Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Your weekly minute of physics


Minutephysics is a youtube channel that produces weekly, minute long videos about... physics (and maths sometimes too, but from a physicist's perspective).

I think the videos are great. I think the guy behind it is very talented. One small caveat should be given before I link you to some of my favourite videos he has made. He limits himself to explaining, in just one minute, some topics that are quite intricate. As a result he sometimes has to be a little liberal with the truth. I wouldn't say that anything he says is wrong, but I would say that it is often a highly simplified version of the truth, sometimes missing some very important pieces.

But if I put that caveat aside, I think minutephysics is an excellent and well executed idea. The video I've embedded above explains Dark Energy. It isn't actually the minutephysics guy talking but is a guest voice-over from physicist and prominent blogger Sean Carroll. So, if you're wondering what those guys won that Nobel Prize for a few weeks ago, have a watch and see (but do keep the truth-ness caveat in mind).

Really all of the minutephysics videos are worth a watch, but two of my favourites are:

Adding past infinity and There is no pink light

You should definitely watch both of them.

The feat of mathematical craziness worked through in the first one should blow your mind a little. You probably won't believe the claim made in the video, so check out this link to understand it a but further. If that isn't enough crazy for you, check this link out. This sort of crazy mathematics has some application in physics, but I don't feel confident enough right now to try to walk that minefield of balancing understandable explanation, without falling into over-simplification.

I really like the second video. I will explain why sometime later in the week in the comments. Anyway, it is also a (loosely) relevant video given the recent conversation about light that developed in the comments here.

Twitter: @just_shaun

4 comments:

  1. Some of the best things about minutephysics are the comments in response to the Adding past infinity video.

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  2. That and the fact that he has >100,000 subscribers and more than eight million views of his videos. People really do care about what scientists and artists are doing.

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  3. These videos each deliver a highly accessible lesson in such a short space of time - watched the whole offering in one evening and will definitely revisit again... Excellent clarity and humour, with the right level of detail to both educate an suggest unfamiliar things for further investigation. I'm most definitely subscribed to the channel.

    I found the minute on the Uncertainty Principle in particular delivered more knowledge in sixty seconds than a greater equivalent in hours reading popular science books that touch on the subject! Theoretical physics is hard, no doubt, but elegance is in *simplicity*, and there's no shortage of that kind of beauty in nature.

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    Replies
    1. Hi inductible, thanks for the thoughts. I agree.

      On the one hand, I don't think videos like this could ever replace the usefulness of popular science books (and other ways to communicate science). This is simply because none of the subtleties can be expressed in such a short video. However they do provide an excellent way to start learning about physics... and they also offer a different perspective on the science. And as you sad, they're really entertaining. Even as a practising physicist I'm subscribed to the channel and look forward to the new video each week.

      On the other hand though, the shortness of the videos adds something beyond just entertainment value. By forcing himself every week to just one or two minutes, he really is required to think hard about what is and isn't necessary to communicate the idea. This helps because it makes it absolutely clear what is important (to the physics and to the communication of the physics) and what is just interesting.

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