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Its Physics, Jim!

The book for the masses (pun intended)

The book for the masses (pun intended)

Ah how I love Star Trekkin’ by The Firm – Its a catchy tune from the late 80s with this line from Scotty, the chief engineer: “You cannot change the laws of physics.”. And then later, “Its physics, Jim!”

Many, many years ago, I was a student at the OSCSS and just loved the physics class taught by Roberta Tevlin (on weekends, I’d catch her playing at Grossman’s in the Happy Pals). I even got Wonderstruck on TV (today, I just make the local newspapers).

Anyway, I heard an interview on the Quirks & Quarks podcast with the author of a book relating to physics and, appropriately for this month, future presidents.  I looked up the author, Richard Muller, and found his book called Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines.  I have since learned that the author intended only one copy to be read: the one he donated to this month’s new occupants of the White House.  Its written smartly for a quick dip without any mucking about.

Instead of buying that book, I’ve started watching the Muller’s lectures from his class at Berkley.  There’s a full textbook (of the same name but with ‘textbook’ added as a suffix) – the first couple of chapters can be downloaded from his site too.  If you enjoyed your university lectures, then watch these and read the textbook edition; if not, then read the short popular version of the book instead.

Watching him talk to his class reminded me of the one (and only so far) time I taught a physics class.  It was back at Henry Street High after I had graduated from OSCSS.  I showed off some of the neat demos that I learned while at OSCSS to an eagar audience of young high school students (okay, they were just a year or two younger than me).  The scariest moment was when I demonstrated how I could break a metre-long ruler (“yardstick” sounds better but it wasn’t that) with just a piece of newspaper and one hand.  I balanced the ruler half on and half off the side of the teacher’s desk.  I covered the half that was on the desk with a single sheet of newspaper.  I then whacked down on the other half with my hand.  Sure enough, the newspaper held down the ruler with a vaccuum and the rule snapped in two.  The broken half went whizing down the aisle between the students.  My heart stopped as I braced myself for its landing – thankfully it crashed eventually to the floor.  After the class, one student came to me and asked if I knew the student who was interacting the most and asking so many questions- I said no and asked why; they said because that student was usually so shy and quiet normally.  That’s when I appreciated that real learning comes through experience.