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Thursday, March 13, 2003

Physics Phantasy Camp

On March 1, Erin O'Connor put up a post about a...thing...called a Tunnel of Oppression. From what I can gather, this is some sort of fun house/passion play/performance art/indoctrination center which apparently passes for education on some college campuses.

The idea, near as I can tell, is for student spectators to go through the "tunnel" and witness acts of "oppression", such as homelessness, domestic abuse, slavery, racism, and what have you. Erin has more here.

Big Arm Woman says:

What a lot of folks don't realize is that university housing programs, in a desperate bid to avoid privatization, have instituted "residence hall programming" designed to slap a veneer of scholarship over dormitory living...the bulk of their "programming" consists of diversity training...

I don't understand. When I was in college, the "residence halls" were prison-like blocks where you tried to sleep and avoided studying. There was a separate dining hall. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll were also somehow involved, but I had nothing to do with that. I can't remember them having any "programming", though it's possible they had seminars on dealing with stress and using the dorm's "files"---a collection of homework problems from previous students---as a study aid. (And that stress seminar will come in handy when your Physics TA finds out you and another girl have identical lab reports because you both copied verbatim from a report in the files.)

Now, in the comments to Erin's first post, David Foster comes up with a smashing idea:

Actually, I think this kind of thing has lots of potential. Why have classrooms, instructors, textbooks, etc? The college experience should be a set of rides and exhibits, more or less like Disney EPCOT but adjusted to be less intellectually challenging--we could have not only the "tunnel of oppression," but the "mountain of math," the "English Experience," and so on. Students could buy a ticket, ride through in comfort, have all of the proper beliefs instilled, and at the end collect a diploma. Professors would be liberated from the need to ever look at an undergraduate, much less talk to one.

This is terrific, and would be dead easy for physics.


Hello students, and welcome to Physics 101. Just to recap, you will experience the various physics exhibits, and be given credit for each one you pass (alive).

First up is the Kinetic Energy Gallery. My lovely assistant, Frank, will demonstrate the concept of kinetic energy---E = 1/2mv²---with this shotgun. Take it away, Frank.

Well done, Frank! Excellent shooting! Now, students, you'll notice how much more the buckshot hurt than the birdshot. This is because the buckshot pellets have greater mass. Please do not try this at home, we are professionals here. Young lady, you should get that wound looked at after class.

Next we have Rotational Energy. If you'll all just file into the centrifuge, please. Yes, this is just like the "Round-Up", at the carnival, isn't it? Only faster. Push the button, Frank. Now you'll not---I SAID, YOU'LL NOTICE THAT THE ACCELERATION YOU FEEL IS v²/r, or rw². YOU ARE BEING ACCELERATED TOWARD THE WALLS OF THE CHAMBER; IF THE WALLS WEREN'T THERE YOU'D BE FLUNG OUT INTO SPACE! OK, Frank, remove the walls.

Ahhh...what fun! That was always my favorite ride. Notice that you were flung in a direction tangent to the centrifuge, and did not continue with the rotation after the walls were removed.

Let's go on to the next exhibit. What's that? Still bleeding from KE, eh? Well, try not to get---TRY NOT TO GET ANY BLOOD ON THE EXHIBITS. THAT RINGING IN YOUR EARS SHOULD GO AWAY IN A FEW HOURS.


Well, well, we're nearly finished with Thermal Physics. We've done convection and radiation---more salve, anyone?---and now we'll do the final mode of heat transfer: conduction.

Well, young lady, since your shot wounds have stopped bleeding, would you like to hand me that bowl over there? The white one?

Oh, do stop being such a whiner. No, it won't hurt you. I swear, how do you expect to become a physicist if you don't experiment once in a while? Oh, all right, Frank, you pick it up. There. See, it doesn't hurt Frank. Give it to her, Frank.

Happy? The bowl is warm because it's been sitting on a heat source. Now, pick up the gray bowl next to it. We'll see that the gray bowl is much warmer because it has a higher thermal conductivity, whi---oh, now you've dropped the bowl. Yes, you big baby, it was hot. This is thermal physics, where we learn how things get hot. Let me see. Oh, those burns can't be more than second degree. Good grief, quit your crying and have some more salve.

Well, congratulations. Those of you who remain have passed the first half of the course, which deals with Classical Mechanics and Thermal Physics. The next half of the course deals with Electricity and Magnetism. Our first lesson will be in resistance---specifically, the resistance of the human skin. Young lady, I'm afraid you have not exactly covered yourself with glory---although you have with blood---so far. Perhaps you would care to redeem yourself by attaching these electrodes to your---wait, where are you going? Come back here, you coward!

Well, it seems as if Our Little Miss was not made of the stuff it takes to be a physicist, eh, gentlemen? Gentlemen? Where has every---hey! HEY! YOU DON'T GET A REFUND AT THIS STAGE, YOU KNOW!

Cravens. Well, Frank, it looks as if we're done for today. I'm sorry we didn't get to Atomic Physics. I know how much you enjoy the accelerator. Oh, all right, we'll go sit in the beam for a few minutes, and after that we can go watch The Amazing Colossal Man, how will that be?


There, wasn't that fun? Maybe I'll include it in my next job application.

My Heroes.

This is a GSU site on basic physics, which is pretty useful.