Physical Problem Solving — AIMS 2016

Welcome to the website for Physical Problem Sloving taught by Dr. Sean Gryb at AIMS Senegal during Block 1 (Sept 13 – Sept 30), 2016. Download a PDF with the tentative course outline here.

Professor Info

  • Name: Dr. Sean Gryb
  • Background: Theoretical Physics/Quantum Gravity
  • Institute: Radboud Institute, the Netherlands
  • email: sean.gryb (at

Course Description

In this course, we will learn a variety of techniques for solving problems in physics. The idea will be to learn to solve problems by first developing concrete strategies and then putting these strategies into use by working through a variety of problems. The nature of these problems will range from basic problems in tabletop physics to the deepest conceptual problems of science. We will aim to provide you with some of the basic tools you will need to get through the more focused courses later in the year using a variety of creative and engaging classroom techniques.

The course will start by outlining basic problem solving strategies that we will apply to standard textbook problems in Newtonian mechanics. We will then develop critical thinking and argumentation skills by studying the conceptual foundations of space and time. Towards this end, we will have a debate on the foundational principles that defined the Newtonian revolution. Finally, we will study and critically assess the basic ingredients of relativity theory combining the technical and conceptual toolkits developed in the first two sections of the course. The evaluation for the course will consistent of regular worksheets performed in class with the help of the lecturer and the tutors, individual assignments, contributions to the debate, and a final exam. The main goal of this course is to get you to think and to work together to solve hard problems that require innovative and creative solutions. Remember: it’s the process, not the answer, that is important!


… more to come: check regularly for the latest posts!


Note: This evaluation scheme is tentative and subject to change.

Worksheets (40%)

There will be regular worksheets to be handed in the following day in class. Please note:

  • Worksheets will be evaluated as PASS/FAIL. (This means that you will receive 100% if you hand in the assignment and 0% if you don’t.)
  • Worksheets will be due in class the lecture following the one where the solution was given in class, unless stated otherwise.
  • There will be time to work on the worksheets during class.
  • We will give a brief solution in class.
  • You can work in groups, but…
  • You must submit your own solution (in your own words).

You can download the worksheets below. (as they become available)

Week 1:

Week 2:

Week 3:

… more to come: check regularly for the latest posts!


Assignment (12.5%)

There will be one assignment on classical mechanics worth 12.5% of your final mark. You can download it at the link below together with the solutions.


Debate (17.5%)

Each student will be required to participate in a debate on the foundations of classical mechanics. There will be a debate in French and English. Find an outline of the debate format, including the debate questions below

As a starting point for the preparation for the debate, you can consult the handout On Space and Time (ou la traduction en français: A Propos de l’Espace et du Temps) or the following slides on the ideas of Newton, Leibniz and Mach. However, students are encouraged to do their own research in addition to the material provided either by following the links or by doing their own searches.

The debates will take place Monday Sept 26, 2016.

Evaluation procedure:

  • The debate will be worth 17.5% of the final mark.
  • Students will work in groups with an assigned tutor.
  • Each group must submit:
    • A written document outlining the list of tasks assigned to each group member.
    • A summary of the main arguments including: the opening statement, responses to the debate questions, rebuttals to the debate questions and a closing statement.
  • Tutors will assign a mark to each student in the group based on participation, work ethic and quality. This mark will be based on the student’s performance in both the preparation for the debate – including the drafting of the documents – and the debate itself.
  • Each group will receive an overall mark from all tutors (and Prof Gryb) for their performance in the debate and the quality of the written documents.
  • Final grades will be calculated based on both the group marks and the individual marks.


Exam (30%)

The exam will take place on Friday 30 Sept 2016 from 11.00 – 13.00 in the classroom. The exam will be closed book. It will be worth 30% of your final grade.