Physics for Poets I

Apr 2021

Physics for Poets was a wild ride. I took the class during Covid-19, so I am not certain how much my experience reflects what it would be like in person. The professor is excited about the material and loves physics, and shares that excitement with his students. My major issue with the course was the separation between the lectures and the homework -- the homework required lots of outside (seemingly random) research and was incredibly time-consuming, and the lecture notes only helped marginally. While I did find the course material interesting, because of the amount of work required, I'm not sure I would recommend this class. With that said, it is definitely appropriate for someone who is not a science major.

May 2017

Reviewer has not received the grades but likely to receive an A. Professor Marka is clearly a first class astrophysicist but felt that lectures were not delivered in the most coherent manner. Some questions on the finals and homeworks were not explicitly discussed in class which left some students confused. My recommendation is to go to class to see experiments in class and review the slides at home. One homework had 20 pages so be warned that this class may not be as easy as before.

May 2015

Professor Marka is the shit. If you're not a science person (which is who the class is obviously designed for) you will probably feel pretty lost the first few lectures. After a while you start getting some of the stuff and if you're interested you can learn a lot. If you're busy you can skip class and not miss a beat. Watching Professor Marka is the real pleasure. It's like someone gave a curious child unlimited resources and encouraged him to play with all the dangerous things in the lab. He gleefully handles liquid nitrogen and harasses his TA by being casually brilliant. He also speaks in a hilariously villainous German accent which can be a little hard to understand but makes the class that much more of a good time. Professor Marka is a world class scientist who specializes in Black Holes and other mysterious shit. Get him to explain it all to you and take this class for an fun and easy way to knock out your science requirement. TL;DR Professor Marka is the man. Class is Easy A. Very little work.

Aug 2014

This class was a very strange class. I would recommend taking it if you're looking for an easy way to fulfill a science requirement and do not have a genuine interest in the material. Attendance is pretty much optional and in my opinion not necessary, The only times i went to class were to force myself to do the reading for another class that i had immediately after that, but other than that there was no point. And i really did try for about the first month. The format of the class is pretty much some sort of experiment that usually doesn't work done by Marka and his assistant, this takes about 10-15 minutes then for the rest of the class he just goes through slides, many which have the word optional written across them, therefore REALLY discouraging me from paying any attention at all. there were suppose to be problem sets due very two weeks but it took him about two months to actually get that going and the homeworks were long but you could mostly look up everything online. There were 3 midterms which he failed to evenly space out so towards the end of the semester it felt like we were having a midterm every two weeks, The midterms were mostly based off of questions in the practice given beforehand and the material seemed pretty basic, but I had never taken any sort of physics class before so I had no idea what the answers were if the answer wasn't previously given to me on the practice. Don't bother purchasing the textbook for this class, it is completely useless and won't help at all. Cheat Sheets allowed on all midterms anyway so you could put the practice exams on there. overall, the material isn't easy if you haven't taken physics before but the class also has a bizarre curve that pretty much ensures that everyone does well.

Sep 2013

I love professor Marka. He's the best professor I had so far at Columbia. He made me develop a genuine interest and understanding of the physics terms and bases. He has the coolest office and is definitely an extremely energized professor that is always in high spirits. I had an extremely pleasant experience with his class and I think that's what classes should be about in the end. I had a great time, learned a lot, brushed up skills and elected him my favorite professor so far. I'd make him a golden nugget if I could.

Jan 2010

No. Don't do it! This course title is misleading and you will be pissed when you sit in the class on the first day and have the professor remind you of that fact. It's for non-science majors, yes. But Physics for Poets sounds cool and the title holds the promise of a certain whimsical, imaginative, mysterious, beautiful and metaphysical foray into the way things work in nature and in space. Uh, No. However, you will feel motivated to write poems in this class, since the constant daydreaming you will do makes for great poetry writing. You should pay a little attention, though, because some of what you're ignoring is gonna be on your homework assignment and you can't submit a poem. If you have to take this class, go to every session our lovely TA Robert conducts and he will give you all the answers you need and he'll even repeat them for you if you had been writing a poem or haiku while he was lecturing on the topic the first time. The assignments took a lot of time for many of us, maybe those of us less disciplined poets who yearned for metaphors and analogical thinking to help our tender souls make sense of the profundity of nature and the cosmos as it was presented so unimaginatively on those dang power point slides. And the door always had this moaning whooshing sound when closed. Frightened air was trying to blast its way in or out, always a panicked air blowing through that door... Sometimes when we just sat there looking at Professor Miller with our blank faces, she would say "You guys look tired. Well, how do you think I feel? I have to TEACH this class...". And she was serious. She was mostly serious and rigid when conducting class. When speaking to her face to face, she was kind and very helpful and her pleasant twinkly eyes and a perfect professional crispness didn't seem so harsh up close. She just doesn't seem happy teaching, it certainly isn't her strong suit. And it's obvious to everyone, herself included. So why does she teach this class? Why should Columbia students -- or ANY students for that matter, have to settle for unenthusiastic teachers? The worst part was the haphazard organization of the course. It was a mess. Miller jumped back and forth through chapters and it was hard to know if you should have known the stuff presented in the chapter before. There's a deadline for grade gripes but somehow, every time I realized a TA had improperly deducted from my answer I realized that my beef was toast since the deadline for said beef had already passed. You should know that your homework gets whisked up into the hands of TAs who NEVER return your homework. It took for. ever. to get my homework back. Everyone was pretty humiliated after the first midterm was returned. You must take a second midterm and she takes the lower grade of the two. And after the second midterm, still there were some grumbling and 'fuck this' faces. She drops two of your lowest homework grades but that doesn't matter because the final was long and sometimes hard and people were sweating and sighing. I got a B. Ode to a feakin' B. Others were secretive about their grades so they may have done the same or worse. Or better since they may have been sensitive poets and didn't want to hurt me. HAIKU Einstein curved space time relativity was real Newton didn't know

Jan 2010

Forget previous reviews that say how easy it is and what a perfect course it is if you're trying to get your requirement done or boost your GPA. With Dr. Amber Miller, this 1000-level elementary course transforms into some 3000-level intermediate course, and she teaches you physics more than you wish you knew or in other words, more than it is required of you to know and no decent person will not be overwhelmed by the amount of information that she overloads on PowerPoint slides. So if you happen to love physics, want to gain in-depth knowledge, or find enjoyment in learning, you will love her. Otherwise, I strongly recommend that you take Earth, Moon, Planet with Applegate. Amber Miller is very knowledgeable and takes her teaching job VERY seriously (possesses characteristics of a good professor,) although she is primarily a researcher. And she has a PhD/MA from Princeton(where I transferred from) and BA from Berkeley and specializes in cosmology, but surprisingly not pretentious at all. She clearly lacks affectation required of every Princetonian. Maybe too serious to be sociable...? I wish she learned how to be a poseuse rather than polishing her diva status. At the beginning of the term she warned us that this course would not proceed chapter by chapter through a textbook, and I though it should be fine. Boy, was I wrong on that assumption! Since we skipped many chapters, we sometimes lacked prerequisite knowledge that was supposed to be covered and therefore, had to find relevant chapters and do reading on our own or search necessary info online in order to do our homework. In fact there were problems that were so ambiguous or not covered in class that we had to consult Wikipedia or beloved Robert (our TA). She also mentioned that she would select readings that would help us understand the topics that we chose, but for the first part of the semester, there was no instructions. Also, graders didn't return graded homework/exams in a timely fashion, though Robert posted solutions for review. As for exams, she doesn't tell you what you should know or doesn't give you practice exams, but you can predict and focus on certain topics/questions that may show up on exams. Midterms (short answers and a few easy math questions) were not particularly difficult(mean was about 148 out of 200pts and 137 out of 180 excluding 14 students who missed the 2nd midterm) but long. The final exam was long (total 545 points) and difficult and required thorough knowledge and understanding, though there were also very simple questions - for example, the age of the universe (probably worth only 3pts) and whether or not the orbit of the Earth will change should Venus suddenly collapsed into a black hole. She grades on a curve, so I ended up with a B despite my poor performance on final (about 55%) But I would have received an A if it was truly a 1000-level course. Having said that, I liked most materials covered in class. It's just that I wouldn't risk my GPA.

Jan 2009

In a nutshell: - The powerpoints are informative and clear enough, and Conrad is a capable enough lecturer, that I never opened my book - The workload is minimal, but I still learned a huge amount of brain-stretching material - The concepts are relevant to the lives of everyone who lives in this universe (i.e. physics is incredible) - Conrad passes out physics toys about once a month (I still have my diffraction grating glasses!) -NO CALCULUS.* I highly recommend this class to anyone and everyone who hasn't taken a college-level physics course *Conrad occasionally adds more advanced or complicated math to the powerpoints, but she usually flips through the slides really quickly in class, and we weren't tested on any of it. For people (like me) who know calculus and just get really angry at math homework, this means you can understand some of the concepts mathematically as well!

Dec 2007

This is a great science class to take if you are just trying to get your requirement done. There is very little work to do as long as you go to lectures. All you have to do in this class is do the weekly assignments, which take an hour or less and that you don't have to hand in, to study for the weekly quizzes. Also, if you bomb a few of the quizzes, there are many opportunities to replace the grades. The final is also very easy. Professor Conrad is quite interesting, and is a particle physicist at FermiLab in Chicago, but she somehow manages to be a very capable teacher and manages to keep things interesting in a physics class that really doesn't involve much math. You are almost guaranteed an A. She showed us the final curve from fall 2006, and 55 percent of the students got above an A-, and I think something like 15 got below a B.

Nov 2006

If you are looking for an easy class just to take to boost your GPA, this is the class to take. If you have a previous knowledge in physics it will help you greatly, and if you know it well you could almost get by without going to any lecture, except to take the quizes. The lectures are boring and monotonous, contain many useless facts and just all together not informative. The quizes could be a little tricky, just be sure to completly the assignments, because the quiz will resemble a few problems on the assignments. If you aren't familiar with physics, you might have to go to lectures, but its not that bad. The class is curved, so as long as you have decent knowledge of physics you should get a relatively easy A.

Sep 2006

This class was definitely harder than I thought it would be. Professor Conrad is one of the nicest people I have ever met, but the lectures are extremely long (often around 100 powerpoint slides) yet somehow completely devoid of information. The format of the class is easy-10 quizzes, each worth 10 points, and a final worth 50 points. If you screw up or miss a quiz, you can make up tp 3 of them by writing "Alternative Essays." The lectures are boring, but dont do what I did and stop showing up-in mid-semester I had a C, and had to work and go to office hours to end up with a B. All in all, a relatively easy science class for non-science people; just, please, go to class!

Mar 2005

Andreea is the greatest lab TA ever. I've had her for two semester now, and although she was rather shy the first semester, she became much more outgoing by the second, and made what could have been hellish labs for non-science majors into relatively fun experiences. She took a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward the experiments that matched that of the students, and while she would roll her eyes at us when the labs never came out right, she genuinely didn't mind taking time to help anyone who didn't understand. I wish that she was an actual teacher so I could keep going to class with her. I felt that she more than any of my actual professors saw me as a person rather than a grade.

Jan 2005

I LOVED Professor Evans and I LOVED his class. As other reviews stated, he is extremely well organized, very respectful of any and all questions, and endearingly corny on many occassions. Lectures are really important but if you go to them regularly, you don't have to do much other work. You definitely have to study for the midterms and the final, but that's the only time you need to do outside work -- only three times all semester. The best part of this class is you actually walk away smarter. In some ways, it is more difficult than math-based physics because you have to be able to explain the concept of curved spacetime in words, not in equations (which is the way physicists think about it so they don't go crazy). But you will be able to do that, and you will feel so good about it.

Jan 2005

Professor Evans' style of teaching allowed me to enjoy learning about physics more than I could have imagined. I really enjoyed his laid-back style and how he realized that the students in the class weren't going to have the mathematic capabilities of physics majors, making the class more about history and less about applications. The midterms and finals were very fair, especially the midterms. There are two optional texts (which are helpful), NO REQUIRED HOMEWORK (problem sets are posted with solutions for work), and all you really need to do is attend class and take notes to get a B or higher.

Jan 2005

One of the few (two) professors I've had so far at Columbia who seems to genuinely enjoy teaching and the subject matter he presents. Extemely organized, Professor Evans writes all major concepts, lists and examples he touches upon on the board. He never strays from the subject at hand and is open to questions from the class. Although the class involved a bit more math than I had expected, it was nothing earth-shattering and Professor Evans covered and explained it thoroughly. He's really an excellent professor and I'd recommend taking this class with him. This is the only class this past semester I actually did NOT drift off to sleep in.

Jan 2005

Definitely one of the best instructors I had this year. If you've ever wanted to understand (at a very basic level) the thinking behind, say, the special theory of relativity, but thought you lacked the mathematical training to approach it , Evans proves you wrong, by being incredibly patient in his fielding of questions and his knack for finding ways to visually illustrate the answers to those questions. (That patience manifests itself into a modesty that is truly refreshing; for example, when one student asked him how Aristotle responded to a possible flaw in his 'laws' of motion, Evans didn't hesitate to say 'The short answer is, I don't know.' and try to offer possible explanations. This is a guy who does proton-antiproton collision experiments at Fermilab and CERN admitting that he doesn't know the answer. Awesome.) His lectures take a linear a-b-c approach, not just a tour of "hey, here's ANOTHER aspect of physics"; by the end of the first semester, you realize it's all been leading up to helping you understand the theories of relativity, step by step. Lectures really ARE necessary in this course, and you'll have to do a little extra work to get back on the path if you miss a few. Overall, though, if you have an interest in this topic, this approach is excellent. In addition to the almost-novel-like lecture structure, another plus is his accessibility. I've come in outside of posted office hours to just ask a question about something I didn't perfectly understand, and he's completely accomodating, taking time to answer any question. Nice guy, great instructor.

Dec 2004

Other reviewers have been unjustly harsh on Professor Evans. He is surely not the most scintillating professor I have ever had, and his lectures include a lot of math for what is billed as a non-math course, but he genuinely tries to teach. His lectures are well-organized and he gives every question from students a great deal of respect. If you have taken physics before or know a lot about it, of course you will be bored, but that is the price of being lazy and retaking a subject just to get an A. I myself was bored when we covered things I already knew, but after a few weeks we moved into more advanced material and I was fascinated.

Apr 2004

As mentioned in other reviews, this class is very well-organized: Professor Evans states the goals of the course and sticks to them. He always has a printed lecture outline to guide him, and picks up exactly where he left off last class. The courses themselves are interesting, at least for non-science folks who want a glimpse into the way scientists operate (think an even friendlier version of Hawking's /A Brief History of Time/). It takes a historical approach to physics, which means explaining how specific observations and experiments led to the formulation and reformulation of theories, complete with anecdotes. Evans also focuses on the philsophies and biases of scientists in their day and how that influenced the development of physics. Evans himself is genuinely enthusiastic about the subject, which helps. The workload is amazingly light. If you attend the lectures, you never have to crack open a book. Then study the solutions to problem sets and the midterm study guides two or three hours before the midterm, and you'll get an A! Also, the math is not intimidating--three lines of calculations in the calculation problems, at most. The prof is /always/ present during office hours, and is happy to schedule meetings outside them. Cons: The class might seem too basic and boring for those who have a good grasp on the fundamentals of physics. Some days Evans' voice, along with the warmth and the humming silence of the lecture room will put you to sleep, so take some coffee with you to class. Beware of (endearingly) corny jokes.

Dec 2003

I disagree with the other reviewers who found Prof. Evans boring. Maybe if you've already had a decent amount of physics or are taking this class just because it fulfills the science requirement this would be the case. I, having very limited knowledge of physics going in, got exactly what I wanted - a good overview of several major areas of physics w/o too much math involved. While he's not the best lecturer I've had, he's certainly good. The material is interesting and well chosen. Prof. Evans organizes it well and presents it with enthusiasm. Sometimes he jumps quickly through equations that seemed complicated to me, but this usually just means they won't be on the exam. While it's not the easiest science requirement sequence, the work isn't bad and the knowledge gained is well worth taking the class. You do need to go to lectures though - just doing the readings probably won't get you through the tests.

May 2003

This class was very well put-together, clearly set out with organizing principles that stayed true througout the semester. The tests were fair and reasonable, with no surprises, and a very generous curve. It was very easy to learn and understand, if the jokes were a bit lame. Coming to the class tired is a problem, because it makes it drag, and seem boring, but I suggest bringing a snack, professor Evans really has a lot of interesting information to impart. My only complaint is that he takes too many questions and dignifies even the stupid ones with a good answer, which occasionally causes the class to drag.

Apr 2003

This class seemed to be quite interesting, but like the other reviewers said, the prof was pretty damn boring. Worst of all, the workload was incredibly difficult. Having said tha, if you dont mind some of the monotony, you'll leave the class knowing some interesting and important basics of physics and the way you see the world really will change.

Jan 2003

Let me start of by saying I strongly dislike science-- but we do have that pesky requirement, so physics for poets seemed to be the most logical choice for me. Physics became my favorite class of the day and prof. Hailey quickly became the greatest prof I have ever had. No joke, he makes the materiel so interesting and easy to grasp. There is a fine line between being too condescending and not simplifing the materiel enough, and Hailey never dipped into either territory. He is remarkable accessible for such a world renowned physicist. I personally went to his office hours at least once a week with no questions relating to class, just relating to the world and universe at large and he gladly spend hours chatting with me. Once, we were even late for class!! Take a class with him if you can!

Oct 2002

What a great prof!! His enthusiasm for physics is absolutely contagious and he is really funny too. Prof. Hailey makes it hard to not absorb what he teaches you because he presents even the most difficult concepts in such a straightforward and simple way-- and for such an accomplished scientist he is very accessible and eager to help out his undergrads understand the very simplest of concepts.

May 2002

Prof. Evans is nice and very clear. He is open to listening to questions during lecture and he cares a lot about students taking an interest in him as a professor which makes him pretty accessible. His lectures are not that exciting and attendance reflected that. Some lectures are better than others. In the poets class he often tried to have demonstrations in class and would end most lectures with a good story or anticdote.

Apr 2002

This guy tries hard to captivate the class, but the subject is just not that interesting. His exams are usually quite difficult, but the curves are fair. It's a decent class to take if you just want to fulfill your requirements.

Apr 2002

Hopefully, they'll never let this guy teach this course again. I'm sure Dr. Evans is a fine physicist, but his first foray into teaching a course for non-science majors has been a total failure. Each lecture is a painful mixture of the dry basics of physics and awful jokes - I stopped attending them pretty quickly. The bright side? The class allowed me to finish my science requirement with hardly any work.

Dec 2001

I think the other reviewers were a little harsh in their characterization of Hal as "the most boring teacher I've ever had." His lectures may not be thrilling and can be a little dry, especially when he's going through a long proof that he's just told the class we don't need to know, but I would not say that they are the most boring ever. It's clear from his lectures that he does know exactly what he is talking about and it a really smart guy who just loves physics, but he may be too smart for the Physics for Poets class. He has trouble removing the complicated calc based parts and truly teaching the class for non-science majors. I found his lectures difficult to transfer to my notes because his examples tended to be long and involve what he calls "worthless algebra." He also tended to make some leaps in reasoning that made the concepts difficult to understand. For example, "Because it is impossible for someone to tell whether he is in free fall or in a zero grav situation without outside information, spacetime is curved." This may make perfect sense to a physics major, but to me it was a little hard to grasp. Also, the class content is weighted heavily toward relativity, a difficult concept to understand at first no matter the circumstances. This would have been less of a problem if the textbook had been helpful, which, unfortunately, was not the case. If you take the class do not buy the Ostdiek text (it's used only as a reference, not for problems) and buy a good textbook instead, this will make the class much more understandable and the exams much easier. Overall, I would say that the course is a decent was to get your science requirement taken care of (especially since you can be brain dead and get an A), but it may not be the best way to learn physics.

Aug 2001

Although the material IS difficult, it is very interesting, and Hailey is good at explaining extremely difficult stuff in a straight-forward manner. Also, the tests are pretty easy (much easier than you'd expect from the difficulty of the lectures) and he grades with a HUGE curve. In other words, go to class, take OK notes, ignore the reading, (there's no HW), study for a few hours before the final, and you'll get at least a B+ if you are even the least bit intelligent. And if you insist on getting an A, he gives great review sheets that if you just memorize will be enough to get you an A (I did it once when I needed to raise my grade). But that's not necessary if you're happy with a B+/A- (as I was). Oh--Also, he's a great guy, worth getting to know -- get him to talk about how he worked for the US government on nuclear weapons...

Jan 2000

Hailey is at best an absent-minded source of cheeky tidbits on new developments in physics. At his worst, he's a bore and a doof who can get downright hostile when students don't submit to his will (by disputing a grade, for example, or missing an exam for good reason). This is a prime case of the blue book leading poor underclassmen astray again: You may be a poet, but that doesn't mean you belong here. Many general physics students who observed the workload and materials of both classes said Poets was harder. That said, if you genuinely want to come out with an understanding of every major phyics development from Niels Bohr to quantum leaps to the Einstein-Rosen theory of black holes, go for it. But if you hate the idea of relativity taking up space in your brain and are not satisfied with a B, then stay away.