Somewhere, Richard Feynman is smiling.
March 14, 2008 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Walter Lewin is one of the great teachers of physics. He is matched only by Philip Morrison, also of MIT, who filmed similar lectures back in the 1960s and died recently. Feynman is a very interesting guy, but I'm not so sure he is the most effective undergraduate teacher.

Lewin's lecture on non-conservative fields is a classic that really tests your understanding of Faraday's Law.

Nice post.
posted by JackFlash at 11:29 PM on March 14, 2008

This really feels like a double, or near-miss. The NYT did a piece on this guy in December, and I could have sworn (though now I can't find it) that someone put it up on the blue back then.
posted by librarylis at 12:44 AM on March 15, 2008

Cool post, thanks.

This really feels like a double, or near-miss. The NYT did a piece on this guy in December, and I could have sworn (though now I can't find it) that someone put it up on the blue back then.

Are you thinking of this?
posted by kisch mokusch at 1:09 AM on March 15, 2008

Apparently, freshmen hated Feynman's introductory physics class and would rarely show up, instead his class was filled with graduate students and faculty in the physics department. However, what everyone loved was that he would hold informal question and answer sessions where he would attempt to answer any question the students would ask him about physics.

I'll have to check out these lectures when I get the time. As a physics student, this is really interesting stuff for me.
posted by spott at 2:37 AM on March 15, 2008

*Maybe* that one, kisch mokusch (o ye of the difficultly placed 'c's).

In any case, yes, the NYT did an interesting piece on this guy, here's the bugmenot page for those of you who prefer Bugmenot as a point of access to NYT.
posted by librarylis at 3:19 AM on March 15, 2008

Apparently, freshmen hated Feynman's introductory physics class...

I've heard that, but I've also heard the Lectures on tape. I think the only explanation is that freshman physics students at CalTech in the 60s were all uptight linear thinkers who just couldn't understand someone who explained stuff in regular English.

Feynman would be an amazing undergrad teacher nowadays.
posted by DU at 5:24 AM on March 15, 2008

Linear thinkers? What I meant was nose-to-the-grindstone overachievers. Like they wanted equations and jargon, not an explanation.
posted by DU at 5:52 AM on March 15, 2008

Damn I wish I understood any of this because that Lewin guy is so into what he's talking about.
posted by jackiemcghee at 10:14 AM on March 15, 2008

Somewhere, sneering and laughing at my search skills, are a few elusive but interesting paragraphs by Steven Weinberg (1979 physics Nobel winner) describing a regular series of trips down to Caltech for the purpose of having grad students and young faculty give presentations about their research, during his time at UC Berkeley, in which he comments with some bitterness that the presentations were dreaded ordeals for the presenters because of Feynman's aggressive, relentless, and, as I recall, belittling questioning.
posted by jamjam at 3:54 PM on March 15, 2008

He's almost the complete opposite of one mechanics professor I had.

I'd arrived at university and as part of my introduction to everything by the year above, I'd been told about this certain professor who had, the year before me, let off one of those pop bottle rockets in the main lecture theatre.

Said rocket had punched a hole in the ceiling of the lecture theatre.

I'd gone to a lecture with him and he relayed pretty much the same story just before repeating the experiment. He'd described how he'd set up this rocket and let it off, and it'd punched a hole in the ceiling. He pointed upwards to the black spot in the polystyrene ceiling tiles. He explained how he'd not been popular with the Powers That Be when this hole had appeared.

He then explained how he'd been very careful this time and tied some string to the rocket to make sure it didn't cause a similar accident again. He pumped it up, released it, and it shot up and punched another black hole in the tiles of the ceiling, just a few feet to one side of the first hole.

He quickly realised and explained his mistake. "Ah... I obviously left the string a bit too long there".

So, we laughed it off and continued our course.

A year later I was talking to the new cohort that had arrived, and relayed pretty much the above story. It turned out that the person I was relaying the story to knew exactly what I was talking about:
"I'd gone to this lecture and the professor teaching us mechanics had this pop bottle rocket set up. He told us how a couple of years ago he'd let it off and it'd punched a hole in the ceiling, and how the next year he'd tried to avoid this by tieing some string to the rocket and then letting it off. He said the first year he'd ended up in some trouble with the Powers That Be, and the next year again he landed himself in it when the string turned out to be too short. He pointed up at the immaculate ceiling and said how the PtB had replaced the ceiling and told him not to punch another hole in it..."

"So he told us how he'd very carefully measured the height of the lecture theatre, and measured the length of the string and made sure that under no circumstances would the rocket hit the ceiling."

"He then pumped the rocked up, released it, and the rocket promptly shot up and punched a hole in the ceiling, said professor having not tied the other end of the string to anything."

The following year I relayed the tale to the fresh students and enquired (hoping for an even better follow-up) what had happened in their lessons. I was disappointed to learn that the Powers That Be had elected to go with a different lecturer in classical mechanics that year.
posted by edd at 7:48 PM on March 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

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