Module Description
PHY1021 Vector Mechanics 2013-14
Dr S. Foteinopoulou
Delivery Weeks: T1:01-05,07-12
Level: 4 (NQF)
Credits: 15 NICATS / 7.5 ECTS
Enrolment: 147 students (approx)


This module uses lectures and guided self-study to develop students' understanding of Newtonian classical mechanics and special relativity. Although some of the concepts will be familiar from A-level, vector notation will be used throughout. Particular emphasis is placed on the precise and consistant application of the laws and methods.

Module Aims

Our interest in mechanics arises from its general applicability to a vast number of familiar phenomena. This module provides meaningful and easily visualizable problems which allow development of the skills of problem solving, required in all the fields of physics. It provides the necessary background to later modules that will apply the principles of mechanics to the solution of more complex problems.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

A student who has passed this module should be able to:

Syllabus Plan

  1. Introduction and Background
    Brief historical survey; units.
  2. Vectors
    Definition, addition, subtraction, dot-product, cross-product, components; scalar and vector triple products and their physical interpretations; equation of a straight line; equation of a plane; parametric specification of points on lines and planes; intersection of a line and a plane; use of the dot and cross products; the time derivative of a vector.
  3. Motion
    velocity and acceleration (vector formalism); linear and circular motion; centripetal acceleration; relative motion, projectiles
  4. Forces
    Types of forces; units and dimensions; vector addition of forces.
  5. Newton's Laws of Motion
    The first law - inertial frames of reference; the second Law - force mass and weight; the third law.
  6. Systems of Particles and Rigid Bodies
    Center of mass, Newton's laws for systems of particles and rigid bodies; moments of inertia; products of inertia.
  7. Torque or Moment of Force
    Definitions, Newton's second law for rotational motion.
  8. Equilibrium
    Conditions of equilibrium and their application to specific examples.
  9. Kinetic Energy
    Kinetic energy of: a particle, a system of particles, rigid bodies (rotation around fixed axis), rigid bodies (rotation around moving axis).
  10. Work
    Work done by a constant force; work done by a variable force; work kinetic energy theorem; power.
  11. Conservative Forces and Conservation of Energy
    Conservative forces in one and three dimensions; examples of potential theory (elastic energy, interatomic and Yukawa potential), energy diagrams, force and potential energy.
  12. Motion in Constant Uniform Gravitational Field
    Circular motion in a vertical circle; rolling without slipping; examples.
  13. Momentum, Impulse and Newton's Second Law
    Linear momentum and impulse; angular momentum; conservation of linear and angular momentum; center of percussion; gyroscopes; rocket motion (variable mass problem).
  14. Collisions
    Elastic and inelastic collisions.
  15. Introduction to Relativity
    The Special Theory of Relativity; relativistic dynamics: Lorentz transformations, the Minkowskian space and the light-cone, the energy-momentum relationship and relativistic collisions.

Learning and Teaching

Learning Activities and Teaching Methods

Description Study time KIS type
22×1-hour lectures 22 hours SLT
5×6-hour self-study packages 30 hours GIS
7×2-hour problems sets 14 hours GIS
Problems class support 9 hours SLT
Tutorial support 3 hours SLT
Reading, private study and revision 72 hours GIS


Weight Form Size When ILOS assessed Feedback
0% Exercises set by tutor 3×1-hour sets (typical) Scheduled by tutor 1-7 Discussion in tutorials
0% Guided self-study 5×6-hour packages Fortnightly 1-7 Discussion in tutorials
10% 7 × Problems Sets 2 hours per set Weekly 1-7 Marked in problems class, then discussed in tutorials
15% Mid-term Test 1 30 minutes Weeks T1:04 1-7 Marked, then discussed in tutorials
15% Mid-term Test 2 30 minutes Weeks T1:09 1-7 Marked, then discussed in tutorials
60% Final Examination 120 minutes January 1-7 Mark via MyExeter, collective feedback via ELE and solutions.


The following list is offered as an indication of the type & level of information that students are expected to consult. Further guidance will be provided by the Module Instructor(s).

Core text:

Supplementary texts:


Further Information

Prior Knowledge Requirements

Pre-requisite Modules none
Co-requisite Modules Mathematics Skills (PHY1025)


Re-assessment is not available except when required by referral or deferral.

Original form of assessment Form of re-assessment ILOs re-assessed Time scale for re-assessment
Whole module Written examination (100%) 1-7 August/September assessment period

Notes: See Physics Assessment Conventions.

KIS Data Summary

Learning activities and teaching methods
SLT - scheduled learning & teaching activities 34 hrs
GIS - guided independent study 116 hrs
PLS - placement/study abroad 0 hrs
Total 150 hrs
Summative assessment
Coursework 10%
Written exams 90%
Practical exams 0%
Total 100%


IoP Accreditation Checklist
  • CM-01 Newton's laws and conservation laws including rotation.
  • SR-01 Lorentz transformations.
  • SR-02 The energy-momentum relationship.
Availability unrestricted
Distance learning NO
Keywords Physics; Body; Conservation rules; Energy; Force; Classical mechanics; Momentum; Motion; Newton's Laws; Particle; Special Relativity; Vectors.
Created 01-Oct-10
Revised 08-Nov-12
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