I'm going slightly mad

I must be totally losing it. I’ve just agreed to lead a residential school in December for gifted and talented A2 students (final year of high school - 18 years old). I must be crazy - taking responsibility for 20 17/18 year olds, and attempting to stretch their knowledge of physics beyond A-Level.

And if that’s not crazy enough, I’ve also agreed to go into a school, and spend an entire day teaching physics/stretching their ability to a group of 15/16/17 year olds.

Someone tell me I’m not going mad, I am sane really, aren’t I?

And to top it all off, the office coffee machine appears to have exploded, spilling coffee everywhere. Still, at least the office smells nice now. :slight_smile:

However, if anyone has any ideas as to what I could do with these groups of students, I’d be very grateful. For the residential school, I’m thinking of doing a bit on cosmologyastrophysics/star formation, something on special relativity, and a session on optics. Anyone got any other bright ideas?

I think you should wear something very modest. Good luck.

Why? I’m a physicist. Trust me, teenage boys are not going to look at me like that. Besides, that would involve finding something in my wardrobe that doesn’t have a v or low cut neck. That could be rather difficult. :slight_smile:

Don’t know much about teenage boys do ya? I say you wear high heels and a mini skirt. They may not remember the physics you impart, but you will have supplied them with fantasy material for the rest of their lives. :slight_smile:

Er, I’d probably give them nightmares for ever if I did that. :slight_smile:

No one has any ideas as to the physics though?

I’m just having visions (smellisions?) of a office smelling like coffee.

One of my least favorite food oriented smells

I say teach em about The Face on Mars, or PX or the Harmonic Convergence.

Nanotechnology is an interesting subject. Don’t know if it fulfills your requirements, but it does get the imagination going.

Yeah, except I know bugger all about that. I’m an astrophysicist!

I was thinking maybe to do something about X-ray astronomy with them, perhaps with a couple of interesting workshops…

Talk about Uranus. Tennage boys LOVE that stuff!

The theory of relativity was my favorite part of the advanced chem/phys class I took as a high school senior. I was so intrigued that I went home and diagrammed all the thought experiments until I had them straight in my mind.

Of course, I was the only person in the class who seemed to like it; when we had our exam on the subject, I got a perfect score, and everybody else flunked so badly the teacher decided to toss the scores out the window and pretend the exam never happened (I got to keep my grade, though).

Which is to say that relativity is a great topic for those who are interested in it and willing to do some thinking outside of class, but it may leave everybody else scratching their heads and cursing your name…

Good luck!


These are the “gifted and talented” groups, who have an interest in physics, and who are very bright.

Still, I’m fairly sure I could cope with a bunch of teenagers cursing the very air that I breathe. I mean, I have a younger brother, I’ve had the practice at being cursed till people are blue in the face.

Bet you half a dollar?

No, everyone wants to talk about low cut tops. Think of it as good practice for the class:D

And yes, you are insane.

Anyway, it might be good to have a mix of introductions into cool things (eg. GR, quantum mechanics, star formation) and something where they can do the maths without fudging - how about mechanics? From what I remember, the A-level course didn’t go that far, and never quite helped me get more complicated cases, so some car-going-round-a-corner problems can go quite far.

Also, try and think of some cool experiment if possible, we all love seeing something work. It should be something with an obvious result ideally, unless they really like measuring error percentagers.

I don’t know what’d be good, but what made me go ‘wow’ was seeing liquid oxygen being lifted with a magnet, seeing light diffraction for the first time, seeing electron diffraction for the first time (Wow! All thart quantum bullcrap wasn’t just made up, that is so cool!).

Cool. Thank you! That’s the kind of advice I wanted! Yay!

Yeah, cause I’m not blonde, tall, and leggy. I’m hardly the stuff of teenage boy fantasies. I think I will do just fine at keeping them concentrated on physics. :slight_smile:

That reminds me - Shade, the residential course is in Foxton, just outside Cambridge, and there will be a few trips into Cambridge, which will give me some free time. Its from the 15th of December - are you going to be around?

Any other Cambridge Dopers who’ll be around? Yes, I know its outside of full term, but hey, I might as well ask.

An introductory round of solid state physics and semiconductor device fabrication technology will spark a few minds. I can send you a patterned silicon wafer if you need one to put under the microscope. I can also send you a blank silicon wafer to cleave. It will bridge you to another pet topic of mine.

Crystallography is another enchanting subject as it can span from X-ray diffraction to table salt. A sample of calcite, fluorite and (my favorite) ulexite will provide grist for an entire day’s class. Ulexite will also permit a bridge into fiber optic technology which could suck down almost a week’s worth of optics related refractive index, transmissivity and spectroscopy explanations.

If there is a facility nearby that has a scanning electron microscope you can tour, a short course in beam optics is always fun. You can further relate it to another pet topic of mine.

LASERS! Even with a cheesy laser pointer you can demonstrate all sorts of extremely cool optical effects. Diffraction grating, polarizers and other cheap optical elements will give you hours of material.

More then anything, please be sure to provide applications for the theoretical subjects you lecture on. It will make sure the subjects stick fast in the minds of your pupils.

You’re not crazy - just short of self-esteem!

X-rated astronomy? :smiley:


(sorry, couldn’t resist)

Seriously - as an AstroPhysicist, you should try Quasars, Open and closed universe, Big Bang vs. Steady State debates, what was there “before” the Big Bang (and is that a meaningful question at all)… Get them arguing! if they’re as intelligent as you are leading us to believe, you can get a lot of mileage out of debating!

Dan Abarbanel

Or shamelessly manipulating strangers on a message board to complement her :smiley:

  1. You’re female. They’re teenage boys. Most aren’t that discriminating.
  2. I think we’ve flattered your ego enough, but I think the consensus is you’re good looking, and who cares about blonde hair?
  3. If they’re the advanced people, at least a few of them are probably geeks. They’ll slobber over any woman who likes phsyics and Pratchett…

It’s a bit early to say for sure, but it seems likely. Yay, CamDope!

I like this. Add in black holes as well, and you’ve got a lot of things which are conceptually hard, interesting, and controvertial, without needing too much maths.

Lovely day for it!

When I saw the thread title, I immediately had thoughts involving wolves and chickens. Hmmm.

Back to the topic in hand, then…

I wish I could say I were an A2 Physics student, but I’m not, I was conned out of it at the last moment. Chemistry and Biology, here. I’m another person who likes the idea of bringing in relativity and black holes (they go together, right?)

And please don’t, don’t, don’t do anything involving electricity. It’s in the GCSE syllabus, it’s in the AS, it’s probably in the A2, and everyone gets so sick of it they try anything to get out of it including re-submitting GCSE coursework for A-level.

I like quasars. Quasars are cool.

I second the notion of teaching about black holes! As a nonphysicist, I think they are way cool. Even if it’s impossible to actually HEAR a giant sucking sound… :wink:

All kidding aside, I bet a large proportion of the kids will be sci-fi fans, so any subjects you can tie to sc-fi themes will likely make a hit. For example – what’s a phaser? Well, what do you think it might be? What basic principles of physics might underlie it? And same questions for a photon torpedo? How about wormholes? Novas and supernovas are really cool, too – and ther are some great online images you can share with them. I assume you know about the APOD site?

I know next to nothing about physics, but I can sympathize about the guest lecturing. In a few weeks I’m going to a small university not far from here to lecture for a week in my current field, which is on-line journalism.

I’m a little worried because I don’t have a journalism degree, but I am terrified because I’ve never taken one single journalism course in my life. I totally backed into this job, and I’ve got a few years of real-world experience, but I have no idea, for example, which of our practices are industry standard and which are specific to our office.

My plan: Talk loud and fast, and if they ask a question I can’t answer, admit nothing and try to make them feel stupid for asking. Drink a lot of stong coffee beforehand to get my sneering self-confidence up to near-superhuman levels. Wear my best suit (OK, my only suit) so they’ll think I’m rich and important, as opposed to some grunt who spends forty hours a week alone in an office wearing a t-shirt and jeans.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll have to take desperate measures, like actually preparing some lecture materials ahead of time or something.