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If you had 10 minutes to teach someone Physics

  1. Dec 6, 2013 #1
    If you had only ten minutes to teach someone the most important things in physics what would you teach them.

    I know your first thought is this is impossible, but if you had to sum up all of physics into its most important theorys and principles what would you spend those ten minutes talking about.

    It would have to be both fun, interesting and sum up what is most important

    My thought is:
    Newtonian Physics
    Electromagnetic Spectrum
    Theory Of Realitivty
    Quantum Mechanics

    at about more or less two minutes a piece

    what do you think
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2013 #2


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    In 600 seconds I could show that numbers have no meaning without units and that every number has dimensions.
  4. Dec 6, 2013 #3
    I agree with baluncore. No way anyone walks away believing physicists know the first thing about nature by going from two minutes on Newtons laws to Quantum Theory a few minutes later. That might work for a history lesson on physics but no real understanding. Units are important and describing the idea that physics deals ultimately with the relationships between things rather than things themselves would be a good first start. Neat question though. Pretty sure I've tried to accomplish this very feat too many times at parties...
  5. Dec 6, 2013 #4


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    "The book of nature is written in the language of mathematics."
  6. Dec 6, 2013 #5
    phyzguy, that one is even better than what I was thinking. I suppose if one knows nothing at all about physics, explaining that nature obeys mathematics is indeed a profound point. As Einstein pointed out: "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible."
  7. Dec 6, 2013 #6
    I'd start with symmetry and how that leads to conservation. It would be an interesting exercise in itself to see if this could be condensed into 10 minutes.
  8. Dec 6, 2013 #7


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    I'd start with general relativity because it's the most beautiful thing in nature after jelly filled doughnuts :biggrin:
  9. Dec 6, 2013 #8
    But Mr Newton, you only have 10 minutes! I would struggle to eat a whole doughnut in that time, unless there was some serious time dilation going on. :smile:
  10. Dec 6, 2013 #9
    well for the man who eats the 10 minutes will always be ten minutes , you cant cheat time for yourself , but only with respect to something else.

    And by the way relativity in 10 minutes would require some very talented teacher to explain.
  11. Dec 6, 2013 #10
    Without knowing anything about my students background, I'd probably spend most of it on the scientific method and the importance of mathematics. Once the student gets those 2 nuggets in their head they can take it from there as far as they'd like without me.

    If I can know something about my students background then the content of my 10 minute lecture will depend heavily on what that background is
  12. Dec 6, 2013 #11


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    Why not spend ten minutes teaching Aristotelian physics, you'd give them a much healthier respect for current methods and reasoning. It's always grounding to look at how we humans got it wrong for so many years.

    An undoubtedly still are.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2013
  13. Dec 6, 2013 #12

    Meir Achuz

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    Significant figures. They will (and do) forget all the rest.
  14. Dec 6, 2013 #13
    I'd probably teach Galilean relativity and forces.
  15. Dec 7, 2013 #14
    Interesting, a lot of different ideas. The idea would be to condense as much as possible into the ten minutes give them just enough of as much as possible as to peak their intrest and let them know of the beauty and complexity in physics and then if they want they have a starting point to learning more about physics.

    Thanks though Ill consider all of this
  16. Dec 7, 2013 #15

    Claude Bile

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    The concept of uncertainty in measurement.

  17. Dec 7, 2013 #16


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    In spite of my many posts on PF, I'd suggest there would be better things to discuss before the bomb drops in ten minute's time.
  18. Dec 7, 2013 #17
    Oh I don't know... You might want to discuss how radioactivity works and a basic understanding of half lives might prove useful.
  19. Dec 7, 2013 #18
    who is the audience?

    when we want to introduce the basics to regular folks I leave out quantum mechanics and relativity and stick with classical physics and things from the everyday world

    conservation of energy: elastic and inelastic collisions, billiard balls and tomatoes
    waves: prism and rainbow
    electricity: battery, magnet, compass, electrically produced magnetic field

    that would be a pretty busy 10 minutes
  20. Dec 7, 2013 #19
    Uh, tomatoes? That all,sounds pretty dull to me and I like Physics! Mind you the rainbows sound OK. Maybe adding why the sky is blue...
  21. Dec 7, 2013 #20
    Biology. Just Kidding.

    I probably don't have enough knowledge in Physics to make a meaningful response, but
    if I was a clueless audience member, I would want to hear the sort of stuff you'd hear in
    populizer science. Maybe talk about the quest for the Equation of Everything?
  22. Dec 7, 2013 #21
    I would challenge them to prove that the earth rotates, let them struggle for a bit, then explain foccault's pendulum. It would demonstrate what physics can do in a succint way.
  23. Dec 7, 2013 #22
    i'd explain in terms of the purpose of physics.

    so it begins something like this:

    we humans, a species among many species, in this great cosmos have always wondered how stuff works.
    and we humans by trial and error, by observing, by experiments, by representing ideas with numbers aka mathematics, have designed a system called PHYSICS to describe how everything works. now this Physics is a HUMAN way of understanding how everything works. for a dog or other species, it may be some other system they invented.

    so to describe everything is quite a monumental task, so lets break this 'everything' down into smaller easier to understand parts:
    (in the order of most practical and obvious)

    1) how things move? - newtonian physics
    2) in fact everything including all that we experience can be described in terms of movement, we just experience a very small spectrum of things that move. how things move and interact with other things under very specific laws or conditions is what gives rise to well everything.
    -so here's a list of some fundamental parts in terms of scale energy/heat/strings/quarks/atoms/elements/molecules/carbon and silicon life based molecules aka biology/organs/bodies/systems/universes
    -so here's a list of some interactions between these many different scales of things: all the laws, quantum physics, relativity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, biology, newtonian physics, etc.

    so to sum up, physics is a WAY a method a technology a tool that we humans invented for us to understand how everything works... and we are still on our way to find that elusive 'theory of everything' that short two-inch mathematical number/symbol representation of an idea that encompasses all there is.
  24. Dec 8, 2013 #23
    I would suggest that "...the most important things in physics.." for most general audiences of a ten minute presentation are not going to be specific physical principles, but rather some very foundational aspects... pretty much only time enough to touch on the tools, scope, and technique that distinguish physics among the other fields of science, and from other non-scientific fields.

    Tools - math and logic
    Scope - experimental measurements of phenomena
    Technique - Scientific method
  25. Dec 8, 2013 #24


    Staff: Mentor

    I would give them a list of good sources to learn physics when they have more time.
  26. Dec 8, 2013 #25
    I think I'd discuss the scientific method....also expaining how to generally assess scientific claims.....[unless there were a catastrophe coming, in which case where to find matches,water and shelter might be more helpful]

    I'd focus on the fact that we humans have developed theories [ideas and concepts] to explain the natural world which can often be detailed in mathematics and that resulting predictions must be tested to insure validity. Peer review and independent replication of test results would be good points to assure open discussion of alternative ideas and explanations.
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