Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Physics works!"

According to this NYTimes story, MIT's Walter H.G. Lewin may well be the physics professor with the largest international fan club. Reason? Videos of his   introductory   physics   courses that are available on the Open Courseware website. Here are some of the things he does in his lectures:

In his lectures at, Professor Lewin beats a student with cat fur to demonstrate electrostatics. Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.

He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts off. ...

[In another video,] “We have here the mother of all pendulums!” he declares, hoisting his 6-foot-2, 170-pound self on a 30-pound steel ball attached to a pendulum hanging from the ceiling. He swings across the stage, holding himself nearly horizontal as his hair blows in the breeze he has created.

The point: that a period of a pendulum is independent of the mass — the steel ball, plus one professor — hanging from it.

“Physics works!” Professor Lewin shouts, as the classroom explodes in cheers.

Like other great performances in the world of sport or art, his 'performance' too requires intense practice:

He said he spent 25 hours preparing each new lecture, choreographing every detail and stripping out every extra sentence.

“Clarity is the word,” he said.