The story of motion
August 17, 2006 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Motion Mountain - "The project aims to produce a simple, vivid and up-to-date introduction to modern physics, with emphasis on the fundamental ideas of motion. 'Simple' means that concepts are stressed more than formalism; 'vivid' means that the reader is continuously challenged; 'up-to-date' means that modern research and ideas about unification are included."
posted by Gyan (4 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Very nice typography.
posted by delmoi at 7:42 PM on August 17, 2006

i've seen this before - tried to read through it, but i kept getting lost.

traditional intro physics textbooks typically adhere to a well-established formula: start with newtonian dynamics, energy and work; that segues into oscillatory motion and wave mechanics, which flows into electromagnetism, and then onto light and optics, with thermo thrown in somewhat haphazardly and maybe a shallow attempt at covering special relativity or quantum mechanics thrown in for kicks. i think it's a good structure because each major section is somewhat self-contained and builds nicely on what came before.

while i admire the attempt to try a different approach (and the free online-ness), i think this is a little incoherent and hard to follow. i agree that physics education should be less compartmentalized and more synthesized, but this feels like it's just jumping all over the place.

i also think it's a neat idea to include more modern science, but i don't know if it'd be very meaningful without knowing the basics first. i taught a first-year physics lab last year, and had a few smart groups who were doing well with the basic stuff and wanted to do something more interesting. so i let them work on some of the more advanced "modern physics" experiments, things like determining crystal structure via electron diffraction, or measuring gamma-ray spectra of whatever radioisotope.

i was hoping it'd pique their interest but i feel like it went way over their heads: they could follow the instructions and do the experiment but totally missed the forest for the trees. this could be due to a teaching failure on my part, or perhaps that they were rushed (it was near the end of the term), but i think a big part is that modern-physics concepts were developed after classical ones, and necessarily build on them. it's a tall order to climb all the way to the topmost set of giants' shoulders without standing on any of the intermediate ones first.

maybe this book would be good for a "soft" physics course, something designed for humanities students perhaps. but i don't think it's a good way to teach physics to someone who's going to try to do something useful with it. (then again, maybe i'm just well-indoctrinated!)
posted by sergeant sandwich at 8:40 PM on August 17, 2006

Great post.

I don't know, sergean sandwich, my college physics course was pretty traditional. I hated the labs because I was bored to tears counting the swings of the pendulum or connecting a light bulb to a battery through a variable resistor. Frankly, I'd rather stuff be way over my head than being bored.
posted by c13 at 5:05 AM on August 18, 2006

I've really been enjoying the webcasts of Physics for future Presidents. It's an introductory physics course taught at Berkeley. The course textbook is also available for download.
posted by gwint at 7:02 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

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