At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web StarRead the rest here.
by Sara Rimer
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at MIT. And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace.
Professor Lewin’s videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise.
“Through your inspiring video lectures i have managed to see just how BEAUTIFUL Physics is, both astounding and simple,” a 17-year-old from India e-mailed recently.
Steve Boigon, 62, a florist from San Diego, wrote, “I walk with a new spring in my step and I look at life through physics-colored eyes.”
Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube’s greatest hits. He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple’s iTunes Store.
In his lectures at demonstrate electrostatics. Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.
He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts off.
He was No. 1 on the most downloaded list at iTunes U for a while, but that lineup constantly evolves. The stars this week included Hubert Dreyfus, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Leonard Susskind, a professor of quantum mechanics at Stanford.
Last week, Yale put some of its most popular undergraduate courses and professors online free. The list includes Controversies in Astrophysics with Charles Bailyn, Modern Poetry with Langdon Hammer and Introduction to the Old Testament with Christine Hayes.
MIT recently expanded its online classes by opening a site aimed at high school students and teachers. Judging from his fan e-mail, Professor Lewin, who is among those featured on the new site, appeals to students of all ages.
Some of his correspondents compare him to Richard Feynman, the free-spirited, bongo-playing Nobel laureate who popularized physics through his books, lectures and television appearances.
With his wiry grayish-brown hair, his tortoiseshell glasses and his intensity, Professor Lewin is the iconic brilliant scientist. But like Julia Child, he is at once larger than life and totally accessible.
“We have here the mother of all pendulums!” he declares, hoisting his 6-foot-2, 170-pound self on a 30-pound steel ball attached to a pendulum hanging from the ceiling. He swings across the stage, holding himself nearly horizontal as his hair blows in the breeze he created.
The point: that a period of a pendulum is independent of the mass — the steel ball, plus one professor — hanging from it.
“Physics works!” Professor Lewin shouts, as the classroom explodes in cheers. ...
December 20, 2007
Not particularly Christmassy, but I'll forget entirely about posting this if I attempt to save this article from yesterday's New York Times 'til after the holidays. Here's a taste. You can read the whole thing here (registration is free or use Bug Me Not):