He Teaches Physics…and Can Explain It

Last night I attended a meeting of the local cable TV station. A sort of goofy guy my age sat down next to me, and said he was there because his son was attending the meeting. “I’m the driver,” he explained. But later as we sat together eating pizza, he told me what he did, and it threw me.

“I teach physics at Smith College,” he said. I love it when people tell you ‘what they do’ and they impress you. I mean, physics, hey that’s gotta be the ultimate geek genius department. I asked him how his students use physics in their day to day lives, and how it stays relevant. His answer reflected the wisdom of one who has lectured for many years.

“Physics gives you the basis for how to analyze a problem, how to systematically figure out what is what, and how the processes fit together.” Then he explained a question to me that my sister posed that had stumped me a few months ago–how do radio waves transmit sound to our ears?

“It’s all various levels of spectrum,” he began. “Whether its xrays, or radio sound waves, or cellphone transmissions, they’re all different levels of spectrum that nobody can see, but each diffferent type of activity uses a different section of this spectrum.” Spectrum is what Verizon and AT&T spent billions on in the US government auction last year. They want to own more of the wave space so that their customers phones can transmit on it.

Deliciously complicated, it’s one of those topics that I love exploring. Even if I don’t totally get it.