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The prerequisite for this course is Physics I: Classical Mechanics.

Course Overview

Physics II is an introduction to electromagnetic fields and forces. Electromagnetic forces quite literally dominate our everyday experience. The material object presenting this text does not fall through the floor to the center of the earth because it is floating on (and held together by) electrostatic force fields. However, we are unaware of this in a visceral way, in large part because electromagnetic forces are so enormously strong, 1040 times stronger than gravity.

Because of the strength of electromagnetic forces, any small imbalance in net electric charge gives rise to enormous forces that act to try to erase that imbalance. Thus in our everyday experience, matter is by and large electrically neutral, and our direct experience with electromagnetic phenomena is disguised by many subtleties associated with that neutrality. This is very unlike our direct experience with gravitational forces, which is straightforward and unambiguous.

Course Goals

The objectives of this course are to tease out the laws of electromagnetism from our everyday experience by specific examples of how electromagnetic phenomena manifest themselves. We want to be able to:

  1. Describe, in words, the ways in which various concepts in electromagnetism come into play in particular situations
  2. Represent these electromagnetic phenomena and fields mathematically in those situations
  3. Predict outcomes in other similar situations

The overall goal is to use the scientific method to come to understand the enormous variety of electromagnetic phenomena in terms of a few relatively simple laws.

Why Is Understanding Electricity & Magnetism Important?

Understanding electromagnetic fields is essential to our understanding the world around us. The most fundamental processes in nature, from the forces that determine the structure of atoms and molecules to the phenomena of light to nerve impulses in living systems, depend on electric and magnetic fields.

It is fundamental to current and future technologies. Motors, power generation and transmission, electronics, sensors, and communication – both wired and wireless – involve the manipulation of electric or magnetic fields. There are few advances in technology that can be made without the use of electronic circuits or electric and magnetic fields.

It is the simplest example of unification in science. A large and diverse body of observational facts can be explained in terms of a few simple concepts. The phenomena of electricity and magnetism, which appear to be completely different, are shown to be two manifestations of the same physics. The theory requires few if any approximations. Results can be predicted with great accuracy.

It represents the most quantitative mode of inquiry of all the sciences. Of the various ways to approach science, physics in general, and E&M in particular, starts with the smallest set of fundamental assumptions. Quantitative rigor in solving important problems is rewarded by unprecedented agreement with measured results. Chemistry and biology demonstrate different, complementary approaches to dealing with natural phenomena.

The course will have succeeded in its aims if you come away from it with a grasp of the basic principles governing the motion of objects, a feel for the scientific method, and an understanding of the techniques of problem solving.

Course Format

This course combines the content of two key versions of Classical Mechanics taught at MIT and previously published on OCW: a "classroom lecture style" course and a "studio physics" course. The content of those two courses are still available in their original form:

  • Physics II with 36 video lectures by Professor Walter Lewin
  • Physics II as taught in the Studio Physics, or TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) format

MIT students can expect to spend about 150 hours learning Electricity and Magnetism. That number comes from a combination of attending lectures, studying independently, and time spent in the lab. It’s difficult to estimate how long it will take you to complete all of the modules in this particular course because it’s never been taught at MIT in this format. But you can probably expect to spend an hour on practice problems, readings, and assessment for each hour of video you watch.

Before You Begin this Course

Take a moment to familiarize yourself with all of the modules covered in this course. The course been arranged in a linear progression through the each of the topics of the course. On each module page you will find:

  • Learning Objectives: A brief statement of what you should understand by the time you have completed the module
  • Course Notes: Read these in preparation for the lesson
  • Lecture Video: Watch each relevant video clip from lectures taught by Professor Walter Lewin
  • Class Slides: Look through these to get a better understanding of the concepts covered in the module
  • Concept Questions: Test yourself to make sure you have learned the major concepts in the module
  • Challenge Problems: Work through these difficult problems to make sure you deeply understand the material
  • Homework Help Video: If you are struggling with the challenge problems, watch these videos with Professor Walter Lewin to learn how to do similar problems
  • Related Visualizations: The mathematics of electromagnetism refers to many concepts that are hard to grasp, and the visualizations are designed to help you gain some insight into both the physics and mathematics of this subject

Technical Requirements

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Subtitles for this course are provided through the generous assistance of Benon Twinamasiko, Mariana Arce and Rohan Pai.

Join a Study Group

MIT OpenCourseWare has teamed up with OpenStudy so you can quickly and easily connect with others working on this course. Through this site, you can find other students interested in Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism: work together on assignments, ask each other questions about the exams, or just discuss the topics of the course.

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