Syllabus for physics P310, Fall 2011
Course description for P310
The purpose of this course is to look at the application of physical
principles to environmental issues. In particular we will try to understand some of the limits
placed by scientific laws on humankind's use of environmental resources, energy resources in particular.
Prerequisite: P201 or P221; Math M215; some familiarity with computer spreadsheets is helpful
(the DOE web site allows the downloading of energy data in spreadsheet format).
1. Based on current estimates of energy resources and energy consumption, what can expect about
future energy resources and consumption?
- Status of current sources of energy?
- Who uses how much energy? (Relative amounts used by various populations, industries?)
- What are the known available reserves?
- How are projected reserves determined?
- What is the current status of alternative energy sources such as solar heating, solar electric,
geothermal, wind, nuclear, etc.
- What is the estimated possible total contribution of alternative sources?
- Projections for the future: when will we have to switch from petroleum to something else?
2. Where can we 'save' energy?
- What are the limits to energy efficiency imposed by the laws of thermodynamics?
- Given the current energy content of gasoline, that is the theoretical maximum gas mileage possible?
- What is the efficiency of various heat engines? (Gas, electric, Stirling)
- Why are fuel cells not subject to the same efficiency rules as heat engines?
- Where are the biggest savings in recycling and why?
- What are some reasonable estimates of the amount of energy that can be 'saved' by improvements in efficiency?
- Projections for the future: best case/worst case.
3. What do we know about the greenhouse effect?
What is the difference between weather and climate?
- What is blackbody radiation?
- What is the greenhouse effect? What would cause a global effect?
- What remote sensing data do we have access to and how is it gathered?
- What is the evidence that there is global warming (radio-isotope dating methods)?
- How does the current warming trend fit in with natural temperature fluctuations on a geological time scale?
- What is the difference between a weather model and a climate model?
- How accurate are current numerical climate models?
- What is the evidence that the current warming is caused by humans?
- What effect on human activity would a 3 degree Celsius temperature rise cause?
4. What is pollution and how do we deal with it?
- What is noise pollution?
- How do we quantify pollution flow rates in solids, liquids and gasses?
- What should be done with radioactive wastes?<
- What are the relative risks of various pollutants (e.g. natural versus human made)?
- What is radon and how should it be dealt with?
- Is there away to avoid thermal pollution?
The course will be run something like a seminar.
Your grade will be determined in the following way:
- An assignment will be made for each week of class (you are responsible for the assignment even
if you do not attend class - see the assignment page). The assignments may consist of an article
or book chapter to read, one or more homework problems, a web site to visit and take notes on or
a combination of the above.
- An inclass discussion of the assignment will take place with each student
presenting what they have learned regarding the assignment. Your contribution to the discussion
will constitute 10% of your grade- please come prepared to answer questions and contribute
information on the assignment (I will be asking you questions, not presenting new information).
- The week following the discussion you will hand in the assignment for the previous week.
The handed in assignment may take the form of a short summary essay or problem solutions.
These will be graded and constitute 70% of your grade.
- Just before Thanksgiving I will hand out a take home final, due during exam week.
This will be a project which will require you to summarize many of the topics we will
discuss during the semester. You may consult any source you wish, including other students
(but please be aware that students can be expelled from IU for plagiarism). The final will count as 20% of your grade.
- Grades will be posted on Oncourse (updated each week- please check for errors).