1
$\begingroup$

I am going to be teaching an introductory university class on E&M and Modern Physics (from Coulomb's Law through Maxwell's Equations and optics, followed by a brief mention of quantum and relativity) to students in the 'life-sciences' (which, according to our department, pretty much includes any scientist who isn't a physicist or an engineer). Previously, this class has been taught more as a watered-down version of the more advanced class for physics majors. I'd like to be able to engage the students more, so I am looking for interesting (and maybe even fun) examples of life processes (could be from biology, neuroscience, chemistry, geology, etc.) that can be well explained, perhaps up to an approximation, by the physics of charges, magnets, and photons.

I'm already planning to do something with action potentials, MRI, the eye, and X-rays, but I'd like to see if there are other, less common examples. And since this is an intro class, and since I myself have very little prior knowledge of biology, etc. I am most interested in examples that depend only minimally on prior knowledge of either field.

I appreciate any input the community can provide.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ I would do something on "electricity and life". For example, talk about Galvani's experiments and how his explanation of electricity as animal force was overcome by non-animal studies on electrochemical cells (how batteries work). Then back to life aspect, show that electric voltage can be detected anywhere with oscilloscope and few probes. Talk about voltage variations between different points of human or animal body - due to friction or life processes such as heart activity. Positive and negative effect of voltage sources on human body. $\endgroup$ Jun 4 '20 at 22:48
0
$\begingroup$

Probably not a popular opinion, but I think it works best if you treat them as a dedicated physics class in terms of how you want to motivate them.

Also: what is your field of expertise? Are there no connections to the lecture? If you find something really exciting, its easier to spread enthusiasm.


Assuming the wave equation is part of the course (and not just pops in at some point) you could try to avoid speaking about light, photons, etc as long as possible:

When discussing electrostatic and magnetostatic experiments, also focus on the procedures necessary to get numerical values for $\epsilon_0$ and $\mu_0$. If you can, show/do the experiments (or pretend it and just do a fake evaluation) and calculate the constants so they can get a little bit of historical perspective on $\epsilon_0$ and $\mu_0$.

When you eventually lead them to the wave equation, convince them why this describes a wave and where/why the velocity pops up. Maybe some of them will find it enlightening when you let them do the calculation $1/\sqrt{\epsilon_0\mu_0}$ on there own.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

I've taught hands-on workshops to ftfth graders in which they built electric motors from wire, paper clips, a few nails, a magnet, and a small block of wood. I think that several lectures on E&M could build on that foundation. Optics is easy: so many ways that Nature produces color, builds eyes; so many optical phenomena that we can see just looking at the sky or out an airplane window. One way to introduce QM is to explain the principles of radioactive half-life beginning with the randomness of radioactive decay (an entirely QM phenomenon), then connect radiochronology to geology, paleontology, and anthropology. The other side of QM (wave/particle diality), is probably best taught by showing videos of Young's double slit experiment.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.