Fundamental Principles in Introductory Physics


Ruth Chabay & Bruce Sherwood

North Carolina State University


The goal of the contemporary physics enterprise is to explain a broad range of phenomena using only a very small number of powerful fundamental principles.  Although instructors and textbook authors may see the enterprise this way, this is not the view typically acquired by students in the calculus-based introductory course.  The result of conventional instruction is to reinforce the studentís belief that there exists a separate formula for every situation, and that the studentís task is to figure out which of these formulas to use.  Students may even believe that it is the responsibility of the teacher or the textbook to tell them which formula to use!  We have developed a new, modern curriculum, Matter & Interactions, which emphasizes the power of fundamental principles, and guides students through the process of  starting from these principles in analyzing physical systems, on both the macroscopic and the microscopic level.  The continual emphasis on the application of fundamental principles and on the atomic nature of matter makes possible the integration of topics that are traditionally taught as disconnected: mechanics and thermal physics are intertwined, as are electrostatics and circuits.  For additional information, see


©Copyright 1999 KSU Department of Physics