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Friday, July 30, 2010

Physics 101: I Should Have Seen It Coming

If a gal's going to write poems about space probes, Galileo, Newton, Da Vinci, Kepler, transiting exoplanets, Democritus, liquid hydrogen, & Alan Shepard peeing his spacesuit while waiting for Freedom to launch, a gal who wants to be taken seriously has got to take Physics 101, like, right now.

Not that she's wanted to, not that she's a Numbers Person, but that she must.

I bet you can almost hear the litany of excuses: But I have no time! But I don't have the $! But I don't feel like sitting in a classroom for even one session a week! But I hated physics in high school! But physics is so boring! But I don't deal in numbers!

MIT Open Classroom to the rescue! Holy cow, this prof makes physics fun. In the time it would normally take me to microwave a burrito, read a few poems, maybe do a little research on string theory, I've sat through THREE introductory physics lectures, and get this, thanks to Dr Lewin's good, old fashioned chalkboard-scribbling of images and equations, along with his infectious enthusiasm and humor, I actually understood most of what went down.

I will crawl into bed tonight not only knowing that the pressure of a femur is proportional to the weight of the animal divided by the cross-section A of the femur, but that F=ma where F is force and ma = mass x acceleration. I also know how to make a Hero's Engine out of an empty Coke can with four holes punched in the bottom: Tie it to a string, fill it with water, swirl it around, and voila!) I also know that Newton's 3rd law is demonstrated when you turn on a garden hose and it snakes back at you (equal and opposite reaction), but even better: when you ride a bicycle with a spewing fire extinguisher fastened to the back end. And oh, oh, oh, Bernoulli's stunning realizations about water and buoyancy--don't even get me started.

Oh. My. God. I never thought I would not only understand but laugh uncontrollably about physics. If only Ms. Obrupta, my high school physics teacher, could've borrowed even ONE of these hilarious demonstrations!

I've been afraid of physics all of my sentient life. I've dabbled, I've dallianced, I've dillettanted, but I've never dove in and embraced it. But that's all changed now thanks to the brilliance of Professor Walter Lewin. Thanks, MIT, for putting these lectures online.

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