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Archive for September 16th, 2008

In our previous episodes we have discussed the notion of length and time. Now it’s time to start writing some equations. You might have noticed that the title of the post has the letter c prominently displayed. In physics letters usually stand for variables or constants in a given situation. The letter ‘a’ usually stands for acceleration, ‘F’ for force, ‘E’ for energy or electric field, ‘P’ for pressure, ‘V’ for volume, and you might have noticed that there is a pattern of naming variables in a mnemonic way after the initial of the word you are describing.

If you were doing a physics alphabet, you would start with ‘a’ is for acceleration, ‘b’ is for belocity (the number of b’s you can type on your keyboard per second, not really a physics term), and ‘c’ is for cookie (you know the song). Incidentally, even though physics does not happen without coffee, cookies are also an important part of the activities that take place in a physics department. Cookie time is a time to get together and catch up on what’s going on and of course, free cookies are a must. Now, back to the letter ‘c’. It stands for the speed of light, so this post will be about the special theory of relativity. This is one of the cornerstones of modern physics. WARNING: LONG POST WITH EQUATIONS, jump to the next red piece of text for some conclusions if you want to skip the argument.

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Abstract nonsense

Suppose you are a theoretical physicist, or a mathematician, or any other professional whose interests, how shall I put it gently, are not quite concrete and tangible. What do you tell your daughter when she asks about your work?

(boundary conditions: 8 years old child, very bright, alas her school did not yet reach the quantum field theory portion of her education. Kids these days…).

Comments welcome, though at this point  we cannot offer any prize beyond the immense satisfaction you’d no doubt feel by helping out.

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