This semester we will explore electrostatics and magnetostatics – the consequences of the laws discovered empirically by Coulomb, Gauss, Ampère and Faraday – to a point just short of writing down and using the complete version of the Maxwell equations. Along the way, we will also learn and practice the higher-level applied math involved in complicated electromagnetic problems, such as the solution of linear partial-differential equations in boundary-value problems.

Professor: Dan Watson (B&L 418, 275-8576,,

Teaching assistant: Drew Abrams (B&L 403, 275-0538,

Textbooks: David J. Griffiths, Introduction to electrodynamics, third edition (1999), and Edward M. Purcell, Electricity and magnetism: Berkeley physics course v.2, second edition (1985). Both of these books are on two-hour reserve in the Physics-Optics-Astronomy library. Other books you'll find useful, also on reserve in the library, are listed in the Reading List.

World Wide Web site: In these pages one will find complete lecture presentations, a calendar of class meetings and office hours, homework-problem solutions, exam solutions, practice examinations, study aids, links to other useful Web sites, and even a copy of this document.

Lectures: In B&L 405, 9:00-9:50 AM, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, conducted by Dan. All students are expected to attend all of the lectures. Complete electronic copies of each lecture presentation can be found on our Web site, about a week before the lecture is given, and can be downloaded and printed in a format that’s handy for taking additional lecture notes.

Recitations: In B&L 405, 3:25-4:40 PM on Fridays, conducted by Drew. All students are expected to attend all of the recitations. These classes will usually operate as workshops, in which the students will work in small teams (3-4 students each) to set up and/or solve practice problems similar to those on the homework and exams. They are scheduled strategically on Friday afternoons; in our experience, most students do most of the work on their problem sets over the weekend.

E-mail list server: Messages sent to this address will be re-sent to everybody in the class. Obviously this provides a good way to make general announcements. We also encourage use of the list server to ask questions about readings, lectures, homework problems and the like; the rest of the class will probably also be interested in your questions and the answers you’ll receive. (We will answer e-mail questions privately, too.)

Homework: Twelve problem sets, usually assigned during the lecture on Wednesday and due during class the following Wednesday. Each problem set counts equally toward the final grade. Normally, detailed solutions to the problem sets will be posted directly following the lecture they are due, which will make it difficult to accept late homework.

About two-thirds of every homework assignment will be designated as solo problems, and the rest as team problems. For the solo problems, students are expected to work independently, but the team problems are to be worked out by groups of 3-4 students working together. Each student is meant to submit solutions of all of the problems, but of course the solutions of the team problems would be essentially identical to those of the other team members. The problems chosen for the team homework usually will be the most difficult ones in the assignment. At least at first, the teams will be those formed rather arbitrarily during the first recitation. We will take care to rotate the membership of the teams as the semester progresses. Drew will be the official arbiter of homework-team membership.

Examinations: One midterm exam, covering most of electrostatics, will be given on 18 October 2002 during the time and in the place normally scheduled for recitation. A final examination, covering the whole course, but with emphasis on the latter parts, will be given on 21 December 2002, 4-7 PM. Detailed solutions will be posted at the conclusion of each exam. If you miss an exam due to illness or emergency, a makeup exam may be scheduled by appointment. All makeups will be oral examinations, lasting as long as the exams they replace, and will be administered and graded by Dan.

To each exam you are allowed to bring only a writing instrument, a calculator, and one letter-size sheet on which you have written as many notes, formulas, and physical constants as you like. No computers, or graphing calculators into which text and graphics may be downloaded, are allowed.

The best way to study for the examinations is to do the homework problems, to work out the sample exams that are available (with solutions) in our World Wide Web pages, and to make a good cheat sheet to bring to the exam.

Grades: Based 36% on the homework and 64% on the examinations. The midterm is worth 26%, and the final exam 38%, of the final grade, with each problem set counting for 3%. In terms of the percentage of the maximum possible score, the grading scale will be as follows:

Percentage score

> 85

> 80

> 75

> 70

> 65

> 60

> 55

> 50

> 40

< 40

Final grade











Last time Dan taught this course, in Fall 1990 (!), the 27 students who took it received an average percentage score of 69.9, for a B. (We round up to integers before assigning the final grade.)

Academic honesty disclaimer: For our purposes, cheating consists of submission of solo-homework or exam solutions that are not one’s own work, or submission of such work under someone else’s name. According to University rules, any detected act of cheating that is not the result of a simple misunderstanding must be handed over to the Board on Academic Honesty for investigation.

Help: Our office hours are posted on the Calendar page of the PHY 217 Web site. We can also be found most afternoons in or near our offices or labs, right down the hall from the classroom. Please come and talk to us whenever you want. Or email us, privately or through the list server. We will be happy enough to deal with specific questions about the course, homework or exams, but would be even more interested in talking to those who find the course confusing enough that they're not even sure what to ask.