PSCI 120   Physical Science (4 Hours)

This course is an introduction to the fundamental concepts and principles of physics, chemistry, astronomy and the earth sciences. Topics include forces, energy, electricity, magnetism, modern physics, and chemical bonding. It is counted toward laboratory science requirements and is intended for non-science majors. The course includes presentation of material using audiovisual, computer and other multimedia aids. Three hours of class and three hours of work in a scheduled lab are required each week.

PSCI 120

  • Title: Physical Science
  • Number: PSCI 120
  • Effective Term: 2024-25
  • Credit Hours: 4
  • Contact Hours: 6
  • Lecture Hours:
  • Other Hours: 6


This course is an introduction to the fundamental concepts and principles of physics, chemistry, astronomy and the earth sciences. Topics include forces, energy, electricity, magnetism, modern physics, and chemical bonding. It is counted toward laboratory science requirements and is intended for non-science majors. The course includes presentation of material using audiovisual, computer and other multimedia aids. Three hours of class and three hours of work in a scheduled lab are required each week.


Refer to the instructor's course syllabus for details about any supplies that may be required.


  1. Define science and explain steps in the scientific method. Develop an awareness of the potential and the limitations of scientific understanding.

  2. Apply the scientific method by making measurements, analyzing data, graphing, modeling and making predictions.

  3. Demonstrate an understanding of the metric system and develop skill and accuracy in making measurements.

  4. Recognize and apply the basic scientific concepts and organizing principles in the physical Sciences [Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy and the Earth Sciences (meteorology and geology)] including use of appropriate vocabulary and the development of skill and persistence using math, formulas, graphs, and figures for problem solving and unit conversions.

  5. Within each of the four sub topics in the physical sciences,( physics, chemistry, astronomy and earth science), recognize and apply concepts to real life situations.

  6. Drawing from the concepts learned in this course, critically review writings for the general public on science topics and controversies.

Content Outline and Competencies:

I. Science
   A. Define science and list its characteristics and limitations.
II. Scientific Method
   B. Identify the four stages in the scientific method.
   C. Apply the scientific method.
      1. Make observations
      2. Construct hypotheses
      3. Analyze data using graphing and formulas
      4. Articulate theories
      5. State laws
D. Discuss the role of science in society and technology.
III. Metric System
   A. Discuss the origin of the metric system and compare it to the standard English system.
   B. Identify the metric units of length, volume and mass and describe how each is obtained.
   C. Use the metric system for measurement activities and to solve problems throughout the course.
IV. Physical Sciences
   A. Physics
      1. Motion
         a. Define physics and identify those areas of physics involving the study of motion.
         b. Define speed, velocity and acceleration.
         c. Demonstrate how to solve problems using these terms of motion.
      2. Force
         a. State Newton's three laws of motion and give an example of each law.
         b. Define force, net force, the Newton, mass, weight, inertia and  acceleration due to gravity.
         c. Solve problems using Newton's three laws.
         d. Demonstrate use of Newton's universal law of gravitation and discuss why it is called an inverse square law.
         e. Discuss why the Moon stays in orbit around the Earth.
      3. Energy
         a. Contrast and compare potential and kinetic energy.
         b. Demonstrate how to calculate these quantities.
         c. State the law of the conservation of energy and demonstrate how to use this law in solving problems.
         d. Define power; demonstrate how to calculate this quantity and define the horsepower unit.
      4. Heat and temperature
         a. Compare and contrast heat and temperature.
         b. Define calorie, joule and BTU.
         c. Compare the three temperature scales of Fahrenheit, Celsius and Kelvin.
         d. Demonstrate how to convert from one scale to another.
         e. Describe graphically the relationship between heat and temperature including phase changes.
         f. Define specific heat, heat of fusion and heat of vaporization; demonstrate use of these terms.
         g. Describe how heat is transferred by conduction, convection and radiation.
         h. Identify the basic relationships between temperature, volume and pressure based on the kinetic theory of gases.
         i. Discuss conceptually the Laws of Thermodynamics.
      5. Waves and Sound
         a. Describe the properties of a wave including wavelength, amplitude, frequency, speed and energy.
         b. Distinguish between longitudinal and transverse waves.
         c. Describe how sound is produced and how the speed of sound varies with temperature and phase or substance traveled through.
         d. Explain how the decibel scale is related to loudness.
         e. Describe the Doppler Effect and giveexamples for sound.
      6. Electricity and Magnetism
         a. State Coulomb's law and demonstrate how to use it to relate electrical force to charge and distance.
         b. Define volt, current and resistance and state the units used for each term.
         c. State Ohm's law and demonstrate its use in relating current, voltage and resistance.
         d. Demonstrate how to determine electrical power and energy.
         e. Analyze the differences and advantages of series and parallel circuits.
         f . Define magnetism and discuss its origin and the concept of a magnetic field.
         g. Discuss the similarities and differences between electrical and magnetic forces.
         h. Describe the magnetic field around a current carrying wire.
         i. Compare and contrast the components and basic operations of an electric motor and an electric generator.
         j. Distinguish between direct and alternating current.
         k. Describe the transformer and discuss how its purpose in the transmission of electrical energy over large distances.
      7. Atomic Theory Atoms
         a. Discuss the series of historical models leading to the discovery of the atomic structure.
         b. Compare and contrast the proton, electron and neutron.
         c. Use the Bohr model to explain the source of electromagnetic radiation or light.
         d. Describe the electromagnetic spectrum and list the major categories from gamma rays to radio waves based on frequency and energy level.
         e. List the primary colors of visible light.
         f. Discuss what is meant by polarized light.
      8. Nuclear Physics
         a. Discuss the nature of radioactivity, its discovery and the connection to nuclear structure.
         b. Identify and list the characteristics of the three particles associated with radioactivity.
         c. Explain the operation of a Geiger counter.
         d. Define half-life and demonstrate how it can be used to determine the age of certain objects.
         e. Discuss artificial nuclear reactions and production of nuclear isotopes.
         f. Discuss Einstein's formula which relates mass and energy.
         g. State the difference between fission and fusion.
         h. Identify the major components of a nuclear fission reactor and discuss the role of each component.
         i. Discuss the major problems in the attempt to develop a fusion reactor.
         j. Discuss the fusion reaction which occurs in the sun.
         k. Contrast the energy produced in a nuclear reaction to a chemical reaction.
   B. Chemistry
      1. Composition of matter
         a. Define chemistry.
         b. Compare, contrast, and give examples of elements, compounds, atoms and molecules, and mixtures.
      2. Periodic table and elements
         a. Discuss the organization of the periodic table to include the location of metals, non-metals and metalloids.
         b. Discuss how atomic number is related to the organization of the periodic table.
         c. Describe the steady transition of characteristics of the elements
      3. Bonding
         a . Compare and contrast ionic and covalent bonding.
         b. Describe the procedure for naming compounds depending whether ionic or covalent bonding exists.
      4. Basic Chemical Reactions
         a. Demonstrate an ability to balance simple chemical equations.
         b. Describe the four types of chemical reactions and give an example equation of each.
         c. Define an acid and a base, give an example of each and list five characteristics of each.
         d. Discuss the pH scale and how it relates to acids and bases.
         e. Discuss energy considerations in chemical reactions and give examples of hydrocarbon combustion.
   C. Earth Sciences
      1. Earth's atmosphere
         a. Identify the main components of Earth's atmosphere and
 name the four layers
         b. Discuss how temperature, density, and          atmospheric pressure is vary with altitude.
         c. Describe the Earth/Sun energy balance and the distribution of energy reaching the Earth. Discuss global warming and climate change.
      2. Global Wind Patterns
         a. Define wind and give the general atmospheric conditions in which it occurs.
         b. Describe how high and low pressure are created and how they give rise to winds.
         c. Describe the Coriolis effect and its relationship to wind direction.
         d. Interpret a diagram of the global wind circulation 
pattern and name the major wind systems and high and low
 pressure regions.
      3. Weather
         a. Distinguish between weather and climate and give 
         examples of each.
         b. Define precipitation, absolute humidity, saturation, relative humidity, condensation and dew point.
         c. Describe the three conditions necessary for precipitation to occur.
         d. Define air masses and compare and contrast warm cold fronts.
      4. Structural Geology and Plate Tectonics
         a. Draw a cross section of the Earth, label its four major layers and give characteristics of each layer.
         b. Discuss how information from the study of seismology yields data about Earth's interior.
         c. Describe Alfred Wegener original used to support his theory of continental drift and the evidence that supported it.
         d. Describe the discovery of seafloor spreading which confirmed the modern theory of plate tectonics.
         e. List the three basic types of plate boundaries and describe the characteristics of each.
         f. Describe what an earthquake is and what causes it to occur.
         g. Describe the Richter scale and how it can be used to determine the ground motion and energy of an earthquake.
         h. Describe two types of volcanoes.
      5. Rocks and minerals
         a. Explain the difference between a rock and a mineral.
         b. Identify the three categories of rocks and give two characteristics of each category.
         c. Explain the rock cycle and how it relates to the three categories of rocks and the plate tectonics theory.
         d. Compare and contrast weathering and erosion.
         e. Describe the three types of weathering and give an example of each.
         f. Describe the four transportation processes of erosion and indicate which process is most common.
         g. Describe the distribution of water over the Earth's surface as percentages of ocean water, ice, streams and rivers, and underground water.
         h. Identify the three methods of water transport and describe how they relate to the hydrologic cycle.
   D. Astronomy
      1. Earth Motions
         a. Use longitude and latitude to locate places on the Earth.
         b. Explain how time zones are related to the Earth's rotation.
         c. Explain the cause of Earth's seasons.
         d. Use a diagram and a model of the Earth's revolution around the Sun to illustrate the positions and dates for to list the four seasons in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
      2. Earth and celestial motions
         a. Discuss the difference between astronomy and astrology.
         b. Describe the effect of Earth's rotation on its axis and its revolution around the sun on the apparent motion of the sun and stars.
         c. Identify the following terms with respect to seasons: equator, Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, Arctic and Antarctic circles, north and south pole, vernal equinox, summer solstice, autumnal equinox, and winter solstice.
      3. The Moon Solar System
         a. Discuss why the Moon keeps its same side facing the Earth.
         b. Identify and sketch the names and sequence of the Moon's eight phases.
         c. Sketch the solar and lunar eclipses and describe the two conditions necessary for a solar and lunar eclipse.
         d. Discuss the geocentric contributions of Aristotle and Ptolemy to astronomy.
         e. Discuss the heliocentric model of Copernicus.
         f. List Kepler's three laws of planetary motion. Describe the conceptual consequences of each law.
         g. Describe Galileo's contributions to astronomy from his
 observations with the telescope.
         h. Explain the condensation theory for the vorigin of the solar system
         i. Compare and contrast the terrestrial and Jovian planets.
         j. Compare and contrast meteoroids, meteors, meteorites, asteroids and comets.
      4. Stars
         a. State the modern definition of a constellation.
         b. Interpret a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. Show the location of the main sequence, red giants, white dwarfs and the sun.
         c. Identify the nuclear reaction that takes place in all main sequence stars like the sun.
         d. Describe the life cycle of both a low and a high mass star.
         e. Compare and contrast the final fate of stars when they become either a white dwarf, neutron star or black hole.
      5. The Universe
         a. Describe the four components of the Milky Way galaxy and give its dimensions in light-years.
         b. Identify the four types of galaxies as formulated by Edwin Hubble.
         c. Demonstrate use of Hubble's law to determine the distance to remote galaxies.
         d. Discuss the importance and characteristics of quasars.
         e. Discuss the origin of the universe.
         f. Describe the Big Bang theory for the origin of the universe.
         g. Discuss how the approximate age of the universe can be determined.
V. Real Life Applications
   A. Energy
      1. Safety, sustainability, and environmental considerations in producing energy.
      2. Identify specific safety concerns with nuclear energy and use of radioactive substances.
   B. Sound
      1. Hearing and noise
      2.  Music
   C. Other
      1. Weather prediction
      2. Doppler radar.
      3. Uses of chemicals and radioisotopes in medicine, industry and agriculture.
VI. Write and discuss critical reviews of articles for the general public on science topics controversies.

Method of Evaluation and Competencies:

Student grades are based on a semester point total distributed as follows:

  • Unit tests and Lab Tests   45-55%
  • Quizzes   5-15%
  • Labs   10-20%
  • Multimedia exercises, homework and projects   5-15%
  • Final exam   10-20%

Total: 100% 

Grade Criteria:

90 - 100% = A
80 - 89% = B
70 - 79% = C
60 - 69% = D
0 - 59% = F


  1. Computer Literacy Expectations - Students will need basic word processing and Internet searching skills for the completion of some papers, exercises and projects.

  2. There will be one evening observation period of approximately 45 minutes in length. Observation time will depend on local weather conditions and will be announced in class.

Student Responsibilities:


JCCC provides a range of services to allow persons with disabilities to participate in educational programs and activities. If you are a student with a disability and if you are in need of accommodations or services, it is your responsibility to contact Access Services and make a formal request. To schedule an appointment with an Access Advisor or for additional information, you may send an email or call Access Services at (913)469-3521. Access Services is located on the 2nd floor of the Student Center (SC 202).