Back of the Envelope Physics - BGU Physics Department
BGU Physics Department

Back of the Envelope Physics

(3.0 points, 3 hours)
course number 203-2-5291



  1. Back of the envelope estimates: dimensional analysis, scaling arguments, fast estimates of math expressions, length and energy scales.
  2. The usefulness of the Fourier transform. Waves. Dispersion
  3. Elementary mechanics of fluids and elastic bodies.
  4. Quantum mechanics in pictures. The correspondence principle. Structure and binding energies of atoms and molecules. The nature of chemical bonding.
  5. Molecular interactions and condensed matter: van der Waals forces,                 cohesive energy, melting temperature, mechanical properties, thermal expansion, latent heat.
  6. Applying limiting cases: forced oscillator, Rutherford scattering, radiation      field in the near and far zones.
  7. Random walk. Diffusion. Fluctuations.
  8. Quantum processes I: when the classical analogy works.
  9. Quantum processes II: when wave properties are crucial.
  10. The nuclear scale. Weak and strong interactions.
  11. Estimations in the living world, geophysics and astrophysics.


  1. “Order-of-Magnitude Physics”, by P. Goldreich, S. Mahajan, S. Phinney.  University of Cambridge (1999).
  2. “Search for Simplicity”. A series of papers by V.Weisskopf, Am.J.Phys. 1984-1986
  3. “Street-fighting mathematics: the art of educated guessing and opportunistic problem solving”, by S. Mahajan (MIT, 2010).
  4. “How many licks? Or, how to estimate damn near anything”, by Aaron Santos, Running press (2009)

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