8.012 | Fall 2008 | Undergraduate

Physics I: Classical Mechanics


Sir Isaac Newton developed classical mechanics in the 17th century not just as a mathematical approach to understanding the motions of objects, but also as an experimental science. His book Principia details many experiments used to test the equations he derived from various force laws.

In lieu of a lab, we have designed an assignment which allows you to decide what kind of experiment or investigation in classical mechanics you want to pursue. This project is open-ended; you decide what project you want to do — measure a physical constant, reproduce one of the homework problems, do a numerical simulation of a complex physical problem — and propose your project to the instructors. Once you get the go ahead, go for it! The 8.012 Project is worth 5% of your final grade.

Here are the rules:

  • The project must an experiment based on principles we have learned in 8.012.
  • The project should test an idea (such as the conservation of momentum), verify a result from the psets (such as confirming the properties of the capstan), recreate a classical experiment (such as those conducted by Newton or Galileo); demonstrate a physical concept (similar to the classroom demos) or examine a unique mechanical situation (such as examining the motion of coupled-pendulum system).
  • The project can be mechanical (i.e., building something), purely experimental (i.e., measuring the motion of a simple system) or numerical (i.e., simulating a physical problem on computer).
  • You may work in groups of up to 4 people.
  • Each project will be graded according to its description of the physics underlying the experiment, design and execution of the experiment and analysis/description of the results. Creativity will be rewarded!

The first step is to submit a project proposal, a one (1) page description of your proposed project which is due in Lec #14. That proposal should include:

  • A title and name(s) of those working on the project;
  • A brief description of the project itself (general idea, design, goals);
  • A description of how the project is specifically related to the physical principles discussed in 8.012; and
  • A description of the resources you may need to complete the project and how you aim to obtain those resources.

The instructors will assess your project idea and either give you/your group the go-ahead or suggest a revised project plan. No 8.012 project can be done without an accepted proposal, and no late proposals will be accepted, so be sure to get your proposals in Lec #14. Only one proposal per group needs to be turned in; if your group spans multiple recitations, please designate one (responsible!) member of your group to hand in the proposal.

Once your proposal is accepted, go for it! Completed projects, consisting of a 3-5 page report and any accompanying media (e.g., pictures, video, computer simulation) will be due by the end of Lec #21. The best projects will be highlighted on the last day of lecture.

Not sure what to do? Here are some examples of previous projects:

  • A simulation of the orbit of a sun, planet and moon
  • A simulation of an object bound by two springs
  • A machine that measures friction
  • A multi-stage pendulum bar

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2008
Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets
Exams with Solutions