Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Two great finds for physics fans

Back after a long break in the posts. Call it a mixture of home responsibilities, writer's block and just some plain old laziness.

One of my other interests (apart from statistics and social science) is physics and technology. I really enjoy reading about emerging applications of technology in various spheres of social and economic importance. The Technology Quarterly of the Economist is one of my treasured reads (though I end up reading very little of it, because of me wanting to leave aside "quality time" to do the reading).

I want to share two recent finds in the science and physics space. One is a really good book called "The Great Equations" by Robert Crease. The book covers ten of the seminal equations in physics and basically spins a story around how the equation formulator came about to creating the equation. There is usually a little mathematical proof behind the story usually, but most of the book is about the professional journey made by the scientist from an existing view of the world (or an older paradigm, to be more exact) to a new paradigm. And the paradigm is usually encapsulated in the form of an equation.

I found a couple of aspects about the journey extremely interesting. One, it was fascinating to have a window into the minds of physics greats (Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Schrodinger, to name a few) and see how they synthesized the various different world views around them to create or arrive at their respective equations. The ability to deal with all the complexity of observed phenomena, the different philosophies and world views and to come up with something as elegant as a great equation, that defines genius for me. The second aspect that I found extremely interesting was that there was usually years and years of experimentation or mathematical work that preceded arriving at the great equation. One might be inclined to think that the great equations (given their utter simplicity) happen through a flash of inspiration. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The next find were the Feynman lectures. Now, many of us have read some of the Feynman lectures or have seen the lectures on a place like Youtube. But how cool would it be to have these lectures be annotated by Bill Gates? Check this link out at the Microsoft Research website. And happy watching!

I am guessing this blog has a fair share of aspiring or one-time physics and engineering fans. How do you keep your engineering bone tickled? I'd love to hear your pet indulgences.

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