Course Overview

Electromagnetism I is an introduction to electromagnetic fields and forces. Electromagnetic forces quite literally dominate our everyday experience. The reason you do not fall through the floor to the center of the earth as you are reading this is because you are 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, 10^40 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.

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:

  1. to describe, in words, the ways in which various concepts in electromagnetism come into play in particular situations;
  2. to represent these electromagnetic phenomena and fields mathematically in those situations;
  3. and to 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.


Physics I (8.01 or 8.012 or 8.01L or 8.01X or 8.01T)


This course is taught in the TEAL/Studio Physics format. This course format differs substantially from the lecture/recitation format. In this format, classes are held three times a week, twice in a two-hour block, and once in a one-hour block. Students sit at tables of nine in a specially designed classroom, with three groups of three students at each table. Mini-lectures are interspersed with desktop experiments and group problem solving and discussion. The one-hour session on the third session of the week is reserved entirely for problem solving.

The course design is based on the following premises:

  • Interaction between teacher and student is an important factor in promoting learning;
  • Interaction among students is another;
  • Active learning is better than passive learning;
  • Hands-on experience with the phenomena under study is crucial.

Collaborative Work

Scientists and engineers work in groups as well as alone. Social interactions are critical to their success. Most good ideas grow out of discussions with colleagues. This subject encourages collaborative teamwork. As you study together, help your partners, ask each other questions, and critique your group homework and lab write-ups. Teach each other! You can learn a great deal by teaching others.

Course Notes, Course Reader, Experiment Write-Ups, and Optional Textbook

The course content is contained in the 8.02 Course lecture notes. Students also need the "8.02 Course Reader." This reader contains a number of different materials that you will need for the course, including experiment write-ups. You should bring this reader to class with you consistently, as it contains a lot of material that will be used in class and handed in. (Note for OCW users: The experimental write-ups and other materials included in the Course Reader are included in this OCW Web site.)

In addition, we use many visualizations in the course.

If you feel you need to consult a textbook for additional insight or for a different perspective, we recommend:

Buy at Amazon Serway, Raymond A., and John W. Jewett, Jr. Physics for Scientists and Engineers. Vol. 2. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson-Brooks/Cole, c2003. ISBN: 9780534408428. (Student ed.)

Or just about any of the standard introductory textbooks on electromagnetism.

Honesty on Course Work

You are welcome to and encouraged to work on the homework problems with fellow students. However, the work you submit should be your own and reflect your own understanding of the subject. For in-class work, you must be present and personally write your name on any material which is turned in in that class.


You are responsible for reading the Course Notes and working assigned problems. You will sometimes be assigned homework problems on material that has not yet been covered in class. You should start homework early and get help if needed before the due date.

Before Class Reading

There is a short reading assignment (Summary) which covers the material in the up-coming class. We urge you to read this summary before coming to class.

Written Homework

There will be one homework handed in on paper each week. To receive full credit for your hardcopy homework handed in, you must prepare and submit lucid and clearly reasoned written solutions. These problems will be graded and returned.

In-Class Group and Personal Assignments

In almost all classes, individuals and groups (see below) will submit answers to questions about desktop experiments done in class, material covered in the lecture in that class, and so on. You must be present in class to receive credit for assignments submitted either by you or by your group.

Group Work

You will be assigned to a group of three for collaborative work. Your group assignment will be announced near the beginning of the term. If you are not satisfied with the way your group is working, first try to discuss it with your group members. If you cannot arrive at a satisfactory solution, then discuss the problems with your instructor.


You will be offered hands-on, inquiry-based activities during the class period. These labs allow you to discover various aspects of a physics concept. Labs will vary in length and complexity and will be done in groups.


Three 1 1/2-hour tests will be given. There will be a final in the course. The final will be a comprehensive exam and will cover all of the subject material.


Grades are not curved in this subject. If everyone in the class does well, everyone can get an A. Once the final course grade has been computed at the end of the term, grades will be assigned adhering strictly to the break-points below. Grades (+/-) will be assigned based on your overall, weighted class average using the weighting scheme presented below.

Tests + Final 45% + 25%
Individual Homework 10%
In-Class Problem Solving 5%
Desktop Experiments 10%
PRS 5%
  +   -
A >= 95 < 95 and >= 90 < 90 and >= 85
B < 85 and >= 80 < 80 and >= 75 < 75 and >= 70
C < 70 and >= 67 < 67 and >= 64 < 64 and >= 60
D   < 60 and >= 55  
F   < 55