Monday, October 01, 2007

Sputnik and PSSC Physics

I was visiting Lubos Motl's Reference Frame where he reminds us that the 50th Anniversary of Sputnik is coming up.

Sputnik shocked America not too differently from what 9/11 did. We were falling behind in the Space Race. Something had to be done. At once. Some physicists at MIT already had a project under way to devise a new and better way to teach physics. I was one of the first lucky students in that course. That would have been my Junior year in High School. 1960. My teacher was Roy Bush who had taught physics to Army Air Force Pilots in WW2. The school was Omaha Central High School which was located in the building that once housed the State Capitol of Nebraska. The school, which at the time I went was rated 4th in the nation, has produced two Nobel Prize winners. Alan Heegar and Lawrence Klein.

In addition actor Henry Fonda went to school there as did Chicago Bears great Gayle Sayers. We won the State Football Championship his Senior Year (my Junior). He was amazing to watch. I still remember one of his rambles up the sidelines for a touchdown. Once he was clear no one could catch him. I didn't know Gayle well but his brother Roger sat next to me in chemistry class. Saul Kripke was also a student there. He was the son of Rabbi Meyer Kripke. We passed on the street quite often. Saul used to walk with a very funny bounce. Most of us thought him quite strange. Had we only known.

Well back to PSSC Physics. John Dodge has a short history of the course. My favorite part of the course (which I took in my Jr. and Sr. years - I had my own lab and got an A+ both years) was the Bugatti running on a track in one of the films that was shown as part of the course. I suppose I ought to let Mr. Dodge get a few words in:

MIT has a few faculty members who are designated as Institute Professors. These have performed their duties extremely well, and now are being paid for doing anything educational that suits their fancy. In ’56 Institute Professor Jerrold Zacharias’ fancy was to produce and test the formation of a high school physics course that would give an accurate idea of the breadth and depth of up-to-date physics to the extent that it could be understood by competent high school students. By December ’56 he had organized a team of scientists and teachers from inside and outside of MIT, and by September ’57 this Physical Science Study Committee had completed enough work to be tested in a few high schools during the ’57–’58 school year.

In the fall of ’57, the Russians put up the first artificial satellites of the Earth, the Sputniks 1 and 2 being launched a month apart. This Soviet success dealt the U.S. a bitter blow, and the reactions were prompt. Among these was the realization that education in science and mathematics was far behind the Russians. Much money became available for the improvement of curricula, and since the PSSC was already under way, it was able to obtain large grants that enabled a vast increase in the number of pilot teachers in the program. In the school year ’58–’59, the new course was tested in 250 schools, preceded by three six-week summer institutes for training the pilot teachers.
The PSSC Physicstextbooks can still be found around. It is a very good introduction to physics.

I think I also ought to mention my Mathematics Teacher Virginia Lee Pratt, a brilliant lady who taught me calculus and solid geometry. And my English teacher Edward Clark who also coached Gayle Sayers and the Championship Football team. I'm sorry to say I got D's in English. My style was more suited to technical writing than essays, short stories, and the like. When the assignment called for 20 pages I would have a hard time grinding out 5. Even though I could express any thoughts I wanted to convey in the 5 pages. Had they only heard of blogging.

BTW both Mr Clark and Miss Pratt won John Hay Whitney scholarships for study at Yale for the purpose of instituting Advanced Placement courses in the high school.


linearthinker said...

I'm glad Edward Clark succeeded at something. He failed miserably in teaching spelling and punctuation.

But then, you've heard it all before.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, too bad Mr. Bush didn't devote some time to recognizing pathological science.

Oh, and your "manifold theory of the universe" is ridiculous -- even a freshman physics student knows that any particle possessing a finite rest mass can never achieve the speed of light, regardless of reference frame. I believe I just heard Einstein roll over in his grave. If you need a reference on basic physics, I would be happy to provide you with one.

Better stick to the bikini judging contests.

M. Simon said...

And yet mass and energy are interchangeable.

I see no reason why mass in one manifold couldn't be energy in another.

Such a system might explain Feynman's all paths theory.

M. Simon said...

A geometric explanation sure looks like a good bet given the Lorentz function.

Anonymous said...

What the hell?????!

You claimed over on that:

"My theory says that the Universe consists of two manifolds at right angles to each other and that all particles in the two universes are traveling at the speed of light. Because of that relationship the Lorentz equation falls out naturally."

Unless your two universes consist entirely of particles having zero rest mass (e.g. photons) you cannot have matter with a finite rest mass traveling at the speed of light. It can't be done! If your theory is founded on that proposition, you need to start over. Let's at least agree to allow Einstein to rest in peace.

You also relate this theory to Feynman's path integral formulation of quantum mechanics which is based on the principle of least action. How does this apply?

M. Simon said...

I should have said the sum of the velocities is always the speed of light.

Thus light in one continuum is mass in the other.

You know a duality.

Any way, if you look at the Lorentz equation it is very much suggestive of such a duality.

It may require the two manifolds to be connected at every point yet moving away from each other at the speed of light. Or something else.

My math is really not good enough to work out the details. It just seemed like an obvious geometrical explanation of what we observe. After all isn't that what the string guys are up to?

If all points are connected yet moving away from each other at the speed of light that would give a geometrical explanation to Einstein's action at a distance.

You may be right. However, I think the idea has possibilities. Maybe not in the exact form I presented it.

Did you read:


There was a math challenged guy who had some good intuitions.

Maybe I see something. Maybe it is just a stupid idea.

I like what L.H. Thomas had to say about Pauli:

"The infallibility of the deity does not extend to his vicar on earth."

It gives me hope. Slim hope. As you well know most new ideas are wrong.

M. Simon said...


I think you mean Talk Polywell.

Bad idea to get it confused with polywater.

Well maybe not. Who knows at this point?

Anonymous said...

About the talk-polywater....

Sorry, I just couldn't resist the temptation :-)

M. Simon said...


Fortunately at this point your opinion is worth exactly what you paid to leave it here.

Dr. B has been funded and we will know soon enough.

Anonymous said...

Sure thing Simon. Is this another example of your top-notch journalistic integrity at work?? You would do well to shut your mouth about things you obviously know very little about -- your THC induced theory of the universe demonstrates how little you know about physics. You are a pathetic, arrogant, retired engineer who thinks all matter can travel at the speed of light. Thank you for demonstrating your complete ignorance with statements like that.

We will come back here a year from now and IEC will be nowhere -- and you will be continuing to spew trash like "Maxwell Don't Live Here!". What a buffoon you are.

M. Simon said...


Glad to be so entertaining.

Here is a guy who has a different geometrical explanation of Space Time.

In a recent study, mathematician George Sparling of the University of Pittsburgh examines a fundamental question pondered since the time of Pythagoras, and still vexing scientists today: what is the nature of space and time? After analyzing different perspectives, Sparling offers an alternative idea: space-time may have six dimensions, with the extra two being time-like.

Well what do you know. A geometrical explanation for physics. Mine is a little different. Six space dimensions and one time.

BTW you did read the MIT physics paper behind "Maxwell..." didn't you?

You remind me of the physics guys who in 1904 said heavier than air flight is not a realistic possibility.

Or all those wonderful German scientists who were sure that Einstein couldn't possibly have got it right.

In any case I do believe there is a geometrical explanation for a lot of modern physics. I may very well be wrong. Most new ideas are wrong. However, I am not alone. In addition if it prompts others to think differently it may be helpful even if wrong.

Anonymous said...

Oh c'mon, you love me. In the absence of arabic porn, who else can make your googlecount go ++ ?

Well, I guess we'll just have to add a PhD in Cosmology to your long list of "qualifications". You can toast it with a sip of Polywater while you hang it next to your PhD in Pathological Science. Trust me, you've earned it. You've demonstrated that you wouldn't be able to recognize real science if it ran you over in the parking lot. If you want to really learn something about cosmology and general relativity, try reading up on Kip Thorne's "Gravitation". It's the standard text for a first course in grad astrophysics. That's a good starting point. Of course, since its part of mainstream physics and not derived from a Google tech talk I sure you'll poo-hoo it as 1904 close-minded "orthodoxy".

Whether its fusion, climate science, addiction, politics, foreign affairs, and now cosmology, you are a self-appointed world expert. It's absolutely fascinating to watch you -- so thoroughly convinced that you are an expert in all these fields despite possessing no demonstrable experience in any of them. That's the hallmark of a true crackpot.

M. Simon said...

I know Murphy too well to be an absolute expert in anything.

My cosmology ideas will stand or fall on their own merits. So far the jury is still out. My favorite string theory guy has declined to say yea or nay on my idea so I'd say the jury is still out.

BTW did you see my post on another similar geometrical theory?

In any case I have nothing to say about gravity. All I'm looking at is the geometry of Space-Time. If you want to add gravity into the mix it will probably need refinement if it has any merit at all.

BTW you need to work on your sneer. You are getting repetitive. Perhaps some practice flaming on usenet would improve it.

Anonymous said...

On the contrary, I think my sneer is becoming well-refined! The repetitive nature is required for folks such as yourself.

Your posts about climate science at talk-polywater are spectacularly ironic:

"Let us go over climate science the way the FAA goes over an aircraft design. Or the way the FDA audits a mechanical medical device like an x-ray machine or a blood chemistry tester.

Every single line of code and every piece of data gets intense scrutiny.

After such an audit if the error bands are not 3X or more the size of the purported signal I will buy into the GHG theory of "the sky is falling". Until then color me sceptical.

BTW the AGW folks have made numerous errors in computing the error bands. In many, many cases they don't show their work and just give a number. In many other cases an error band is not even mentioned.

Junk science."

Really. Junk science eh? Based on your "I'm Aerospace" puff-puff-puffing I'm sure you've done the same kind of audit for Bussard's IEC Fusion results before validating requests for $200M for a next-gen build. The ITER folks have actually done that. And wasn't it you who so boldly proclaimed "I want to grab people by the throat with your open source polywell -- go straight to cw operation!"? I assume you have gone over Bussards data in excruciating detail, examined the experimental setup in person, ensured instrument calibration records were maintained, checked and rechecked the error analysis, etc. Oh, that's right: You couldn't possibly do that since Bussard failed to publish any of it! What a hypocrite you are! Just hand me the cash, baby!!

M. Simon said...

It is a weak mind that has to resort to repetition.

Certainly you are not weak minded are you Chat? I was really hoping better of you. Such a disappointment.

Anonymous said...

It's odd you say that, since your entire blog is a continual exercise in repetition: attacks on climate science, the evil DEA, the evil EPA, the evil DOE. Same 'ol shit from you each day. Say "hi" to that weak-minded retiree when you floss your teeth each morning!