Module – Modelling of Physical Systems

FHEQ Level: Level 4 (First Year)
Credits: 20
Module Code: F300 10038
Course Reference Number (CRN): 59404
Delivery: September Start, Trimesters 1&2 (Long Thin)

Syllabus Outline

• An introduction to VPython and its application for the visual simulation of physical systems
• Projectile motion under the effects of both gravity and air resistance
• Oscillatory motion, including linear simple harmonic motion, coupled oscillators and the simple pendulum beyond the limit of simple harmonic motion. The coupled spring-mass system: Phase-space plots and sensitivity to initial conditions
• Gravitation including planetary and satellite motion and the application of Kepler’s laws
• The motion of charged particles in electric fields
• The spatial and temporal characteristics of transverse and longitudinal travelling waves
• Superposition of waves, Fourier synthesis and standing waves
• Sound waves and the Doppler effect
• Kinetic theory in gases including the origin of pressure and the Maxwell speed distribution.
• Temperature and thermal transport
• The zeroth, first and second law of thermodynamics
• Basic statistical mechanics, including the distribution of energy between Einstein solids


Coursework: Assignment: Dynamics of Physical Systems, 50%
Coursework: Assignment: Waves & Thermal Physics, 50%
More detailed information may be found in the Assessments section.


Matter and Interactions, 4th Edition, Ruth W. Chabay and Bruce A. Sherwood (2015), Wiley, ISBN-10 : 1118875869

Principles of Physics, 10th Edition International Student Version, Haliday, Resnick and Walker, (2014) John Wiley & Sons ISBN-10 : 1118230744

University Physics with Modern Physics, 14th Edition Global Edition; Young and Freedman (2019) Pearson ISBN-10 : 1292314737

Further updates and supplementary texts may be found in the University Reading Lists system.


The use of computers to aid problem solving in physics is ubiquitous in both academic and industrial research. This module will explore the application of numerical modelling, demonstrating how it can be complementary to mathematical-based analytical techniques, often allowing the examination the characteristics beyond the limitations of standard approaches. The focus is on developing appropriate physical models and is applied to the core areas of mechanics, waves and thermal physics.


1. You will be able to utilise computational software to aid in problem solving as a complimentary tool to mathematical techniques.
2. You will be able to construct models based on physical principles including making reasoned judgements in relation to the level of complexity required for a specific problem.
3. You will be able to interpret the output of dynamical simulations in response to the change in input parameters.
4. You will develop an understanding of the spatial and temporal characteristics of waves.
5 .You will develop a basic understanding of the relationship between microscopic and macroscopic systems in the area of thermal physics.

Knowledge & Understanding

On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of the parameters of physical models, including a critical appreciation of the level of complexity required for a particular problem.
2. Apply numerical techniques to study the dynamical evolution of physical systems, critically comparing them to complimentary mathematical-based analytical techniques.
3. Demonstrate an understanding of the nature and time-evolution of mechanical waves including the application of sound waves.
4. Demonstrate an understanding of the laws and their origins in the area of kinetic theory, thermal physics and basic statistical physics.

Learning, Teaching and Assessment

The module will be taught via a combination of lectures, covering basic principles and application, and hands-on computational laboratories. Whilst this module relies heavily of the application of computers, the focus is developing skills for setting up physical models, including a critical appreciation of the required level of complexity.

The main vehicle for performing the simulations is VPython, which offers a high-level, visual-based, on-line environment, reducing the need for in-depth computer programming techniques, which can often obscure the underlying physics used in problem-solving.

In each workshop, specific problems will be presented to the students that will have an investigative angle to them, increasing in complexity as the module progresses. The development of both computation skills, and reasoning and logic in the application of physical models will be facilitated through frequent verbal discussions and feedback from the academic leading the sessions.

Summative assessment is via two extended investigative problem-solving exercises that will have an open-ended aspect to them. Submission will comprise a report alongside supporting computer code. Students will be offered two formal formative assessments per semester, where they will receive written feedback in relation to both setting up of physical models and their design of computer code.