Lectures for a New Year: A Physics Classic from 1960


In 1960, University of Toronto physics professors Patterson Hume and Donald Ivey produced a half-hour educational film explaining basic principles of physics. They called it Frames of Reference, and used the opportunity to make the seemingly-boring topic of physics education actually pretty fun (or at least as fun as an educational film from 1960 featuring dudes in suits could be). Using visual gags and a series of engaging experiments featuring themselves and hockey pucks, the professors explained how objects move, how we perceive their motion, and why those things matter. If you enjoy nothing else about this physics lecture, just check out their staging -- they had to build a complex set and camera rig to film this thing! This is one of several engaging films made by the seminal Physical Science Study Committee.

Topics: people upside-down, movement, velocity, observation, hockey pucks, force, unbalanced forces, and of course frames of reference.

For: anyone who wants to learn some basic physics, or who enjoys old educational films. There's also some inherent interest here for educators -- this film has been used in classrooms for fifty years to explain physics, and is a stellar example of how education on heady topics (like physics) doesn't have to be boring.

Viewing notes: Audio doesn't start until about 30 seconds in. Also, if the embedded video below doesn't work for you, try YouTube: part one, two, three. The YouTube videos are lower-quality, but work on more devices. A high-quality download is available from Archive.org.

Further Reading

Ivey and Hume also worked on the classic CBC TV series The Nature of Things. You can see more recent incarnations of the series from the CBC. The pair also wrote a book about physics (in two volumes) on the topic, though it's a little tricky to buy copies these days -- each volume goes for more than a hundred bucks on Amazon! Check for it in your local library instead (I found a library copy just ten miles away!).


I haven't been able to find a transcript of this talk. The only option I've found is to enable YouTube's automated captioning system, which frankly doesn't work very well with this fuzzy audio.  UPDATE:  here is a transcript, though you need access to the American Journal of Physics (usually best done achieved via a library).

Suggest a Lecture

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