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


Tue/Thu 12:30 – 1:45 pm – Phillips 208
[Instructional format: in-person]

Each student has the responsibility of familiarizing themselves with the contents of this syllabus.

Instructor: Professor Christian ILIADIS (office PH232; email:; webpage:; office hours: Tue 2:00-3:00 pm, or by appointment.

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.

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 broad sense). It is helpful if you took algebra in high school. No calculus will be used in this course.

Textbook/Notes: We will not be using an official textbook. Take good notes during class. I will post my class notes weekly on SAKAI. When you review the material after class, and you feel you need additional information on certain physics concepts, you could consult any introductory textbook or online resources. If you have trouble finding a textbook, please talk to me.

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. Attendance will be part of your grade (see below). Inform me via email if you cannot make it to a class session. Bring a scientific calculator to class.

Ground Rules: Be on time. Turn off your phones. Do not sleep during class. The use of cellphones, iPads, or similar, for texting, emailing, web browsing, skyping, facetiming, social media, etc., is not allowed when class is in session. If you are doing any of the above during class, it will affect your grade (see below). 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.

AI Class Policy: You are not allowed to use Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) Resources (ChatGPT, Bing, Bard, Jasper, etc.) during class. I encourage their use for your movie project (more information will be provided later) and when you review the material after class.

Homework: There will be several homework assignments during the course of the semester. Homework will not be graded. I strongly recommend that you practice your skills by solving the homework problems because the problems on the midterms and the final exam will be similar in topic and level of difficulty. Solutions will be posted on SAKAI a week after handout. I encourage you to work together on the homework.

Examinations: There will be three 1-hour long midterm exams and a 3-hour long final exam. Dates are listed below. The final exam will be cumulative. All exams are of closed book format and, in particular, no formula sheet is allowed. You are supposed to bring only a pen and a calculator to the exams. I will not answer any questions in class before or after handout of an exam. Absence from an exam will result in a grade of zero on that examination unless an official written explanation is presented. No make up exams will be given unless special arrangements are made before a scheduled exam.

Movie Class Project: You will collaborate in groups of three and shoot your own film. The only strict requirements are: it must contain some physics and be about 10 minutes long. Detailed instructions will be provided later in class.

Grades: The final grade will be based on:

  • Attendance: 5%
  • Engagement: 5%
  • Midterm #1: 10%
  • Midterm #2: 10%
  • Midterm #3: 10%
  • Movie Project: 30%
  • Final Exam: 30%

There will be no extra credit in this course.

Tutoring/Support: Free tutoring is available at the Physics & Astronomy Tutorial Center. Individual consultations are also available at the UNC Learning Center. Other student support: Accessibility; Counseling; Title IX; Non-discrimination.

Important Dates:
Midterm #1: Thursday, February 15.
Midterm #2: Thursday, March 21.
Midterm #3: Tuesday, April 23.
Movie Project outline: Tuesday, March 19.
Movie Project due: Tuesday, April 23.
Final Exam: Monday, May 6, 4:00 – 7:00 pm; Phillips 208.

Extra Class: Thursday, April 25, 6-8 pm (“Movie Night”).

No Class: Tue Feb 13 / Tue Mar 12 / Thu Mar 14 / Thu Mar 28.

I reserve the right to make changes on this syllabus.