Physics 099/199 Module Outline

Physics 099/199 covers a number of topics over the space of an academic year.

Term 1 - Properties of Matter

The first term of the year consists of a laboratory-based section called "Properties of Matter". In this section students learn about the concepts of mass, volume and density, and the relationship between these. They also learn about uncertainty in measurement, how to allow for experimental errors and inaccuracies, orders of magnitude, and the relationship between different units for mass and volume. As most of the students have had little prior laboratory experience, a lot of emphasis is placed on their work in the laboratory. They learn to manipulate apparatus, beginning with simple equipment and gradually moving on to more complex apparatus. They are taught to write laboratory reports, and to use graphs in the analysis of data as part of these reports. They also perform various calculations involving methods such as proportional reasoning and dimensionless ratios. Emphasis is placed on their ability to explain the reasoning behind their calculations in an attempt to move away from mindless reliance on scientific formulae.

Term 2 - Vectors and Kinematics

During the second term of the year students look at the topic of motion (kinematics). They develop an understanding of vector quantities, and learn how to manipulate them to find resultants and equilibrants; with the use of components being emphasised. They learn to represent position, velocity and acceleration in graphical form through practical experience with data loggers and they measure gravitational acceleration in the laboratory. During lectures students learn to derive equations of motion, and then to use these to solve various problems, including two-dimensional projectile motion.


The material in lectures is strongly aligned with the experiments conducted during practicals. Examples from the laboratory are often used during lectures, emphasizing the link between lecture and practicals.

Term 3 - Electricity

The second semester starts with a brief section on electrostatics, followed by thorough study of current electricity. In practicals, students are encouraged to learn by making predictions, setting up a circuit to confirm or disprove these predictions, and then reflect on their understanding. Lectures, based on the practicals, are very interactive, involving much open debate. From very simple circuits students eventually solve problems in complex circuits using Kirchoffs laws.

Term 4 - Newton's laws and Optional topic

Two weeks are then spent on Newton’s laws of motion and gravity (including a brief introduction to astronomy). Students are given readings on the life of Sir Isaac Newton in order to put scientific discoveries in their historical context. The concepts of mass, force and acceleration and their relationship are developed, following on from the work covered during the second term. The year concludes with three weeks spent on an optional topic. This could be optics or an in-depth study of energy.

Back to physics page

Contact Webmaster | View the Promotion of Access to Information Act | View our Privacy Policy
© University of KwaZulu-Natal: All Rights Reserved