By Brennan Dizdar
Physics has built up a reputation outside of the academic community as a difficult and generally inaccessible discipline. This is unfortunate, as while one could make the same case for its difficulty as any other STEM area of study, physics is nowhere near as inaccessible of a subject as often assumed. Furthermore, while advanced mathematics may be necessary from an academic point of view, it is not required for a general understanding of many of physics’ most important concepts. These overarching ideas are valuable from two perspectives. The first is that even a general understanding of these principles goes far towards developing back-of-the-envelope calculations that are useful in understanding many of the implications that physics has in the daily lives of many people. The propagation of the view of physics as intuitive rather than intensely academic also helps mend today’s political rift between academics and much of the rest of society. Second, a general knowledge of physics is useful as a mental exercise, as it hones problem solving skills and creativity in approaching challenges. Still, if physics could be understood intuitively, why does it appear to be so inaccessible to many?
The notion of inaccessibility surroundings physics likely in part stems from its close connection to mathematics in academia. Textbooks are often mathematically rigorous but lack intuitive insight, making them nearly incomprehensible for many individuals. Ironically, many college students majoring in physics would likely agree with such an assessment of the texts that they can supposedly decode with ease. In contrast, film is useful as a medium for conveying general understanding of STEM subjects because it engages the learner through multiple senses and generally feels more dynamic and personal, increasing the motivation for learning and moral in the face of difficulty more so than does text. As such, herein is contained a list of useful video resources for developing an intuition of some of physics’ more general ideas, in descending order from least to most comfortable.
Motivation is the first step in learning, and what better motivation is there than genuine enjoyment? MinutePhysics is a YouTube channel that regularly posts short, two to four minute videos detailing physics phenomena and their implications. The content is brief, intuitive, and accessible, making it a great stepping stone for those less comfortable with physics. Its sister channel, MinuteEarth, is another great resource as it posts similar videos on Earthly phenomena.
Veritasium’s host, entertaining similar thoughts about the value of film as an educational resource, posts slightly longer physics related videos that are more focused on learning by drawing inferences from observations rather than simply education through explanation. Such a process is the basis of scientific knowledge, so while the content is still very intuitive, the practice viewers receive with the process of drawing inferences from observations is valuable.
PBS Spacetime (YouTube):
PBS Spacetime entertains more complex topics and discussions than do MinutePhysics and Veritasium, and its videos are slightly longer as well. The channel focuses more on subjects of modern research interests and is also favorable of topics in astrology. While the material is more advanced, it remains intuitive and separated from the mathematics of its subjects. The channel also hosts regular competitions with the opportunity to submit solutions to interesting problems for the chance to win small prizes.