Friday, September 22, 2017

Common Mistakes By Students In Intro Physics

Rhett Allain has listed 3 common mistakes and misunderstanding done by student in intro kinematics physics courses.

I kinda agree with all of them, and I've seen them myself. In fact, when I teach "F=ma" and try to impress upon them its validity, I will ask them that if it is true, why do you need to keep your foot on the gas pedal to keep the vehicle moving at constant speed while driving? This appears to indicate that "F" produces a constant "speed", and thus, "a=0".

Tackling this is important, because the students already have a set of understanding of how the world around the works, whether correctly or not. It needs to be tackled head-on. I tackled this also in dealing with current where we calculate the drift velocity of conduction electrons. The students discover that the drift velocity is excruciatingly slow. So then I ask them that if the conduction electrons move like molasses, why does it appear that when I turn the switch on, the light comes on almost instantaneously?

Still, if we are nitpicking here, I have a small issue with the first item on Allain's list:

What happens when you have a constant force on an object? A very common student answer is that a constant force on an object will make it move at a constant speed—which is wrong, but it sort of makes sense.

Because he's using "speed" and not "velocity", it opens up a possibility of a special case of a central force, or even a centripetal force, in a circular motion where the object has a net force acting on it, but its speed remains the same. Because the central force is always perpendicular to the motion of the particle, it imparts no increase in speed, just a change in direction. So yes, the velocity changes, but the magnitude of the velocity (the speed) does not. So the misconception here isn't always wrong.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Gravity As A Result Of Random Quantum Fluctuation?

There are too many "buzzwords" in this entire thing, but it might still be an interesting reading for some people.

There is a new report on the possibility that gravity might not be an interaction within QFT framework, but rather as a result of quantum fluctuation.

The average of these fluctuations is a gravitational field that is consistent with Newton’s theory of gravity. In this model, gravity is born out of quantum mechanics, but is not in itself a quantum-mechanical force. It is what scientists call “semiclassical.” Until this theory is tested further, it will remain a semi-solution; while the idea does predict certain known phenomena, it doesn’t yet account for Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

This latest report is due to a preprint uploaded to ArXiv.

Now, I can understand New Scientist reporting on something like this, because they have the tendency to report on sensational and unverified science news, but for PBS/NOVA webpage to jump onto this still-unpublished work? That's surprising.

Of course, I'm complicit on this as well since I'm reporting it here. I'm going to make sure I won't highlight something like this again in the future until it has at least appear in a peer-reviewed publication, not just in New Scientist and the likes.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Amazon's CAPTCHA Patent Proposal Tests Your Physics Understanding

... well, more like your physics INTUITION on what should happen next.

It seems that Amazon has file a patent application that uses a physics engine to generate scenarios to see if you are a real person or a bot.

The company has filed a patent application for a new CAPTCHA method which would show you a 3D simulation of something about to happen to a person or object. That something would involve Newtonian physics — perhaps an item is about to fall on someone, or a ball is about to roll down a slope. The test would then show you several "after" scenarios and, if you pick the correct option, you've passed the test.
The idea is that, because you are a human, you have an "intuitive" understanding of what would happen next in these scenarios. But computers need much more information about the scene and "might be unable to solve the test", according to the application.

Definitely interesting, although in Fig. 3B shown in the article, both Fig (A) and Fig (B) might be possible depending on the ambiguity of the drawing.

But this brings me an important point that I've been telling my students in intro physics classes when they dealt with mechanics. We all ALREADY KNOW many of the things that will happen in cases like this. We do not need to learn physics or to be enrolled in a physics class to know the qualitative description of the dynamics of these systems. So we are not teaching you about something you are not familiar with.

What a formal physics lesson will do is to describe these things more accurately, i.e. in a QUANTITATIVE manner. We won't simply say "Oh, the ball will roll down that inclined plane." Rather, we will describe the motion of the ball mathematically, and we will be able to say how long the ball will take to each the bottom, at what speed, etc...etc. In other words, we don't just say "What goes up must come down", but we will also say "When and where it will come down". This is what separates physics (and science) from hand-waving, everyday conversation.

All of us already have an intuitive understanding of the physical systems around us. That's why Amazon can make such a CAPTCHA test for everyone. A physics lessons simply formalize that understanding in a more accurate and non-ambiguous fashion.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Bell's Theorem - The Venn Diagram Paradox

Minute Physics is tackling Bell's theorem, with limited success.

It would have been nice if they included Malus' Law description in here, because that is what we knew before QM came around, and that is what we teach students in intro physics.

In any case, I still find it difficult to follow, especially if you didn't pay that much attention to the part when they are doing the counting. They went over this a bit too quickly to let it sink in.

Maybe your brain works faster than mine and can keep up.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Is Relativistic Mass Real?

I've mentioned about this issue several times on here. In this post, I've linked to a reference, and also a link to Lev Okun's paper in another post, that both debunked the concept of relativistic mass, and why it should not be used.

Unfortunately, as a physics instructor, I still see texts teaching this concept, and I have to work around it, telling the students the caveat on why what they should be cautious in what they are reading. It isn't easy, but I'd rather say something about it than let the students walk out of my class not knowing that this idea of "relativistic mass" is not what it has been popularly made out.

So I'm delighted that Don Lincoln has a video addressing this issue as well.

He explains it quite clearly, and also why we still sometime teach this concept to students in intro classes (unfortunately). Yes, I can understand why, but I still don't like it if it can be avoided without sacrificing the pedagogical reason for it.

It's a good video if you are still wondering what the fuss is all about.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

Rebuilding Quantum Theory

Theorists and philosophers are trying to "rebuild" quantum theory's foundation and axioms. Good luck to them!

Still, this is a rather good article on some of the issues surrounding concepts that still do not sit well with many physicists. Those of us who are in the "Shut up and calculate" camp will leave it up to them to sort things out. We are busy with doing other things.