PHYSICS 1201 - Physics for the Life and Earth Sciences IB

North Terrace Campus - Semester 2 - 2021

This course provides an introduction to sensing and imaging as applied to biological systems and earth science. It is intended to provide a background in physics at university level for students who wish to major in biological sciences (Physics I and Mathematics I are recommended for students interested in Biophysics or Geophysics). The emphasis is on physics concepts and their application to relevant problems rather than on the more theoretical or mathematical development of concepts. It includes a study of oscillations, waves and sound, geometric and physics optics, electricity and magnetism, X-rays and radioactivity. Practical problem solving.

  • General Course Information
    Course Details
    Course Code PHYSICS 1201
    Course Physics for the Life and Earth Sciences IB
    Coordinating Unit School of Physical Sciences
    Term Semester 2
    Level Undergraduate
    Location/s North Terrace Campus
    Units 3
    Contact Up to 7 hours per week
    Available for Study Abroad and Exchange Y
    Prerequisites Physics SACE Stage 2 and SACE Stage 2 Mathematical Methods, or PHYSICS 1101. Other students who have completed PHYSICS 1008 may be granted exemption on application to Head of Physics
    Incompatible PHYSICS 1200
    Assumed Knowledge PHYSICS 1101 or PHYSICS 1008
    Course Description This course provides an introduction to sensing and imaging as applied to biological systems and earth science. It is intended to provide a background in physics at university level for students who wish to major in biological sciences (Physics I and Mathematics I are recommended for students interested in Biophysics or Geophysics). The emphasis is on physics concepts and their application to relevant problems rather than on the more theoretical or mathematical development of concepts. It includes a study of oscillations, waves and sound, geometric and physics optics, electricity and magnetism, X-rays and radioactivity. Practical problem solving.
    Course Staff

    Course Coordinator: Associate Professor Andrew MacKinnon

    Course Timetable

    The full timetable of all activities for this course can be accessed from Course Planner.

  • Learning Outcomes
    Course Learning Outcomes
    1 demonstrate a working knowledge of the physical principles that describe oscillations, waves, optics,  modern sensors and electromagnetism;
    2 use algebraic methods to make qualitative and semi-quantitative predictions about the behaviour of the aforementioned systems;
    3 apply an understanding of physical principles to familiar and unfamiliar situations in the life and earth sciences;
    4 make appropriate use of standard measurement and data analysis techniques;
    5 identify random and systematic uncertainties in experiments;
    6 draw non-trivial and quantitatively precise conclusions from experimental results;
    7 work cooperatively in a team to complete a task in a limited time;
    8 confidently communicate results about the physical world both orally and in writing
    University Graduate Attributes

    This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attribute(s) specified below:

    University Graduate Attribute Course Learning Outcome(s)
    Deep discipline knowledge
    • informed and infused by cutting edge research, scaffolded throughout their program of studies
    • acquired from personal interaction with research active educators, from year 1
    • accredited or validated against national or international standards (for relevant programs)
    Critical thinking and problem solving
    • steeped in research methods and rigor
    • based on empirical evidence and the scientific approach to knowledge development
    • demonstrated through appropriate and relevant assessment
    Teamwork and communication skills
    • developed from, with, and via the SGDE
    • honed through assessment and practice throughout the program of studies
    • encouraged and valued in all aspects of learning
    Self-awareness and emotional intelligence
    • a capacity for self-reflection and a willingness to engage in self-appraisal
    • open to objective and constructive feedback from supervisors and peers
    • able to negotiate difficult social situations, defuse conflict and engage positively in purposeful debate
  • Learning Resources
    Required Resources

    Urone, P. and Hinrichs, R. (2013) College Physics (OpenStax College): This is a free open-source textbook that can be downloaded as a pdf, epub or viewed directly on the web from


    Giancoli, D. C. (2005) Physics Principles with Applications, 6th ed. (Pearsons/Prentice Hall)

    Recommended Resources

    Kirkup, L. (1994) Experimental Methods, (Wiley)

    OpenStax textbook home page: 

    School home page:

    Online Learning

    MyUni: Teaching materials and course documentation will be posted on the MyUni website (

  • Learning & Teaching Activities
    Learning & Teaching Modes

    This course will be delivered by the following means:

    • Online lecture material to be view prior to lectorial attendance
    • 2 lectorials of 1 hour per week
    • 1 workshop of 1 hour per week
    • 1 practical of 3 hours per fortnight

    The information below is provided as a guide to assist students in engaging appropriately with the course requirements.

    A student enrolled in a 3 unit course, such as this, should expect to spend, on average 12 hours per week on the studies required. This includes both the formal contact time required to the course (e.g., lectures and practicals), as well as non-contact time (e.g., reading and revision).
    Learning Activities Summary

    The course content will include the following:

    Coursework Content

    Oscillations, Waves and Sound (17%)

    • Oscillations: requirements and parameters for simple harmonic motion; energy in SHM; period and sinusoidal nature of SHM; the reference circle.
    • Waves: transverse and longitudinal waves; energy carried by a wave; intensity dependence on amplitude and frequency; reflection and transmission at boundaries; superposition and interference of waves; standing waves and resonance; diffraction and Huygen’s principle.
    • Sound: characteristics of sound; sound intensity level – the decibel; the human ear; sources of sound - vibrating strings and air columns; interference of sound waves; beats; Doppler effect; ultrasound and medical imaging.

    Modern Physics (17%)

    • Electromagnetic radiation – waves or particles; black-body radiation; Stefan-Boltzmann law; Wein’s displacement law; average temperature of the Earth, its energy balance, global warming; particle nature of electromagnetic radiation; energy, frequency and wavelength of a photon.
    • Electrons and atoms: evidence for the wave nature of particles; de Broglie's relationship; the electron microscope; the basic features of quantum mechanics; Heisenberg uncertainly principle; absorption and emission of photons by atoms; Pauli exclusion principle; the periodic table of the elements; x-ray spectra; attenuation of x rays in matter; production of light by a laser.
    • Nuclei and radioactivity: properties and structure of the nucleus; radioactivity and nuclear stability; alpha, beta and gamma decay; half-life.
    • Methods of detection of radiation: Geiger counter, scintillation counter, cloud chamber, wire drift chamber.
    • Radiation damage and dosimetry: effects on DNA, source activity, radiation dose, quality factor, and effective dose.
    • Medical applications of radiation: radiation therapy, use of radioactive tracers, tomography.

    Electromagnetism and Sensors (34%)

    • Electric charge and electric fields: review of electric charge, insulators and conductors; Coulomb’s law and its applications; electric field and electric field lines; electric flux; electric forces in biological systems.
    • Electric potential: electric potential energy and electric potential; choosing the zero of potential; electric potential and electric field; equipotential surfaces; the electron volt; electric potential due to point charges; point discharge and lightning.
    • Capacitance: the capacitor; parallel-plate capacitors; dielectrics; torque on a dipole; storage of electrical energy.
    • Applications of electric fields and potentials: TV and computer monitors, cathode ray oscilloscopes; the electrocardiagram; microscopic view of electric current; the nervous system; measurements using an ammeter and a voltmeter; potentiometer and Wheatstone bridge.
    • Magnetism: magnets; magnetic field lines; magnetic field surrounding a current; force on a current-carrying wire; strength of magnetic field; torque on a current loop; applications of current loop in magnetic field; ferromagnetism and hysteresis.
    • Electromagnetic induction: magnetic flux; Faraday’s law of induction; Lenz’s law; induced emf; emf induced in a moving conductor; electric generator; eddy currents; transformers; production of electromagnetic waves; the electromagnetic spectrum.

    Optics (32%)

    • Geometric Optics: law of reflection; image formation in a plane and non-planar mirror; law of refraction; lens-maker’s equation; ray tracing with lenses; magnifying glasses, telescopes and microscopes; the human eye; aberrations: spherical and chromatic.
    • Wave Optics: Huygen’s principle; Snell’s law and Fermat’s principle; Young’s double-slit experiment; single-slit diffraction; diffraction gratings; polarisation, Malus’ law; thin-film interference.

    Practical Work Content

    Computer based experiments, carried out individually:

    • Exponential distribution

    Experiments carried out in groups of three students:

    • Speed of sound
    • Thin lens
    • Diffraction grating
  • Assessment

    The University's policy on Assessment for Coursework Programs is based on the following four principles:

    1. Assessment must encourage and reinforce learning.
    2. Assessment must enable robust and fair judgements about student performance.
    3. Assessment practices must be fair and equitable to students and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
    4. Assessment must maintain academic standards.

    Assessment Summary
    Assessment taskType of assessmentPercentage of total assessment for grading purposesHurdle (Yes/No)Outcomes being assessed
    Workshop preparation and participation Formative & Summative 10% No 1, 2, 3, 7, 8
    Practical work Formative & Summative 20% Yes
    (30% in each practical and 40% overall)
    1 – 8
    In – Semester Tests Formative & Summative 10% No 1, 2, 3, 8
    Written Examination Summative 60% No 1, 2, 3, 8
    Assessment Related Requirements

    To obtain a grade of Pass or better in this course, a student must achieve a result of at least 30% in each practical and an overall result of 40% for the practical component and attend the final examination.

    Assessment Detail

    The coursework result comprises a contribution from your preparation for workshops with the remainder from the in-semester tests and your written examination. The MyUNI quiz and the experimental work contribute to the result for practical work.

    Workshop preparation and participation
    workshops are held weekly, starting in the second week. The grade for the workshop is based on the student’s preparation and participation during the workshop.

    Practical work
    All Practicals/experiments are compulsory and contribute equally to the practical component of the grade. For each laboratory practical, the student must obtain a satisfactory result in the preparatory work, attend the practical session and submit the logbook for assessment. A practical catch-up session is held at the end of the teaching semester to allow students to catch up any missed practicals.

    In – Semester Tests
    Up to 5 tests will occur throughout the semester.

    Written Exam
    The final examination will be based primarily on lecture/workshop material.


    Submission of Assigned Work
    Coversheets must be completed and attached to all submitted work. Coversheets can be obtained from the School Office (room G33 Physics) or from MyUNI. Work should be submitted via the assignment drop box at the School Office.

    Extensions for Assessment Tasks
    Extensions of deadlines for assessment tasks may be allowed for reasonable causes. Such situations would include compassionate and medical grounds of the severity that would justify the awarding of a supplementary examination. Evidence for the grounds must be provided when an extension is requested. Students are required to apply for an extension to the Course Coordinator before the assessment task is due. Extensions will not be provided on the grounds of poor prioritising of time. The assessment extension application form can be obtained from: 

    Late submission of assessments
    If an extension is not applied for, or not granted then a penalty for late submission will apply.  A penalty of 10% of the value of the assignment for each calendar day that the assignment is late (i.e. weekends count as 2 days), up to a maximum of 50% of the available marks will be applied. This means that an assignment that is 5 days late or more without an approved extension can only receive a maximum of 50% of the marks available for that assignment.

    Course Grading

    Grades for your performance in this course will be awarded in accordance with the following scheme:

    M10 (Coursework Mark Scheme)
    Grade Mark Description
    FNS   Fail No Submission
    F 1-49 Fail
    P 50-64 Pass
    C 65-74 Credit
    D 75-84 Distinction
    HD 85-100 High Distinction
    CN   Continuing
    NFE   No Formal Examination
    RP   Result Pending

    Further details of the grades/results can be obtained from Examinations.

    Grade Descriptors are available which provide a general guide to the standard of work that is expected at each grade level. More information at Assessment for Coursework Programs.

    Final results for this course will be made available through Access Adelaide.

  • Student Feedback

    The University places a high priority on approaches to learning and teaching that enhance the student experience. Feedback is sought from students in a variety of ways including on-going engagement with staff, the use of online discussion boards and the use of Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) surveys as well as GOS surveys and Program reviews.

    SELTs are an important source of information to inform individual teaching practice, decisions about teaching duties, and course and program curriculum design. They enable the University to assess how effectively its learning environments and teaching practices facilitate student engagement and learning outcomes. Under the current SELT Policy ( course SELTs are mandated and must be conducted at the conclusion of each term/semester/trimester for every course offering. Feedback on issues raised through course SELT surveys is made available to enrolled students through various resources (e.g. MyUni). In addition aggregated course SELT data is available.

  • Student Support
  • Policies & Guidelines
  • Fraud Awareness

    Students are reminded that in order to maintain the academic integrity of all programs and courses, the university has a zero-tolerance approach to students offering money or significant value goods or services to any staff member who is involved in their teaching or assessment. Students offering lecturers or tutors or professional staff anything more than a small token of appreciation is totally unacceptable, in any circumstances. Staff members are obliged to report all such incidents to their supervisor/manager, who will refer them for action under the university's student’s disciplinary procedures.

The University of Adelaide is committed to regular reviews of the courses and programs it offers to students. The University of Adelaide therefore reserves the right to discontinue or vary programs and courses without notice. Please read the important information contained in the disclaimer.