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For The Love Of Physics

Posted by ubpdqn on June 20, 2011

 I have referred to the book :For the Love of Physics (Free Press, May 2011, Hardcover, 320 pages, ISBN-10: 143910827, ISBN-13: 9781439108277) repeatedly in recent posts.

This is a wonderful book. It takes the reader on a journey through classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, waves and Professor Lewin’s area of long term research, X-ray astronomy.  Although this outline mirrors to some extent the three MIT courses (now available to all, see the post Ellipses), this is more than a cut down version  of these lectures.

Professor Lewin takes us on this journey with passion, with humor and with enthusiasm.  On every page are  connections to experiences in everyday life. These connections are not dry explanations of common phenomena but encouragements to the reader to test these ideas.  I  found myself having the almost uncontrollable desire to turn on a hose with the sun at my back and spin around to  generate my own rainbow. I was also saddened that my shower and sun configurations prevents my own personal grasp on these rainbows. These small experiments are not solely qualitative but quantitative exercises. This powerful explanatory and predictive nature of physics is bed rock in the book.  At every opportunity, Professor Lewin  helps us to understand the enormous numbers (mass, energy, power, etc)   of the quantum and astronomical scale by comparisons with values of these properties on  objects  and states on our human scale.

As testimony to the Professor’s connection with the reader (we are another wave of students) there are repeated references to  internet resources that amplify his words. I have provided some of these in previous posts.

The chapters on X-ray astronomy take us on the journey of a an active experimental research physicist. There is agony and ecstasy.  This revelation of the invisible, distant and historical amazing view of the cosmos is “mind-blowing”.

The book not only reveals the fundamental importance of physics in understanding the universe but weaves seamlessly the insightful views of a grand master physicist  on issues of global importance: the energy crisis, human obesity, the safety of nuclear power, the Large Hadron Collider.

Finally, Professor Lewin  gives us instructive glimpses of the formative influences of his life: family, the Nazi occupation and Holocuast (an ever-present shadow),  Lady Luck (the visit to MIT, the opportune meetings with friends and colleagues) and the transformative powers of education and Art.  It is also clear that “fortune favours the prepared mind”.

May we all learn to enrich our connections with the world through education, reason and art.  If the intelligence, enthusiasm and wonder that Professor Lewin conveys transforms us even a little, then bonus intra melior exi, i.e we enter good but leave better.  What greater honour to a bestow on a brilliant teacher?

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