Return to Program and Remarks
Anne J. Cox
Associate Professor of Physics
September 7, 2005
On behalf of the faculty, I am happy to welcome you to the beginning of the academic year. It is hard for me to give any type of talk in front of an audience (no matter how brief) without giving a physics related demonstration and this time is no different...
If I put water in this cup and turn it over, the water will, of course, fall on the floor. However, if I put water in the cup and turn it over and drop it at the same time, the water and the cup will fall together - again, hitting the floor and spilling the water everywhere. However, there is a way to have water in a cup upside down without getting the floor wet... demo here (water in cup and then swing cup in vertical circle)...
... I think we all remained dry - the water stayed in the cup - why didn't it fall and get me wet? Well, as I pull the cup and water around in a circle, I move the cup fast enough so that it falls with the water and then I keep pulling on the cup so it (and the water inside) stay in a circle... notice what happens at the top of the circle - to keep it going around, I pull it down - it does fall, but not for long - it is forced into a circle. This keeps me (and the nervous platform party behind me) dry... really understanding circular motion like this allows you to understand the orbits of moons and planets as well as enjoy properly designed roller coaster rides (without worrying about whether your seat belt is tight enough as you go through the upside-down loop-to-loop because you are like the water in the cup).
This is the joy of education and the enterprise we are embarking on here together: encountering the unexpected which requires us to think and explain - whether it is a demonstration in physics class or reading Plan B by environmental activist Lester Brown in QFM. The surprises that comprise an education are ones that challenge our comfortable (and sometimes unthinking) view of the world and allow us to ask new and interesting questions of the world and each other. And in asking and sometimes answering these questions we can make connections to other experiences - what we learn does not have to be limited to a single text or one lecture anymore than understanding the physics of circular motion is limited to swinging a cup over your head... circular motion, after all, leads to rocket science.
What I am welcoming you into, then, is a time and a space to encounter the unexpected in the things you think you already understand - there is, of course work involved - these things don't just fall into your lap (or drip on your head), but it is certainly well worth the work and I look forward to the ways in which we will work together to understand or question the unexpected that will confront and challenge us in the coming academic year.