Our fourth class explored numerical simulation, a common computational tool for solving complex, many-body problems. In its most basic classical form, numerical computation is the process of solving for the position (x) and velocity (v) of every object of mass m in a system with a given force law (F) using Newton’s Laws of Motion, following a two-step iterative process:
Our third class was devoted to exploring random processes through random walks. Many physical processes in nature – diffusion, radiation, conduction, current flow, fluid dynamics – can be modeled as a random process. This is certainly true at the quantum mechanical level, where there is inherent uncertainty in the position-momentum of a particle due to its wave-like nature (modeled as a probability wave function); this is Planck’s Uncertainty Principle. But even in “deterministic” classical mechanics, randomness plays a role in modeling complexity; it is simply too hard to measure the precise state of every particle in a system and all of the forces involved. This is where statistical mechanics and thermodynamics become important.
For the second class, we used a model developed as Washington State University as part of the Energy Project called Energy Theater. The idea is to model a system entirely through its energy units, with those energy units being continued in parts in the system but able to transfer between parts and transform between energy types. This was our first outside session at the base of the UCSD Snake Path.
Our first class was based on the idea that physical quantities and the relationships between them (equations) can be represented in physical movement, as well as in symbolic form. This is based on some of Prof. Burgasser’s work exploring physical communication of physical concepts, which itself is rooted in research showing that we learn when we use our bodies.
Here’s the breakdown of our class meetings for the Spring 2014 Freshman Seminar. Note that all meetings are Thursdays 6-8pm but the locations will vary.
We had our first chance to demonstrate human numerical simulation during the first STE[+a]MConnect conference held at Qualcomm. Physics students Evan Grohs, Daniel Gonzalez and Neil Sapra all participated in conducting a 3-body interaction in 2D using a force law that was proportional to mass/distance. After negotiating initial positions and velocities, we kept the simulation going (including a swap in when one of us got tired) until we ran out of tape to trace the paths. We’ll be doing our next simulation during the Physics 87 class in May.
We may have forgotten to clean this up before we left…sorry.
To learn more about the thought process behind the Physics Gestures exercises we’ll be doing in Physics 87, watch my talk at Audacious Speculations in April 2013:
Registration is now open for Physics 87: Movement for Physics! This freshman seminar is recommended for any undergraduate students taking lower division Physics, who would like to deepen their knowledge of physics principles, mathematical operations, and the process of simulation of physical systems. We’ll be doing all of this through movement exercises, real-time measurement, calculation and estimation problems, and embodied simulations. There are no pre-requisites, although some basic physics background (e.g., in high school or at UCSD) will be assumed. There will be no graded assignments, but students will be assessed based on their participation in the class exercises, and there will be reading and video assignments to prepare for the classwork.
The class will meet on alternating Thursdays from 6-8pm during weeks 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. The location of class will vary depending on the exercise.
Hurry! Only 20 spaces are available for this course!
The language of physics is beautiful, elegant… and utterly abstruse to anyone who doesn’t read a mathematical equation like a text message. As a teacher of the Physics 1 series at UCSD, I often found that beginning students in particular struggle more with understanding the language of physics (equations, terminology, symbology) than the actual physical concepts themselves. So in 2013 I began to explore ways of lifting those equations off the page, working with my research group into turning these equations into gestures, embodied movements, interactions, and ultimately exercises. I found that it was possible to do some pretty complex physics (including non-potential fields, multi-body numerical simulations, and Monte Carlo analyses) if you just let your bodies and minds do the work together. Thus was born this freshman seminar as an experiment to explore these ideas. To the students taking the class, thank you for being the very first lab rats!