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Is Physics amazing, or is it just me?

  1. Oct 16, 2011 #1


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    So I was having a conversation with someone and we were discussing our majors and what we study. I told her about how I love physics and she said "You must have a lot of amazing tidbits you've picked up from your research". I thought about it and all I could think of is something like the jets emitting from black holes or pulsars. I thought "yah those are probably somewhat interesting to people outside of the field". Then I started thinking about the more mundane things. I started thinking about how as you speed up, time slows down, how particles exist in a superposition of states, etc etc, these super boring mundane things, and started to wonder how outsiders feel about these things? I have this thinking that because it's so mundane and such an everyday way of thinking for me, that I've lost the ability to see these concepts from the viewpoint of someone not in the field.

    So to all of you have the chance to talk to people about these "mundane" concepts in physics, how do people typically react? Are they actually cool to the lay-person? Does our field of study really just the study of badassness?

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 16, 2011 #2
    Hey, so... while I'm still a beginner at physics, I can tell you my viewpoint of it... I find it difficult, stressful, and also I haven't studied enough so that's why. My point is I'm too busy stressing out about knowing the stuff that I haven't been able to think about what physics is... strange that, haven't actually had time to "smell the roses" so to speak... anyway, back I go to working on these built up assignments.
  4. Oct 16, 2011 #3
    Well I was pretty amazed when I first heard about special relativity, but I suppose it's because this kind of thing amazes me that I got interested in physics and joined this forum, so maybe it doesn't always work like that.
  5. Oct 16, 2011 #4


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    I think regardless of who you are, be it a physicist or otherwise, quantum mechanics will always be interesting.
  6. Oct 16, 2011 #5
    Pengwuino, is your love of physics more closely associated with your efforts on this forum than your efforts in the classroom? If so, do what I did, and cut bait. I've always loved theoretical, but I've always been a hands-on person.
  7. Oct 16, 2011 #6


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    If I talk to anyone at my school about something mundane like killing vectors being the generators of isometries on a manifold and how important that is with regards to the metric I usually just get an awkward stare and people tend to get bored almost immediately. But then you start talking about something like gravitational waves coming from binary stars and all of a sudden people seem very interested.
  8. Oct 16, 2011 #7
    It is amazing!

    Such things as that matter is actually mostly empty space is very interesting for lay people, or when I finished them explaining how ginormous the earth actually is, how it is a mote of dust compared to the sun, and then showing animations sliding up to stars such as VY Canis Majoris, going up to galaxies, and clusters, and super clusters, and how this is just unbelievably huge, but that these unimaginably huge things are actually minuscule compared to the sheer amout of empty voids!

    I show them this super slowmo clip of an explosion I have where you see the actual shock wave travelling (the expanding ring of compressed air).

    Maybe it's my personal bias and I overinterpret their reactions but just thinking about this stuff makes me sit there and be in awe.

    Not to mention how much physics changes your thinking in terms of skepticism!
  9. Oct 16, 2011 #8

    I like Serena

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    I believe it's about 2 ingredients: using words people actually recognize and actually being enthusiastic yourself. ;)
  10. Oct 16, 2011 #9


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    Nature and the Universe are pretty amazing!

    That we can understand it at the level we do, that we can observe indirectly the smallest parts that we can even see is pretty astounding.

    And that we can develop models that predict the behavior of things we manipulate is pretty amazing.

    I think for most people outside of the field, it's more like magic.
  11. Oct 16, 2011 #10

    Chi Meson

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    I found out, during college and shortly after, that whenever somebody at a party, for example, asks something like "How do fluorescent lights work anyway?" Warning: they really don't care and don't want to know if it takes longer than 3 words to explain.
  12. Oct 16, 2011 #11


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    No it's not. I'm... not entirely sure what you mean though.

    How F'n boring.

    Yup I think that's pretty key!

    It is. I think the problem is figuring out what part of this amazing thing called science is intriguing to the lay person. For example, LIGO being able to detect movements on the order of a proton radius absolutely blows my mind, but does the average person really care considering they have probably never even thought of what happens at the atomic scale?

    Well, I'm trying to teach people in a classroom setting. I would hope I'm allowed to use more than 3 word explanations to explain things that might be cool :D
  13. Oct 16, 2011 #12
    Of course they're bored if you mention the boring and technical parts of physics!!! :rolleyes:
  14. Oct 16, 2011 #13

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    Yes, I found that out too! :wink:

    However, I also learned that people are not interested in a dreary explanation how something works.
    But an amazing (true) story, told with enthusiasm will hold them spellbound.

    I've seen it happen repeatedly, typically by a colleague who has the talent to make science sound wonderful (which it is!).
    Someday I hope to acquire that skill as well. :smile:
  15. Oct 16, 2011 #14
    It's only you Peng Peng...you are the amazing one, physics bites in comparison :tongue2:
  16. Oct 16, 2011 #15


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    I'm gonna quote Feynman: it's "the joy of finding things out". Talking about that isn't in the same league as actually doing it. Even if what you find out turns out to be pretty mundane in the end, the journey is more fun than the destination. To quote RF again, "anything can be absolutely fascinating, if only you study it in sufficient detail".
  17. Oct 16, 2011 #16


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    I barely realized just now how my thread title makes it come off as :P
  18. Oct 17, 2011 #17


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  19. Oct 17, 2011 #18
    Amazing is when the laws and principles boil down into a few or even one potent equation. This is why I liked mechanics and E&M. However I was horrified with thermodynamics because the equations just seemed to multiply and the quantities all seemed like complete abstractions, like entropy for example. Perhaps thermo does get "amazing", but I have not found this out.
  20. Oct 17, 2011 #19


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    Teach in the spirit of Richard Feynman, modeling his curosity in your lectures. This works great for introductory physics courses. For advanced material, accept the fact that you may lose more than 50% or more of your students, Feynman did. People haven't changed all that much since he taught, except for one thing, their attention spans (for a vast majority) in their radically modified brains has been drastically reduced. Address the short attention span issue first, then move on to the difficult material, fun huh ?

  21. Oct 17, 2011 #20
    Peter Parker called. He wants his title back.


    I get kicks out of knowing how stuff works. My social crowd is such that we all find ourselves cool for doing maths. One also should note that my "crowd" is more a 3 people line than a crowd.
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