Friday, December 21, 2007

Internet Loves Physics. Who Knew?

Perhaps even MIT didn’t realize, when they began posting introductory physics lectures online, that the videos would become so popular. Then again, who ever could have predicted the popularity of the Star Wars Kid? Even physics can't explain the phenomenon of internet video popularity, but if it makes more people love physics, I think they'll take it.

Here's a sampler of the type of lecture they're showing, featuring Professor Walter Lewin:

Professor Lewin is slowly but steadily gaining credibility in the internet realm as a prime source of both info and entertainment. Lewin says he spends 25 hours planning each 45 minute lecture, each of which is packed with fantastic demonstrations and constant reminders of the endless number of everyday places you see physics in action.

You can download the lectures for free on iTunes or MIT’s website

When I first heard about MIT putting their physics lectures online I was almost offended. I paid thousands of dollars for a physics education and now it turns I can just get it online?! Of course you can’t get a degree via iTunes (yet…), so it’s not quite the same thing, but I think that moment of selfishness has passed.

Having video record of my college courses would have done me loads of good, and might become an important tool for students. I am still a member of the camp that believes it doesn’t matter how you learn it or how long it takes, so long as the desire is there. And, some things are worth learning even if you don’t want to. Simply put, the videos open up the world of science to people in a new way. With the low numbers of physics and math teachers in the US, a champion of physics education is just what the country needs.

What’s also nice about this new effort is that it can’t be considered “pop physics”: that sensitive term that could mean bastardization of the field and stunted learning. Rather, it cuts away all of the brush and explains physics concepts in their natural environment; the way physics majors would learn them. Keep in mind that watching a lecture doesn't mean you understand physics, or that you've done everything needed to graduate in the field; but it might spark the start of such a journey for a few people, or just make some new fans. I say huzzah.

These videos may also serve to keep you busy with physics for the next week or so while most of us here at Physics Buzz take holiday vacations. I'll be drowning in feet of snow in Utah, so perhaps I'll squeeze in a post about the physics of sledding. Happy and safe holidays!

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