Friday, August 31, 2007

This last week, I gave The Flying Circus of Physics talk at the Military Academy at West Point, which is one of the most impressive academic environments I have ever seen. In a huge auditorium, I faced about 1000 cadets, all of whom use the physics textbook that I write, Fundamentals of Physics. Perhaps lucky for me, they were in only their second week of the book and not in the really tough stuff in the electricity and magnetism chapters that come about midway. So, they were still in a good mood.
Earlier in the day, I ate lunch in the West Point mess hall, which was an experience I'll never forget. At about noon, 4000 cadets suddenly come into the mess hall, stood at their chairs, and then sat down to eat in a family-style setting. Lunch lasted no more than 30 minutes, and then they were all gone. I was really impressed by the organization and discipline of the operation and the friendliness and happiness of the students with whom I talked.
I was even more impressed by the quality of both faculty and students. They push themselves hard, with high standards.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reviews of The Flying Circus of Physics have appeared:
1. The Physics Teacher, which is a publication of the American Association of Physics Teachers:April 2007, Professor Edward Adelson of Ohio State University writes, "Because of its usefulness in exciting student interest, this book belongs in the library of everyone who teaches high school or college physics as well as in the school library." And he also writes, "It is easy for a physicist to become immeresed in this book and ignore colleagues, spouse, children, and earthquakes." You can see the full review at

2. Professor Hendrik Geyer in Die Burger, which is a newspaper in Suid-Afrika

3. Professor John Lienhard of the University of Houston has devoted one of the radio spots in his series "Engines of Our Ingenuity" to the Flying Circus. You can hear the audio and read the transcript at He talks about the very first version of the Flying Circus and mentions the new edition. He has also got a nifty photo of a fog bow. Then, click on "home" at the bottom of the page and start listening to the thousands of other radio spots he has made over the years, all excellent.

Friday, August 03, 2007

2007 Summer Honors Institute at Cleveland State University

Here are the presenters in the physics section. I enjoyed every one of these presentations.

Faith Tandoc and Raymond Johnston explained how a falling cat might have a better chance of surviving a fall if they fall from a large height than a shorter one, owing to the cat spreading out and encountering additional air drag.

Nadia Ahlborg and Soham Chakraborty talked about the plight of someone falling through a hole that runs through the center of the Earth, and the possibility of a gravity train (a train powered only by gravity) running along a straight line through the Earth, from city to city.

Jennie Simson and Masami Matsuyama discussed the nature of quasars, mentioning the supermassive black hole that powers a quasar. Their apparent motion relative to us is almost lightspeed.

Krissy Bodnar discussed Archimedes’s principle in the situation where the fluid density is varied.

Tyler Cullinan and Emily Hascher talked about how a certain type of lizard can run over the top of water without become submerged.

Richard Pham and Andy Kimble analyzed projectile motion. In particular they discussed the old question: if one ball is dropped vertically and a second ball is shot out horizontally, which one will hit the floor first.

Priya Datta and Meredith Harris discussed Newton’s second law of motion, tying it into the hang time in ballet and the movement of the giant stone blocks in the formation of Stonehenge.

Bridgitte Petrash and Andrea Shergalis presented material about the production of vortex rings as made by a smoker and a porpoise. They also talked about the stability of a rectangular floating container as the container is filled with water.

Stephen Meil and Grace Patuwo talked about the conservation of both energy and momentum in elastic collisions. They also talked about the use of air bags in increasing the duration of a collision in order to decrease the magnitude of the collision force. They demonstrated the chain collision when a tennis ball and a basketball are dropped, with the tennis ball on top.

Myles Davis, Alexandria Claytor, and Shaniguea Fails discussed the motion of a ball down an inclined ramp, the classic Galileo incline demonstration.

Lauren Reese and Dung Vo talked about momentum, impulse, collision duration, and collision force.

Kelly Clatterbuck and Alexandria Cooke talked about the conservation of energy in an isolated system. They also talked about the “two-spring surprise” and the Wilberforce pendulum, as shown in The Flying Circus of Physics.

Tian You, Justin Duane, and Mansoor Khan discussed the flight of paper airplanes

Carl Friess and Dakota Piorkowski discussed the physics of lacrosse, the right and wrong ways to throw a ball with the stick.

Anastacia Strosser and Kara Thomas examined the fate of a falling cat and how they can use air drag to decrease its rate of fall.

Mohiuddin Ahmed, Ian Conant, and Mike Lombardo talked about elastic and ineleastic collisions, involving the conservation of momentum.

Dennis Arutyunov, Vija Prashant, and Vinai Suresh give a PowerPoint show (with rap) about the motion of a car.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I have just returned from the Annual Summer Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers where a high point was a superior lecture by Neil deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of Natural History and Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. You may already know him from American television. If you ever get a chance of hearing him in person, go.

Later this month I'll give the Flying Circus of Physics talk at the United States Military Academy at West Point.