GDSC1847/GDBU1847: Everyday Physics for Future Executives 3 units

GDSC1847/GDBU1847: Everyday Physics for Future Executives

About the Course

A descriptive approach, without equations, will introduce non-science students to concepts of physics that considerably overlap other disciplines and impact societal issues. The concepts and analyses will help developing well-informed opinions and decisions in business, in public policy-making, in communications, in visual arts, in daily life, etc. Thereby leadership capabilities will be nurtured. This course is adapted from a famous GE course given at the University of California, “Physics and Technology for Future Presidents”. It will use HKBU’s iQlickers to immediately gauge the students’ learning progress, as well as Peer Instruction developed at Harvard by physicist Prof. Eric Mazur.


Students will analyze and discuss the impacts of physics on important and timely issues in sustainable energy and nuclear power, environment and health, climate change and natural disasters, electromagnetic radiation for telecommunications and medical imaging, lasers and computers, space travel and our origins and destiny in the universe. Students will be trained to reach opinions and decisions based on sound scientific reasoning and evidence, applied to complex cross-disciplinary challenges, with historical and cross-cultural perspectives, so as to become well-informed and rational leaders. Many important current issues, like pollution, radiation, climate change, renewable and non-renewable energy, are technically and sociologically complex: they permeate business decisions as well as local and global policy choices, even war and peace; they involve delicate balances between man and nature, technology and lifestyle, individuals and society, developing and developed countries, and between different political systems.


Course Syllabus

The course covers major issues in science, technology and society, and their many interrelationships. The topics covered include:


1. Energy and PowerOur modern lifestyle and economy depend crucially on energy and power, affecting important business decisions, local and global policy choices, even war and peace.


2. Atoms and HeatHeat keeps us alive, but we have too much heat: it can fry us and our civilization, e.g. through global warming. So why don’t we use it better? What is heat anyway and how can we control it?


3. Radioactivity, Nuclear Reactors and “Atomic” BombsNuclear energy can be used well (for medicine or electric power) or destructively (in nuclear bombs), requiring well-informed but difficult policy decisions that affect major business and social issues, locally and globally.


4. Force and MotionForces produce motion and accidents, providing society immense opportunities (mechanization, transportation) and grave threats (collisions, typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis).


5. Electricity and MagnetismTry to imagine our life without electricity! Our lifestyle largely depends on electricity (and associated magnetism), from lighting to internet, forming the basis of major industries and businesses, partly shaping society and social interactions. Are electric and magnetic fields a health risk?


6. WavesWaves are all around us: sound, water, light, TV, mobile phones, internet, etc. They include our main means of communication and influence our lifestyle and social structure, from telegraph to social networking, and from voice to smartphone.


7. Light and ImagesEyes are our windows on our environment. Light provides the foundation and new opportunities for visual arts and presentation of information, including new media and novel displays, not to forget optical illusions!


8. Invisible Light and TelecommunicationsWe make heavy use of radio waves, microwaves, x-rays, MRI, etc., allowing great advances in telecommunications and health maintenance, thus also providing new opportunities for business.


9. Environmental HazardsHumans damage nature, which in turn hurts humans, affecting health and business, and requiring major social policy decisions, at both local and global levels.


10. Climate Change A changing climate would affect our lifestyle, our health, our food and water supplies, our low-lying lands, our energy needs and thus major social and policy choices. So, is climate change real? How severe will its impact be? How soon? Who is responsible? What lifestyle changes will be needed?


11. The Universe and our OriginsCan we escape our cramped overheated world and colonize planets like we colonized America? Do we have neighbours on other planets? Could we visit them? Where do we actually come from? And where are we going?


12. Our futureWe must reduce pollution. Can we avoid global warming? Can we adapt by evolution? Or will we disappear like the dinosaurs? What are the social policy and business implications of maintaining human civilization on Earth?


Recommended Background

NO prior knowledge in physics or mathematics is required.


Suggested Readings

1. R.A. Muller, “Physics and Technology for Future Presidents: An Introduction to the Essential Physics Every World Leader Needs to Know”, Princeton, 2010. ~US$65: This very readable book has very few formulas, all very simple; it is available in the HKBU library: 530.M912PX 2010


2. David J.C. MacKay, “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air”, 2008, free download from This free online book offers excellent discussions of many kinds of energy.


3. R.A. Muller, “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science behind the Headlines”, Norton, 2012, ~US$17: This excellent book reviews and updates major energy issues.


4. S. Holzner, “Physics I and II for Dummies”, Wiley, 2006. ~US$10 and ~US$13: This pair of books contains more formulas for those who have some mathematical interest.


5. M. Kaku, “Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100”, Anchor Books, 2011. ~US$11: This very readable book offers lots of examples of possible future developments in science, technology and society.


Course Format

Besides lectures, the course offers several activities: classroom responses via iQlickers to instantly gauge the learning progress; group reports to promote collaborations; assignments and tests



Participation in interactive in-class conceptual questions: total 25%.

Two Group Reports: total 25%.

Homework assignments: total 20%.

A mid-term and a final exam: each 15%.


When offered

First semester 2014-15, 2015-16, ...



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