New Course: TPHYS 315 – Applied Environmental Physics

Coming Autumn 2020

We’re excited to offer a new course in environmental science in Autumn quarter of 2020: Applied Environmental Physics. In this class, you’ll learn how solids and fluids in the environment bend, stretch, squash, flow, break, heat, and cool, and use that knowledge to understand how landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes, rivers, airborne particles, and groundwater work.


The only prerequisite for this course is an introductory physics (mechanics) course – TPHYS 121 or equivalent.

Course Details

This is a 6-credit lab course, being taught in the Autumn quarter of 2020. As with most of our upper-division geoscience courses, this course is part of our 2-year rotation, so we expect to teach it next in 2022. It fulfills the List B (physical science) lab elective requirement for the Environmental Science BS, and the List G (geoscience) lab elective requirement for Environmental Science – Geology Option. For students majoring in Mathematics or Engineering (EE/CivE/CompE/CompSci), please contact your major coordinators to see where it fits in the curriculum.

The course is presently scheduled to meet Tuesdays/Thursdays 10:10-12:10, with lab on Tuesdays 3:40-6:10. We anticipate that this may change due to COVID-19; please check with the instructor for updated information. The best way to stay informed is to register!

Learning Outcomes

Upon completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Use the principles of mechanics and thermal physics to describe your environment.
  • Construct conceptual, numerical, and analogue models of environmental processes.
  • Analyze and interpret geomechanical, hydraulic, and geothermal data.
  • Translate models and analytical methods into computer code.


Two students in hard hats examining outcrop

This course gives you an opportunity to learn skills valuable for your future education and career:

  • Building physical models to solve real-life problems
  • Data analysis applied to environmental issues
  • Computer programming in Python
  • Communicating complex results visually and verbally


Labs and field projects will focus on developing your ability to construct models of environmental phenomena, and to analyze data related to those models. About 1/3 of the lab projects will involve computation, 1/3 will involve analogue models, and 1/3 will involve field work or data analysis.


Each group of students will be responsible for presenting one detailed analysis of a real-world situation related to one specific topic being studied. Investigations involve both research and model-building.


Focal topics will be chosen during the first week of classes by the class. Potential topics include volcanic eruptions, faulting, landslides, soil mechanics, sedimentation and erosion, groundwater flow, geothermal energy, lava flows, and flexure of tectonic plates.

For more information, please contact the instructor, Peter Selkin (