Today I got to sit in on a sort of lay person’s greatest-hits lecture by Walter Lewin, whose physics lectures have become an improbable YouTube hit and a mainstay of MIT Open CourseWare, the free website where MIT publishes course materials and videos of almost all its courses. Japanese NHK TV has commissioned him to give eight lectures this summer on the basics of physics for broadcast later this year. Anyone in Boston for the next month should come by on Mondays and Fridays.
Lewin is Dutch and has become the world-renowned leader of some very meticulously planned lectures that highlight his riding on a pendulum to demonstrate the formula predicting its period remains constant regardless of the mass of the pendulum ball. He also stands with his back to a wall, pendulum on his chin, and releases it to prove that the conservation of energy will save him from having the pendulum swing back and blast his face off. Another highlight was when he measured two undergrads to demonstrate that people are different lengths when measured horizontally and vertically. One of them was named Tiffany, and when he asked her name so he could write the data on the board, he said, “Too difficult” and entered her info as “person.” Maybe Gretchen? Yetta?
You can see some of the highlights in the MIT promo video below. Suffice to say that it is great to be at a place where a 76-year-old man, perfectly clad in a blue work shirt, green cords, and Birkenstocks, can get a huge round of applause for riding a pendulum to demonstrate laws of physics.