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MIT student blogger Sam M. '07

So I said to Einstein… by Sam M. '07

...think of a name for my new theory while I go talk to my relatives.

DID YOU KNOW? Even if you want to boil water really quickly, don’t start with hot tap water.

If you haven’t read this article on admissions statistics from the Tech today, let me paraphrase it in one Marilee Jones quote..

I think of MIT as a samurai school,” said Jones. “It is preparing you for the highest work of advancing civilization. You have to find a way to be happy here. Every single student here is challenged — they have their moments, but it’s all in order to prepare you for your ultimate pass… and that is not trivial.”

According to Ben, it’s got some factual errors, but whatever… that one sentence is seriously enough to put it among the top ten things I have ever read.

But I digress.

Sometimes in the course of my job of turning turkeys into oil, there are long periods of waiting, like when I want the reactor to heat up from ambient temperature to 250 C or when I want to sparge the water with helium to get out any dissolved carbon dioxide or when I need the tank to fill up, so I sometimes end up surfing the internet a little at work.

One thing I found today was Manolo the Shoeblogger.

Another thing I found was the unbelievably great website of Scott Hughes, my professor for 8.022. I was only accidentally stalking him. Professor Hughes is working at [email protected] to make sounds out of gravity waves… and probably, like, solve the mysteries of the universe at a quantum level. I don’t know. I’m an engineer, not a lover.

Though it wasn’t quite my favorite, 8.022 was probably the most rewarding class I took at MIT… over the two days before the final, I did enough studying to listen to The Beatles’ entire output post-Revolver three times, and then some. It’s billed as electricity and magnetism for physics majors, although quite a few non-majors end up taking it, and it’s a great way to see what physics is really like, learn a heck of a lot of problem solving techniques while banging your heads against the problem sets, or just plain avoid TEAL. When we got to deriving Maxwell’s equations and learning special relativity just so we can show that electricity and magnetism are actually kind of the same thing, I started to get a little worried…

But, luckily, Professor Hughes was there to guide us through the material, blow stuff up with electricity, exercise flawless board technique, sprinkle his lectures sparingly with delicate profanities, wear a crazy dangly moon earring on test days, distribute lollipops, and recieve a minute-long standing ovation on the last day of class. He was definitely the all-around coolest professor I’ve had at MIT, and this webpage really only confirms that in my mind.

On teaching:

Note: Many undergrads have asked whether 8.962 [General Relativity] is appropriate for them. I have never taught it before, so the most honest answer is “I don’t know”. I plan to follow Ed Bertschinger’s course from Spring 2002 to first approximation; I’ll adjust things the second time I teach it. My intent is to teach 8.962 to graduate students. I will assume office hours are unnecessary (none will be offered), and that students will not be taking too many additional classes (so 15 hour problem sets are reasonable). I’m not sure if it will work out this way in practice; we shall see.

I would love to develop an undergraduate general relativity course, probably based on Jim Hartle’s new textbook. Developing a course from scratch before tenure is stupid, however, so don’t hold your breath waiting!

So, go ahead–I give you permission to look into the personal life of this guy who I think is just plain awesome.

His bio is particularly enlightening.

10 responses to “So I said to Einstein…”

  1. Mollie says:

    Oh my god, I just realized that your last entry title/excerpt was actually referring to Hello Dolly. (You cannot even begin to imagine how excited I am about this.) I suspected before, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else being familiar with the show.

    I was Irene Molloy my junior year of high school!

  2. He sounds kind of like a combination of the two chem teachers at my school and Matt Turner (he’s a jazz cellist I know-google him if you like).

  3. Matt Turner

    or click that link. my HTML skills need brushing-up.

  4. Sam T says:

    The physics classes at MIt sound really fun to me. I don’t know if I’m alone but I get a sense that MIT’s classes are more personal than those at other schools.

    On the subject of classes, would you say that most of the physics/math classes are lectures or class discussions?

  5. shen says:

    Reading the article on how gross hot water can be makes me wonder about whether how long (and frequent :D ) I should shower….

  6. James says:

    When I read “It’s billed as electricity and magnetism for Physics majors,” at first I thought you were talking about the Beatles post-Revolver output. Well, I agree that their sound might be as energetic as electricity and as universal as gravity, but why only for Physics majors? Oh, you mean 8.022 was billed as that.

  7. Sam T says:

    Do you know anyone who double majors in physics and math?

    If so can you ask them if they’re willing to talk to a prospective undergrad about life as a physics major?

    I’d really appreciate this if it’s possible. Thanks in advance.

  8. Sam says:

    Mollie — Haha, that’s awesome. Small world. I’ll agree it’s not the absolute best or most famous show in the world, but I really couldn’t think of anything else but “TO SEE THE WHALE!” when I got to the AMNH.

    Rhiannon — Well, I can totally see Prof. Hughes being an avant-garde cellist, so you may just be right on that count.

    Sam T — The larger physics/math/chem classes (100+ people, most of them being general institute requirements for people of all majors) are taught with 3 hours of lecture a week and 2 hours of recitation. Recitations are smaller sections with usually around 10-20 people led by a graduate teaching assistant or another professor. These are often run in a discussion or team problem solving format. Most of the math TAs are grad students, but all of the physics TAs are professors. When you get through your freshman and sophomore years and into your major classes, you typically don’t have these recitation sections for math/physics classes (although I still have them for my chemical engineering classes). However, these upper level classes tend to have less than 40 students anyway, so it’s easier to stop the professor in the middle of lecture and ask questions. I’ve pretty much seen that outside of your freshman year required classes, it’s never a problem to ask questions in a lecture of any size (even my ~80 student chemical engineering classes). Since the Freshman year professors have a definite amount of material they need to cover for you, they may be a little more hesitant to stop until they reach a break in their lecture, and may not answer their questions fully. If you send me an e-mail, I can put you in contact with a math/physics double major.

    Shen — well, as long as you’re not drinking water when you shower, you should be alright. I’m only showering every other day, though.

    James — Haha, good point, that wasn’t the clearest paragraph I’ve ever composed. Well, there is no denying the magnetism of the Beatles music, and you may need quantum theory to explain something like “Revolution 9.”

  9. Sam T says:

    Thanks Sam, I really appreciate it.