Basic Notions of Physics

Name: Basic Notions of Physics
Code: FIS14156L
Duration: 15 weeks/156 hours
Scientific Area: Physics

Teaching languages: Portuguese
Languages of tutoring support: Portuguese
Regime de Frequência: Presencial


This curricular unit aims to provide students with a global view of the broad panorama of physics and understand how its various sub-areas are all connected.

Sustainable Development Goals

Learning Goals

The students should learn how the scientific method works, and how it is applied in physics. They should understand how the interplay between experiments and theory can lead to a better understanding of natural phenomena, and to the discovery of new ones. They should learn how to determine uncertainties in measurements and how to use them in comparison with other measurements or theoretical predictions. They should also learn how to communicate the results of lab work in the form of scientific reports.
The students should get an overview of the broad landscape of physics and understand how its various subareas are all connected. Several of these areas are selected for a brief introduction, where the goal is to present the basic concepts and illustrate them by examples. The students should then be able to solve simple exercise problems. They should also be able to make order-of-magnitude estimates when an exact calculation would be very complicated.


The scientific method. The relation between theory and experiment. Experimental and theoretical uncertainties and their interpretation. Dimensions and units. Dimensional analysis. Estimates and orders of magnitude. Symmetries. A broad overview of the different areas of physics. Brief introduction to the basic concepts of, of oscillations and waves, of geometric optics, and of radioactivity. Current topics: a selection of topics in physics that created particular interest in recent times (form example: black holes, gravitational waves, the Higgs particle, dark matter, etc.).
Examples of laboratory work: Free fall (the time objects fall is measured using photogates), Inclined plane (balls roll down an inclined track, distances and times are measured), Oscillations of a spring, Geometric optics (light sources, prisms and lenses), Law of radioactive decay (counting the activity of a radioactive sample as a function of time with a Geiger counter).

Teaching Methods

Presentation of the course contents in classes with the students present, with video projections to show figures and animations. Solution of exercise problems. Experimental laboratory work.

Assessment: The theoretical component consists of two optional tests (which contribute 50% to the theory grade), or alternatively of one exam during the normal exam period, and of a second call of the exam in the appeals period (with 100% contribution to the theory grade). In the practical component, reports on laboratory work and the ability of students to solve problems (either in the form of mini-tests or problem solving by each student on the board) are evaluated. The total classification of the UC = 0,65*(theoretical component) + 0,35*(practical component).

Teaching Staff