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.
Class 1: Embodied Quantities & Equations
Date: Thursday April 10
Location: Dance Studio 1 (Wagner Dance Studio)
Equations represent relationships between quantities, in compact and often non-intuitive forms. In this first class we’ll explore alternate ways of expressing physical quantities using full-body gestures and motions (charades!). We will develop our own embodied “language” for expressing both concrete and abstract physical quantities through movement, and try to connect these quantities to explore the relationships underlying important physics equations.
- 2012 New York Times article on developing signs for science terms
- Prof. Burgasser’s Audacious Speculations presentation in 2013 on Physics gestures:
Class 2: Energy Theater
Date: Thursday April 24
Location: Warren Mall (grass lawn between Warren Hall and Jacobs School of Engineering)
Energy is critical for understanding complex systems, but keeping track of energy and its many forms and transformations can be a difficult. In this class we will model a simple physical system by “acting out” units of energy as they are carried and transformed through our system.
- Energy Theatre Project at Washington State University
- If you are interested in the scientific research on this model, check out Scherr et al. (2013, Phys Rev PER, 9, 020105)
Class 3: Random Walk
Date: Thursday May 1 <– note change of date
Location: SE corner of Muir Field (across from Pacific Hall)
Many physical processes in nature – diffusion, radiation, conduction – happen through random re-orientations of trajectories. In this class, we will model these systems through 1D and 2D random walks (including a “random race), and explore how physicists use statistical distributions to study complex systems.
- A really excellent book on this topic is The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow
- You can also catch a talk by Leonard at the Perimeter Institute
Class 4: Human Numerical Simulation
Date: Thursday May 22
NW corner of the Geisel Library Patio SERF 383
Physicists can model everything from particle interactions to the entire Universe using numerical simulations on supercomputers. In this class, we will do the same with some chalk, a ruler, and some basic knowledge of vectors. We will “solve” unsolvable problems like three-body dynamics, and walk through even more complex interactions.
- Best thing is to look around at some of the beautiful numerical simulations online, like this one and this one
- There was an ingenious example of an analog simulation in 1941 by the astronomer Erik Holmberg to model galaxy collisions, using light in place of gravity; read this blog post for a summary and take a look at his original paper
- If it’s been a while, you may want to polish up your vector addition
Class 5: Fields of Numbers
Date: Thursday June 5
Location: NW corner of the Geisel Library Patio
Many physical quantities are described as “fields” – distributions of numbers or vectors through space. This can be a confusing topic on paper, so in this class we’re going to make our own vector fields with chalk and move through them, exploring vector operations such as gradients, divergence and curl, and the difference between electric and magnetic fields.
- The Wikipedia page on vector fields is actually not terrible
- Try with this little flash program showing the electric fields of various charge combinations