The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 37.0°F | A Few Clouds


There are four varieties of Physics I, which deals with mechanics, known collectively as the 8.01s. Most freshmen will take Physics I (8.01), lectured by Professor Walter H. G. Lewin and geared toward “the average student,” said Professor of Physics Thomas J. Greytak. The other varieties of mechanics are 8.01L, 8.01X, and 8.012. For those who have received credit for 8.01, Electricity and Magnetism options are Physics II (8.02) and Physics II (8.022).


Lewin has been at MIT for 33 years, since coming to the Institute as a post-doctoral student in January, 1966. He became an assistant professor in June of that year, received tenure in 1970, and has been a full professor since 1974. He has taught 8.01 three times, 8.02 twice, and has also taught higher level physics classes.

When he is not lecturing for a class, his favorite assignment has been the MIT cable physics homework help program. Approximately half of his semesters here, the hour program has run every hour on channel 10, giving students help on the week’s problem set.

This semester, 8.01 course lectures will be available on the web one week after the lecture’s delivery, as part of a program under the supervision for the Center for Advanced Educational Services called Physics Interactive Virtual Tutor or PIVOT.

According to Lewin, seventeen percent of students taking 8.01 each semester fail. He says that this is because when a D became a failing grade, the physics department did not lower its expectations. Approximately six percent of students in the class receive an F and ten percent receive D’s each year, he said.


Physics I (8.01L) is for students with poor high school physics preparation and “major difficulties with the mathematics,” Lewin said. It starts more slowly, presenting more background for course material, and continues into IAP. The final exam is about a week before second semester begins. “A lot of students who do poorly in 8.01 would benefit” from taking 8.01L instead, Lewin said.

Greytak said that the math diagnostic exam administered to freshmen also provides a good indication of whether they should take 8.01 or 8.01L. To take 8.01, students should have what he called “mathematical street sense,” which he described as being comfortable solving systems of equations, and with concepts in algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

It is possible to begin in either course and switch to the other before add date, but it is much easier to change from 8.01 to 8.01L than vice-versa. Students in 8.01 who find that the course moves too quickly are encouraged to keep this in mind. Greytak cautioned, however, against changing to 8.01L after the first 8.01 exam, because they will end up covering material again with the 8.01L class.


Physics I (8.01X) is for students who like to “learn with their hands,” Greytak said. The course materials includes a mechanics kit, and students build models and things, “well, like that,” Greytak said, gesturing to a two-pendulum toy on his desk.

8.01X will be taught by Dr. Peter Dourmashkin, who has lectured 8.01X three times in the past and has been involved with the course as a recitation instructor or lecturer, since 1989.

While Dourmashkin thinks that “anyone would benefit from 8.01X,” there are two types of students he said would like it particularly. Students who are naturally “mechanically oriented and have always done things hands-on” appreciate 8.01X. He also said that, on the other hand, students who “have never soldered, who think they’d like to have a UROP but need more experience” get a lot of experience and confidence from 8.01X, he said.

Building a low-voltage power supply is the example of one project students complete in 8.01X. Approximately 100 to 130 students are expected to be enrolled in the course, Dourmashkin said.


8.012 provides more insight into the mathematics behind 8.01, Lewin said. Greytak added that “the problems are more difficult, and there are more of them,” but students get a deeper understanding of the material.

Professor Takashi Imai said he wants to make the course “as fun as possible” and “not unnecessarily difficult,” but he does caution that students should be “willing to study very hard.”

For students genuinely interested in physics who have a strong math background 8.012 is a more fulfilling class, Lewin said.

For students who aren’t sure whether to take 8.012 or 8.01, Lewin advises 8.01. “When you want to take 8.012, you’re not indecisive,” he said.

On the other hand, students who are sure they want to take 8.012 but are not certain whether their math or physics backgrounds are adequate are advised to take 8.012. If it turns out to be too difficult, students may change to 8.01 any time before Add Date, October 8. “That they fall back [to 8.01], is perfectly okay,” Lewin said. He expects around 15 percent of students to switch.

“This course is for students who have strong physics interest, strong physics background, and strong math background,” Lewin said.

Electricity and Magnetism

Some students who received credit for 8.01 are encouraged to take it anyway, to be more prepared for 8.02, Greytak said. Many freshmen, however, will take Physics II (8.02), Electricity and Magnetism, in the fall.


This fall, 8.02 will be taught by Professor John W. Belcher. He graduated from Rice University with a double major in mathematics and physics, and he pursued graduate work at the California Institute of Technology.

Belcher has previously received the Physics Department’s 1994 Buechner Teaching Prize for teaching 8.02.


In addition, Physics II (8.022), which includes additional theory (affectionately known as “E and M for Masochists”) is also offered.

Some students who do well on, but do not pass, the 8.02 placement exam (for 8.02 credit) will be advised to take 8.022. Other students who also have some familiarity with E and M concepts, and with a fair amount of multivariate calculus, should also consider this course.

8.022 will be taught by Assistant Professor Haiyan Gao. Professor Gao’s research interests include electromagnetic and spin structure of the nucleon and QCD aspects in exclusive nuclear reactions. She also taught 8.022 in Fall of 1998.

According to Professor Gao, “it is best to convince students who are not [at least] currently enrolled in 18.02 to change to 8.02.” 8.022 follows the difficulty and depth, for 8.02 concepts, of 8.012 for 8.01 concepts.