Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mathematics: the language of physics (and key to understanding stuff like Higgs Boson)

“Math allows us to understand the universe.” - Minutephysics (youtube vlogger)

Last month I attended a Higgs Boson lecture at Florida International University led by Dr. Pete Markowitz, Dr. Jorge Rodriquez, and Dr. James Webb. In a nutshell, the Higgs Boson, also known as the God Particle, is an elementary particle that may have been detected in 2012 by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. As of today, physicists theorize particles acquire mass from interacting with the non-zero strength Higgs Boson Field (Higgs particles have yet to be discovered, which means this is still just a prediction). 

Elementary Particles! Woohoo!

Below we have the expanded version of the mathematical framework for the Standard Model, which basically, is a sort of tapestry that underpins the pattern for elementary particles (which include the fundamental fermions: leptons, quarks, and fundamental boson: gauge, Higgs boson)  

(according to Brian Cox in this video, this is one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century)

 That, ladies and gentlemen, is hard core. Although I was having a hard time keeping up with the Higgs Boson (H.B.) presentation, I did realize one thing (that I probably knew prior to this, but really, truly realized it that day): mathematics is not only the language for science, but it’s the language of nature.

Let me explain. In that same video, Brian Cox states “this equation allows you to calculate everything other than gravity that happens in the universe.” Everything except gravity? Yes. Everything. “So you want to know why the sky is blue, why nuclei stick together, […] in principle you should be able to calculate it with that equation” (Brian Cox). Well, potentially since, as I stated previously, Higgs particles have yet to be discovered and they play an essential role in making this equation work. 

Maybe it could even explain why your cat is so weird...

Now that you know this, take a look at the equation again. 

If the H.B. particle was discovered, and if you understood every symbol and number in there, you would be able to answer those questions using the language of mathematics. You would be able to describe and demonstrate why the sky is blue… using that severely hated subject. Well, severely hated by a majority of students, though not all. But it amazed me, and frustrated me to no end, that there was a huge part of physics and astronomy, in my opinion the most vital and interesting, I could not begin to comprehend because of a language barrier.

In this video formatted as a fun and quirky letter to President Obama, Minutephysics discusses the gap in America’s high school curriculum (or at least, most high school curriculums): discoveries in the field of physics and astronomy passed the year 1865 are not taught. That means there are a considerable amount of people out there who are unaware of the Big Bang theory, quarks, the expansion of the universe, the fact that gravity bends light, weak force, strong force, etc… (unless they do further readings on their own time). He argues that by keeping the curriculum as is, teachers just omitted all the awesome current realities that basically shape our scientific world and universal view today.

In my high school it wasn't even required for students to take physics. It wasn't until college, when I took a course on astronomy, that I truly began to learn about these sciences and appreciate them. Even though I needed extra tutoring for the mathematical portions of the lessons, it did not detract from my growing interest for the subject. I continued to expand my knowledge on physics and astronomy by reading online articles, blogs and watching vlogs and TV shows (like Brian Cox’s: Wonders of the Solar System or Morgan Freeman’s: Through the Wormhole). However, there is something vital that gets omitted from all these mass media outlets: math. And that could be due to a certain apprehension and fear towards it, similar to learning a foreign language like Japanese or Chinese.  

Daunting isn't it? I guess to the untrained eye it would be equally  intimidating. 

I’m pretty sure I just went a bit off topic. But I would like you, as a reader, to think about Minutephysics’ last few words to the president in his video (starting on 3:07): “Between you and me Mr. President, I think we should start making physics education more awesome here in the U.S., otherwise the next Carl Sagan or Richard Feynman will come from somewhere with more educational foresight, maybe even the internet.” The internet is slowly taking on the role of gap filler in the astronomy and physics educational department. It’s up to date, widely accessible in several regions and countries, and is slowly but surely filling up with college level lectures on subjects like quantum mechanics and particle physics. Most important of all, several of these lectures teach and tutor their audiences in pre-calculus, calculus 1, 2, and 3, and physics, filling in the language barrier as well. High school physics should definitely be update, but perhaps teachers can integrate digital education into their class lectures: the co-existence of an almost completely limited and organized environment with the chaotic force of the exploratory and creative internet. 


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dr. Webb once said "more people would know about astronomy if we incorporated it into songs and played it on the radio."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Science is Interesting

Youtube, blogs, and social media in general allowed for the spread of astronomy and physics. Beyond this obvious fact, astronomy and physics, subjects usually overlooked by the day to day audience because of their thought to be complex nature, have been flourishing and growing in popularity with the advancement of technology.

Shows such as Carl Sagan’s The Cosmos, Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Solar System, among several others, have allowed people to become familiar with astronomy and physics by presenting a topic usually viewed as too severely cut into logos and ethos in a more emotional light (adding pathos in there like there is no tomorrow).