Introduction | 8.02 Electricity and Magnetism, Spring 2002 (Walter Lewin)

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LEWIN: Well,
8.02 is, of course, largely about electricity
and magnetism. And at the heart of
electricity and magnetism are the four, the
famous four, equations. We call them the
Maxwell’s equations. It’s quite a difficult
course for students. And I go out of my way to
also introduce many phenomena that they see around them and
make those phenomena connect with electricity and magnetism,
for instance, lightning. I do an electrocardiogram
in class. I discuss metal detectors. I discuss musical instruments,
magnetic levitation. I talk about Northern
Lights, which is very relevant to
electricity and magnetism. I spent almost a whole lecture
on particle accelerators. I tell them why the sunsets are
red and why the skies are blue. I talk about rainbows,
about halos, about glories. I talk about color perception. And since I do
Doppler effect, I also talk about Big Bang cosmology. And then during my
very last lecture, I introduce them to my
research, the research I did during my early
days at MIT, when I was making X-ray observations
from very high-flying balloons, altitude of 140,000,
150,000 feet. So my goal is,
wherever possible, to make them see
through the equations, to make you see the beauty
all around them, and by doing that to make them love physics. Well, the 8.02 course is the
second course in physics. It’s mandatory. It’s what we call a General
Institute Requirement. You either have to
take this course, or you have to take one which
is a slightly higher level, 8.02 II. So it is the basis that students
get during their first year. 8.01, the Newtonian
mechanics, and then 8.02, the electricity and magnetism. And if they go into physics,
of course, they get a lot more. But if they never
go into physics, then this is all they will
ever see about physics, which is quite a lot actually. We evaluate the students
through traditional exams. The lectures are given in
the main lecture hall of MIT, and then the students meet in
smaller groups with professors. We call those recitations, which
is largely problem solving. There are many events
in this course. Every lecture is an event. And the students
who have taken me, they’ll tell you that,
indeed, going to my lectures is an event. I’m not a very
traditional lecturer. So therefore, I
would really like to think that each
lecture is an event. We do have a contest, which
is very, very popular. We hand to the students a piece
of wood, some copper wire, a few paper clips,
and two magnets. And the goal is to
make an electric motor. And they get course
credit depending upon how fast their
motor is going. And this is really
a real happening. It’s an incredible event. And some of the motors are
extraordinary in their design. If you and I would
try to build a motor, you’ll be lucky if your
motor rotates 400 revolutions per minute. But let me tell
you, some students go through the 5,000
revolutions per minute mark. It’s really quite amazing. And they spent so
much time on that. It’s a wonderful event. it’s really a happening. Well, my message
to all educators is what counts is
not what you cover, but what counts is
what you uncover. And this is often forgotten. So there is a
general tendency, not everyone, but a general
tendency to ram too much down the throats of the
students and overlook that that’s very
anti-productive. Because it goes one ear
in, as we say in Holland, and it goes the
other ear out again. So what you cover
is not what matters. But what you uncover
is what matters. And if you can somehow
do it so that there are parts of the course
that they will remember for the rest of their lives,
that’s even more important. If a student has
come to my lectures on rainbows and
halos and glories, for the rest of
their lives rainbows will never be the same. And they will always think of
me when they see a rainbow. And in fact, sometimes 20
or 30 years after a lecture, they send me still pictures. And they say, Professor
Lewin, I saw a rainbow, and I thought of you,
and here is a picture. And the interesting
thing is, they sometimes send me a picture which is
not even a rainbow, which is a glory. But that doesn’t matter. What it shows is
that I have succeeded in making them love
physics, and that’s my goal. And that should be the
goal of every educator, to make them love physics.

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