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Finding Fault With Physics



Th the Editors of The Crimson:

Kudos to Peter L. Clateman for his insightful critique of the Physics Department ["Attacking the Myth of Genius," Feb. 12]. I would like to add three points:

1. Too much of the undergraduate physics curriculum is stuffed with quantum physics and obscure mathematics and geared towards producing future particle physicists. A much more relevant field that has witnessed a huge explosion of interest in the last five years is non-linear systems, as described in James Gleick's best-selling book Chaos. Along with fractals, applications are found everywhere from heartbeat rhythm to earthquakes. Yet the Physics Department doesn't offer a single course in the area to undergraduates!

2. Contrast the poor teaching and unfriendliness Clateman describes in introductory Physics with the almost gentle treatment of the subject offered by Dudley Herschbach in Chem 10 or Karel Liem in Biology 2. Among the best facets of their approach is providing information on the current research frontier and applications of the material being covered, something totally lacking in Physics 55 (now Physics 12), but essential for maintaining student interest.

3. The situation he describes of "hiding" the colloquia from undergraduates is almost comical. The Department does its utmost to weed out any novices, thus assuring that only future professionals remain, and then tries to keep them from the research for which they've been (presumably) so well prepared! It is ironic that a group which only days ago announced its intention to encourage Physics concentrators to become high-school teachers does its best to weed out all but future physics researchers. Michael S. Beauchamp '92

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