Physics for Future Presidents

By Jerry M. Woodall

Electrical and Computer Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN



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The purpose and goals of this course are to provide a liberal arts style education in physics that could be important for you to understand if you were the president of the United States (or any other executive job). In other words, you will learn real, advanced physics without employing any painful mathematics. If you complete this course you will know more physics than most folks with a B.S. or PhD degree in physics! However, after taking this course you will probably not be able to perform many of the complex mathematics that underlie the real physics that you will learn. Most importantly, this course covers real physics and not physics for dummies (or to be more PC, it is not physics for those who are science challenged).


Jerry M. Woodall Jerry M. Woodall, a National Medal of Technology Laureate, and the Barry and Patricia Epstein Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University, received a B.S. in metallurgy in 1960 from MIT. In 1982, he was awarded a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University. He pioneered and patented the development of GaAs high efficiency IR LEDs, used today in remote control and data link applications such as TV sets and IR LAN. This was followed by the invention and seminal work on gallium aluminum arsenide (GaAlAs) and GaAlAs/GaAs heterojunctions used in super-bright red LEDs and lasers used, for example, in CD players and short link optical fiber communications. He also pioneered and patented the GaAlAs/GaAs heterojunction bipolar transistor used in, for example, cellular phones. Also, using GaAs/InGaAs strained, non-lattice-matched heterostructures, he pioneered the “pseudomorphic” high electron mobility transistor (HEMT), a state-of-the-art high speed device widely used in cellular phones. The technological and commercial importance of his seminal work led to the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics for heterojunctions awarded to Herbert Kroemer and Zhores Alferov. His demonstration of the GaAlAs/GaAs heterojunction led to the creation of important new areas of solid-state physics, such as: superlattice, low dimension, mesoscopic, and resonant tunneling physics. Also, using the technique called molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) and the GaAs/InGaAs strained, non-lattice-matched heterostructure, he pioneered the “pseudomorphic” high electron mobility transistor (HEMT), a state-of-the-art high speed device widely used in devices and circuits including those found in cellular phones. This work led to the use of the pseudomorphic InAs/GaAs heterostructure to make “self-organized” quantum dots, a currently popular topic in physics. His recent past work involves the MBE growth of III-V materials and devices with special emphasis on metal contacts, the thermodynamics of extremely large doping concentrations, and devices made of non-lattice matched heterojunctions and substrates. More recently he invented, developed and published a breakthrough global scale “green” energy storage technology in which bulk aluminum rich alloys split both fresh water and salt water into hydrogen gas on demand, thus obviating the need to store and transport hydrogen. The aluminum hydroxide reaction product is easily recycled back to aluminum via the commercial Hall electrolysis process. This feature coupled with the fact that aluminum has the highest volumetric total chemical energy density known, and the fact tthat aluminum has the highest volumetric total chemical energy density known, and the fact that aluminum is the third most abundant element on earth’s surface promises to make this technology a serious contender for a long haul , global scale, economically viable , alternative green energy solution.

His efforts are recorded in over 350 publications in the open literature, and 85 issued U.S. patents. His accomplishments have been recognized by his election as IBM Fellow in 1985, an $80,000 IBM Corporate Award in 1992 for the invention of the GaAlAs/GaAs heterojunction, and the 2001 National Medal of Technology awarded by the President of the United States.

Other recognition includes the 1980 Electronics Division Award of the Electrochemical Society (ECS), the 1984 IEEE Jack A. Morton Award, the 1985 ECS Solid State Science and Technology Award, the 1988 Heinrich Welker Gold Medal and International GaAs Symposium Award, the 1990 American Vacuum Society (AVS) Medard Welch (Founder’s) Award, its highest honor, the 1997 Eta Kappa Nu Vladimir Karapetoff Eminent Members' Award, the 1998 American Society for Engineering Education’s General Electric Senior Research Award, the 1998 Electrochemical Society’s (ECS) Edward Goodrich Acheson (Founder’s) Award, its highest honor, ECS Honorary Member (2009), an IEEE Third Millennium Medal (2000), the Federation of Materials Societies' 2002 National Materials Advancement Award, and the 2005 IEEE Jun-ichci Nishizawa Gold Medal. Honorific recognition includes his election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1989, Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1982, IEEE Fellow in 1990, ECS Fellow in 1992, and AVS Fellow in 1994. His national professional society activities include President of the ECS (1990), and President of AVS (1998).


Course: HONR 299, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN



  • Physics and Technology for Future Presidents, Muller


    Physics and Technology for Future Presidents

    by Richard A. Muller (Princeton University Press, 2010)
    ISBN: 978-0-691-13504-5

    Physics and Technology for Future Presidents contains the essential physics that students need in order to understand today's core science and technology issues, and to become the next generation of world leaders.


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  • Jerry M. Woodall (2011), "Physics for Future Presidents,"

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276 Grissom Hall, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN


Lecture Number/Topic Online Lecture Video Lecture Notes Supplemental Material Suggested Exercises
PfFP Lecture 1: Energy and Power I View Notes (pdf)
PfFP Lecture 2: Energy and Power II View
PfFP Lecture 3: Energy and Power III View
PfFP Lecture 4: Atoms and Heat I View Notes (pdf)
PfFP Lecture 5: Atoms and Heat II View
PfFP Lecture 6: Gravity, Force and Space I View
PfFP Lecture 7: Gravity, Force and Space II View
PfFP Lecture 8: Gravity, Force and Space III View
PfFP Lecture 9: Nuclei and Radioactivity I View
PfFP Lecture 11: Chain Reactions, Nuclear Reactors and Atomic Bombs I View
PfFP Lecture 12: Chain Reactions, Nuclear Reactors and Atomic Bombs II View
PfFP Lecture 13: Chain Reactions, Nuclear Reactors and Atomic Bombs III View
PfFP Lecture 14: Electricity and Magnetism I View
PfFP Lecture 15: Electricity and Magnetism II View
PfFP Lecture 16: Electricity and Magnetism III View
PfFP Lecture 17: Waves, Earthquakes, and Music I View
PfFP Lecture 18: Waves, Earthquakes, and Music II View
PfFP Lecture 19: Waves, Earthquakes, and Music III View
PfFP Lecture 20: Light I View
PfFP Lecture 21: Light II View
PfFP Lecture 22: Light III View
PfFP Lecture 23: Invisible Light I View
PfFP Lecture 24: Invisible Light II View
PfFP Lecture 25: Invisible Light III View
PfFP Lecture 26: Climate Change I View
PfFP Lecture 27: Climate Change II - Debate View
PfFP Lecture 28: Climate Change III View
PfFP Lecture 29: Quantum Physics I View
PfFP Lecture 30: Quantum Physics II View
PfFP Lecture 31: Quantum Physics III View
PfFP Lecture 32: Relativity I View
PfFP Lecture 33: Relativity II View
PfFP Lecture 34: Relativity III View
PfFP Lecture 35: The Universe I View
PfFP Lecture 36: The Universe II View
PfFP Lecture 37: The Universe III View
PfFP Lecture 38: The Course in Review View
PfFP Lecture 39: Future of Nuclear Energy in the US - Debate View