physicsguru.in and can start preparing on the subject. The question papers available in PHYSICSGURU can be used as sample questions for AIIMS entrance exams too.

Don’t Panic! 10 Steps to Solving Physics Problems

Physics – and most science subjects – can be very complicated. Describing our world is not always intuitive, and sometimes requires a mathematical and conceptual understanding that is very advanced. That much can explain why not everyone goes for a physics career. That and, well, the salary.

In basic physics – material covered in high school and low level university courses – the methodology is straightforward. There’s no need to panic. Quite often, it’s the panic itself that prevents students from dealing with the subject carefully and getting the most out of those courses.

What’s the Strategy?

In my experience tutoring for (and taking) low level physics classes, I have worked out a few ground rules that can help you conquer problems. These will help whether the problem is in a homework assignment or on an exam. We will go over them now.

1. Don’t Panic.

Sounds obvious, right? And yet, it’s harder than it sounds. You look at the question and the sentences loom at you menacingly, confusing you to no end. You have no idea where to start, even if you recognize the basic concepts. Whose cars go in which direction? What type of wave travels on the string? Help me, you think in terror. Help me…!

This is your time to take a deep breath, close your eyes, and count to five.

In lower level physics, most questions can be solved by simple formulas. As long as you remember these formulas, you are most of the way to an answer. From now on, the only thing that you need to concentrate on is converting the horrible, confusing chunk of text into readable bits that fit into your formulas. You can do that.

2. Try to Understand the Situation

What is going on in this problem? Is this a ball free-falling from some height? Is it Superman’s velocity as he flies to save Lois Lane a certain distance away? Or perhaps it’s a question about magnetism? Electricity?

Figure out the context first. You don’t have to understand all the small details, but once you know what you’re dealing with in general, you will know how to formulate your answer and which equations to use.

3. Read the Question Carefully

So you understand the physical situation now, and you know what subject this question deals with (or multiple subjects). Now, read the question again, and make sure you are clear on what it actually requires you to find. The same type of problem – say, bouncing ball – can ask you to find initial velocity, maximum height or angle of launch. Each of these will require a slightly different strategy. Make sure you know what you need to do.

Another good tip to remember at this point, too, is that many physics problems have very crucial information in the wording. A car starting from rest, for instance, means your initial velocity is zero. Two objects falling from a window might behave differently if they are both attached to one another.

Read the question carefully – this isn’t the time to skim. Make sure you don’t miss crucial information.

4. Organize the Information

Word problems are confusing only because they hide the actual variables inside them. Sometimes, you will be given extra information that you won’t really need. Other times, there will be variables whose purpose is revealed in a later part of the question.

For example, if the question has a car that starts to move from rest and takes 5 minutes to reach a speed of 20 km/h, you should write down the basic variables like so:

v(initial) = 0 km/h
t(final) = 5 minutes
v(final) = 20 km/h
a = ?
Do this with all the information you get out of the question. This will help you see the variables in front of you clearly, find the proper equation to use, and see what you’re missing. It will also make the original, confusing text unneeded. If you organize your information, your brain will be free to deal with actual physics instead of reading comprehension.

5. Sketch the Scene

In physics, drawing a picture can really make things easier. For example, getting a visual idea of your frame of reference, or of the difference between up (positive) and down (negative), can mean the difference between a right answer and a wrong one.

You don’t have to be good at drawing. Draw a rough schematic according to the situation. Arrows are your friends in physics questions – they show you which direction an object is moving or what the possible sum of forces applied to it are. They organize the information for you. Use them.

Some questions already come with a drawing – use it! Questions about forces, for example, are best solved by schematic, and you can miss some crucial information that you don’t immediately see if you don’t sketch it.

Go on, Picasso, give it your best shot, and move on to the next step.

6. Verify Units

Sometimes your professor will test your unit conversion skills. That isn’t without a purpose – in physics (and science in general), units are crucial. You have to make sure your units are the same throughout the exercise, otherwise formulas will not work. If you multiply velocity by time, you will get the distance (assuming constant acceleration), but if the car moved at 10 km per hour for 5 minutes, multiplying 10 by 5 will not give you the right answer. Rather, you will need to either convert the kilometers per hour to kilometers per minute, or (and probably easier) convert 5 minutes to units of hours.

The best way to do this is by fractions, but there are enough unit conversion guides out there that explain this concept. Remember not to panic, do it carefully and you will get your correct values.

If we continue our example from the last part, we should convert the t(final) from minutes to hours. This isn’t too hard to do:

5 \text{ minutes} * \frac{1 \text{ hour}}{60 \text{ minutes}} = \frac{1}{12} \text{ hour}

(See how the ‘minutes’ units are canceled with the ‘minutes’ units in the denominator, leaving the ‘hour’ units with the final answer? that’s a great way to check that your conversion is right)

Now that all your variables are in the correct units, you can continue solving the question.

7. Consider Your Formulas

This is true for most of physics questions, and absolutely true in the lower level physics. As a student of basic physics, you are not expected to reinvent the wheel – or even understand how the wheel was invented in the first place. What you are expected to do is to understand the concepts and use the tools available to you.

The most important of those tools are the formulas.

Some professors will require that you memorize relevant formulas, while others will give you a “cheat sheet.” Either way, you have what you need. Memorization might sound horrible, but most physics subjects don’t have that many equations to memorize. I remember taking an advanced electromagnetism course where I had to memorize about 20 different formulas. At first it seemed terrible, and I kept remembering them wrong. However, the more you use the formulas, and the more you understand what they mean and – if you care enough to check – where they came from, the easier it gets to remember them.

Organize your formulas in front of you. If you have a cheat sheet, align it next to your variables. What formula can you fill up, leaving the least amount of missing variables? Which formula can help you solve the question?

See it? Use it.

But Wait, Which Formula Do I Use?!

You look at your formula sheet and you have three different ones that are marked under the problem’s subject. How do you know which one to use?? Naturally, you begin panicking again.

Don’t panic.

Physical equations didn’t just land on scientists from the sky, all wrapped up nicely in mathematical formulation. They are derived from physical properties, and they are all interconnected. In most physics problems, there is more than one way to reach a solution, often meaning that more than one equation can work. In fact, in the vast majority of questions, no matter what equation you use – assuming that it is relevant to the subject matter, and that you insert the proper variables – you will reach a solution.

The way to know which equation to use depends on two main issues: the variables given to you in the equation and your experience. The more problems you solve, the more you will become familiar with strategies for picking the right formula. Until that happens, though, look for the formula that has the variable you already know (from your list of variables) and connects those to the one variable you are missing. If you have two missing variables, you will likely need two equations.

Slow down, look at your variable list, and find the right ones. It’s like a puzzle, and the more you do it, the better you get at it.

8. Solve

You have your variables, you have your sketch, you know what’s going on – plug in, solve and get your answer.

Just remember: you might end up with a relatively lengthy equation to solve, or sometimes two (or more). Don’t forget your goal. Keep glancing over at your list of variables. See that little variable marked with a question-mark, noting the one you’re missing? That’s the one you need to solve for. Focus. Keep the goal in mind. Solve the equations.

Now breathe.

9. Verify Your Results

This is a step many students skip, and then pay for. I paid for it dearly in my high school final physics exam, in fact, and I will never do it again. Verifying results can be as easy as skimming through your equations and taking 15 seconds to think about the answer you got.

That can make the difference between 100% and 70%, and sometimes worse.

What do I mean by verifying the result? Well, if the answer you got for the velocity of your car is more than the speed of light, you’re likely wrong. If the units of acceleration come out to be anything but the proper distance/time^2 units, you made a mistake. If your question asks for minutes and your answer is in seconds, you missed a step.

Read the instructions carefully and verify your method. It really is important.

10. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you think to yourself right now, I bet. Everyone says it. Practice makes perfect. Practice to become better. How.. obvious.

But it doesn’t seem to be properly obvious to many students.

I sometimes get amazed looks from the students I tutor when I come up with the perfect way to solve a question they just spent half an hour trying to solve. “I would have never thought of it!” they exclaim, in awe of my genius. Well, as much as my ego would love to accept this compliment, I am no genius. The reason I see the solution quickly is usually because I have experience – I did so many of these questions that I already anticipate which method would likely work best.

Am I right all the time? Of course not. Sometimes I start with one method and find it was the wrong way. But those “errors” only serve to teach you how to approach different sets of questions. The more you do them, the less time it takes you to recognize the actual effective way to solve them.

It’s all about experience. Don’t panic and don’t give up. Physics is less hard than you think (most of the time).