[Communicating science series]
The current Caltech Weekly (February 10, 2022) highlighted a vintage video series of lectures for an introductory university physics course. Originally produced in 1985, perhaps this content is covered at the high school (or even earlier) level.
While cosmology and physics offer compelling narratives, modern science remains a relatively new way of thinking . And thinking like a physicist still a somewhat novel approach to problem-solving.
• “The Mechanical Universe,” available on Caltech’s YouTube channel, as 52 thirty-minute videos (resolution 480p).
Each program in the series opens and closes with Caltech Professor David Goodstein providing philosophical, historical and often humorous insight into the subject at hand while lecturing to his freshman physics class.
The series contains hundreds of computer animation segments, created by Dr. James F. Blinn, as the primary tool of instruction.
Dynamic location footage and historical re-creations are also used to stress the fact that science is a human endeavor.
The series was originally produced as a broadcast telecourse in 1985 by Caltech and Intelecom, Inc., with program funding from the Annenberg/CPB Project.
The online version of “The Mechanical Universe” is sponsored by the Information Science and Technology initiative at Caltech.
The Caltech Weekly also notes a forthcoming book Quantum Steampunk: The Physics of Yesterday’s Tomorrow.
Nicole Yunger Halpern, PhD (PhD ’18) delivers a steampunk adventure guide to how mind-blowing quantum physics is in transforming our understanding of information and energy.
 As I’ve noted elsewhere (as a theme of this blog). So hopefully future random on-the-street Q&A interviews – à la a Jay Leno “Jaywalking” segment – regarding science and the universe will show a deeper “matrix of meaning.”
• Quantum mechanics math basics – tasting the notation
• Biggest ideas in the universe – Sean Carroll chats concepts
• Quantum physics myths – communicating science
• Communicating what physics says — Domain of Science YouTube channel
• Communicating what physics says — The Science Asylum
7 thoughts on “Online introductory physics course – The Mechanical Universe”
[From The Caltech Weekly (February 17, 2022) > “Tinkering with Physics“]
Demo’s are an integral part of any introductory physics course. Here’s Caltech’s online demo catalog.
• Caltech > Physics > Demo’s > Physics Demonstration Archive
Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain
Live Science claims that these “are the best physics books for anyone looking for an accessible and engaging immersion into the world of physics and wondering about our universe.”
My take: Some of these books are suitable for those with a general interest; others are more suitable for learning at the advanced high school or college level where a wider grasp of vocabulary and math is required .
• Live Science > “Best physics books: Change the way you look at the universe” by Megan Kachigan (June 5, 2022)
 Here’s my categorization of some books in their list:
• General interest
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (2017)
Cosmos by Carl Sagan (1983)
• More advanced
The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene (2010)
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli (2012)
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1998)
• For classroom or guided learning
Thirty Years that Shook Physics by George Gamow (1985)
Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum (illustrated edition) by Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman (2015)
The Feynman Lectures on Physics 3-book set (newly edition 2011, originally published in 1960’s)
Here’s an interesting – and visual – way to explore the dynamics of planetary systems.
• NASA > APOD > “Game: Super Planet Crash” (2022 June 19)
Although limited to some still visuals , this article explores the basic mathematical model of the Ideal Gas Law (aka general gas equation) and use of a pressure and temperature sensor for graphs. An overview suitable for the classroom.
Wiki’s article contains more history of its derivations (both empirical and theoretical).
The general gas equation PV=nRT is an example of thinking like a physicist (as discussed elsewhere), namely, simplifying gas molecules as microscopic balls: pressure, volume, and temperature not being actual properties of any molecule, but as emergent statistical properties useful for everyday practical applications.
Terms: kinetic energy, average speed, Kelvin scale, Boltzmann constant, mole, Avogadro’s number.
• Wired > “What Is the Ideal Gas Law?” by Rhett Allain, associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University (Jun 19, 2022) – Whether inflating balloons or tires, the relationship between pressure, volume, and temperature requires some physics and chemistry.
 I noticed that some YouTube videos on the Ideal Gas Law also take a mostly mathematical approach, focusing on the equation rather than apparatus demonstrations – such as adjustable gas tubes, vacuum and air pumps, etc. YouTube videos by scientific equipment manufacturers more typically include such equipment.
An apparatus example:
Fluid dynamics shapes my perspective on quantum theory. But what is fluid dynamics?
The latest issue of Caltech Weekly (July 7, 2022) profiles the research of a graduate student in aerospace, including a video of his lecture on fluid dynamics.
• Caltech > Events > Science Journeys > “Fluid Dynamics – from Disturbances to Turbulence” (November 20, 2020)
• YouTube > Caltech (Caltech Academic Media Technologies) > “Fluid Dynamics: From Disturbances to Turbulence, with Salvador Gomez” (Nov 20, 2020)
The article contains a “Pop Quiz” of questions:
And a Q&A:
Here’s a novel contemporary visualization series for introductory physics, whether in the classroom or not, seeking to “balance between science and entertainment, rigor and fun” (as I learned as a middle school math teacher).
• Symmetry Magazine > “Meet Quantum Kate” by Sarah Charley (8-30-2022) – The animated YouTube series Quantum Kate is a teenager’s guide to modern physics.
• Example > YouTube > Quantum Kate > “The standard model!” (Feb 27, 2020)
Getting the message across: Ready, set the egg timer … go, explain the Copenhagen and Everett interpretations of quantum mechanics.
Graphics, animation, cartoons, slick editing, humor, enthusiasm, …
This article contains links to the winners’ videos.
• Physics World > Education And Outreach Blog > “How to explain quantum technology in just three minutes” by Margaret Harris (02 Nov 2022)
This was the premise of the inaugural “Quantum on the Clock” competition, which challenged A-level and equivalent students from across the UK and Ireland to create creative, clear, engaging and accurate short videos on any aspect of quantum science and technology.
The videos of all the winners, runners-up and highly commended entrants are now available on the Institute of Physics’ YouTube channel. Check them out for a glimpse into the future of quantum science – and science communication.
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