Lectures for a New Year: Second Week in Review


For the month of January I'm bringing you a great lecture every weekday. This week we covered science, math, space, and physics...in what's hopefully a fun way. In case you missed one, here's a review of the lectures posted this week.

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.

Read more and watch the lecture.

God, the Universe, and Everything Else

Ready for a spectacular late-80s treat? Here we have Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Arthur C. Clarke in discussion with Magnus Magnusson shortly after Hawking’s A Brief History of Time was published. This discussion was sparked by the book (Sagan wrote the introduction), and it shows three visionaries at a time in history when Hawking’s book was a massive bestseller. In addition to the men on stage, Sagan joins via satellite (which we’re reminded was nominally invented, or at least envisioned in great detail, by Clarke in his writing), and a desktop computer (possibly an Amiga?) sits next to Clarke, displaying the Mandelbrot set — and he gives a demo of his favorite regions of the set at one point during the discussion. This is geeky in the extreme.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson on Pluto

In this talk, NDT talks to Google employees about his book The Pluto Files. I went through a lot of NDT lectures to find this one — it stuck out partly because it’s actually about Pluto, and partly because the tone is so wonderfully fun, smart, and I daresay geeky. All of his lectures are smart — but this one is full of stories that make sense of planets, their history, and the work of scientists.

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A Brain Scientist Studies Her Own Stroke

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist (or “brain scientist”) from Indiana. In 1996 she experienced a major stroke, out of the blue, at age 37. As a scientist deeply involved with brain function, she was ideally situated to understand the stroke as it happened (as much as anyone can during a frickin’ stroke), and later to draw meaningful lessons from what happened. That stroke is the topic of this twenty-minute lecture.

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2011 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate (The Theory of Everything)

Time for some fairly deep physics — strap yourselves in! For many decades, notions of a “theory of everything” have floated around scientific circles: can the universe be explained by a “unified theory,” in other words a theory that unifies the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics? Each of these theories works well in their realms (the very big and the very small), but trying to tie them together doesn’t work easily. String theory is one of several possible ways to do this — but there are others, and they all lack much in the way of testable proof. Some scientists continue to think that a unified theory is impossible.

Read more and watch the lecture.

Up Next

TED Talks. The TED conference defines the modern lecture, bringing us great speakers, generally in a 20-minutes-or-less format. I'll be picking some favorites (I'm looking at you, Mike Rowe!) that are short enough you can definitely fit them into your day.

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out! (And many thanks to the readers who have already sent in suggestions -- we've had several this week that were suggested by readers, and more coming next week. Get your votes in now for The Week of TED!)