Electron Spin for Toddlers

The subject of the “spin” of the electron comes up again and again, so as pointed out in a comment, I really ought to do a post explaining what it is and how it works. As a bonus, this gives me the opportunity to do the dorkiest thing anyone has ever done with a cute-toddler […]

Tons of Rain

On Thursday last week, the Schenectady weather forecast I have in my Bloglines feed called for “Tons of Rain,” which I thought was amusingly unprofessional. I mentioned this to Kate yesterday (after it had, in fact, rained quite a bit), and she said “I wonder how much rain you would need to make a ton?” […]

Basic Concepts: Polarization of Light

One of my tasks this week, before heading off to the Caribbean for a relaxing vacation, is going to be to find a new pair of polarized sunglasses that aren’t ridiculously ugly. This seems like a decent hook of a physics post, explaining why “polarized” is a selling point for sunglasses, but first, I probably […]

Basic Concepts: Fermi Questions

Closely related to the idea of order-of-magnitude estimates is the idea of Fermi Questions, a type of problem that demonstrates the power of estimation techniques. The idea is that you can come up with a reasonable guess at an answer for a difficult question by using some really basic reasoning, and a few facts here […]

Basic Concepts: Estimation and Dimensions

Ages and ages ago, Jennifer Ouellette commented on the start of the Basic Concepts series with a list of topics she’d like to see done. One of these was “Size and Scaling:” First, let’s tackle the jargon problem: Just what the heck is an order of magnitude? I use the phrase all the time now, […]

Basic Concepts: Ohm’s Law

Scott Aaronson is explaining “Physics for Doofuses,” and has started with electricity. He’s got a nice breakdown of the basic quantities that you need to keep track of to understand electricity, leading up to Ohm’s Law. He asks for a little help on this point, though: Well, as it turns out, the identities don’t always […]

Basic Concepts: Measurement

It’s been a while since I did a “Basic Concepts” post. They tend to take a good bit of effort, and things have been hectic enough at work that I haven’t had the energy. To make up for the blizzard of basketball-related stuff over the last week (with more to come), here’s a look at […]

Basic Concepts: Energy

Having talked about force and fields, it seems fairly natural to move on to talking about energy, next. Of course, it also would’ve made sense to talk about energy first, and then fields and forces. These are interlocking concepts. A concise one-sentence definition of energy might go something like: the energy content of an object […]

Basic Concepts: Fields

In the initial “Basic Concepts” post, I discussed the concept of Force in physics. This time out, I’ll be talking about fields, which is a much dicier proposition. Not only are fields considerably more abstract than forces, but I’ve never lectured on fields in general (specific instances of fields, yes, but not fields as abstract […]

Basic Concepts: Force

This is the first post I’m doing for the “Basic Concepts” series. When I asked for suggestions, I got a good long list of stuff, and it’s hard to know quite where to start. I’m going to start with “Force,” because physics as we know it more or less started with Isaac Newton, and Newton […]