PHYS 54: From The Matrix to Mission Impossible: Physics in Film

Tue/Thu 12:30 – 1:45 pm – Phillips 222
[Instructional format: in-person]


Instructor: Prof. Christian Iliadis (office PH232; email:; webpage:; office hours: Tue 2:00-3:00 pm, or by appointment.
Teaching assistant: Shannon Fitton [].
What This Course is About: Many films present viewers with very interesting phenomena and actions that relate to important concepts in physics. This course is based on the notion that we can use scenes from popular films to learn some physics. During each class session. we will watch short movie clips that have some physics content. We will attempt to disentangle and comprehend these complicated situations through group work. This way, you will identify your own difficulties, make your own suggestions for solutions, and achieve deeper insight by learning from each other. Consider me as a coach who will help you along the process just described.
Attendance: The course depends on your initiative and enthusiasm and thus I expect you to attend all scheduled classes and be prepared to work together. Please bring a scientific calculator to each class session.
Ground Rules: Under no circumstances should you sleep during class. The use of cellphones, iPads, or similar, for texting, emailing, web browsing, skyping, facetiming, making a phone call, etc., is strictly prohibited when class is in session. If you are doing any of the above during class, I will likely ask you to leave the room. You may use your laptop/iPad for taking notes only.
Honor Code: Your full participation and observance of UNC-CH’s Honor code is expected. All academic work in this course, including homework and written assignments, is to be your own work, unless otherwise specifically provided. It is your responsibility, if you have any doubt, to confirm whether or not collaboration is permitted.
Target Audience/Prerequisites: Students who like movies and science. And students who like to improve their problem-solving skills [where “problem solving” is meant in a very broad sense]. It is helpful if you took algebra in high school. No calculus will be used in this course.
Textbook: You do not need to purchase a physics textbook. However, some of you may find it helpful to read up on certain concepts in books or online. Any introductory college text will do, for example. If you have trouble finding a textbook, please talk to me. I am planning to post my class notes weekly on SAKAI.
Homework: There may be about 6 homework assignments during the course of the semester. Homework is due one week after the assignment sheet is handed out. Your grader will contact you about how and where to submit your homework. Late homework will not be accepted. I encourage you to work together on solving the homework problems. However, for obvious reasons, you may not copy the homework from each other.
Examinations: Final exam, but no midterms.
Projects: Three projects are required of each student:
(1) an essay [about 3 pages long] on a given topic that I will announce in class. This assignment is due on Thursday, March 2. Detailed instructions will be provided in class.
(2) a written course project containing a quantitative discussion, analysis, explanation, derivations, etc., of the physics in specific movies of your own choice. There are many possibilities and you can let your imagination and interest be your guide. Your paper [about 6 pages long] is due on Tuesday, April 25. Detailed instructions will be provided in class.
(3) a media course project that requires you to shoot your own film containing some physics concepts. For this project you will collaborate in groups of two or three. I will assign the groups and get you started early. This project is due on Tuesday, April 18. Detailed instructions will be provided in class.
Grades: The final grade will be based on homework [30%], essay [10%], long paper [20%], media course project [20%], and final exam [20%]. There will be no extra credit in this course.
Tutoring/Learning/Writing Help: Free tutoring is available at the Physics & Astronomy Tutorial Center. Individual consultations are also available at the UNC Learning Center. To prepare for the writing assignments in this course, I highly recommend the personalized writing consultations at the Writing Center.
Other student support: Accessibility; Counseling; Title IX; Non-discrimination.
No Class: Tue Feb 14, Thu Mar 9, Tue Mar 14, Thu Mar 16, Thu Apr 6.
Field trips: TBA.
Important Dates:
Thursday, March 2 – essay due.
Tuesday, April 25 – long paper due.
Tuesday March 21 – media project outline due.
Tuesday, April 18 – final media project due.
Thursday, May 4, 12:00 pm, PH222 – final exam.

I reserve the right to make changes on this syllabus.