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Physics: The Science Behind Technology

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Communiversity students gather at UMKC’s new Student Union in Room 419 on Saturday, June 22, between 1:00 and 2:30 p.m. to learn about the remarkable physicists of the past with convener Rich Kaufman.


By Jessica Turner

Physics is a very broad field.

Classical physics explores topics such as thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, chemistry, and electromagnetics. Modern physics studies subjects like relativity, quantum theory, and spacetime.

There’s astrophysics, which is the study of the stars. There’s chemical physics, subatomic physics or particle physics, theoretical physics, computational physics, experimental or applied physics, condensed matter physics, mechanical physics, bio physics, fluid dynamics, laser science, physics of beams, plasma physics, nuclear physics, and quantum mechanics. And then there’s atomic, molecular, and optical physics.

Many moons have passed since Communiversity convener wrote his dissertation on atomic physics, but he’s still passionate about giving credit to those responsible for the technology we have available today.

His class, Physics: The Science Behind Technology, takes a look at the important discoveries in physics that were made between 1860 and 1940. The scientists to whom he paid homage during the first session of class included theoretician and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell, experimental scientist Albert Abraham Michelson, and pioneer Max Planck, who was responsible for “a very famous mathematical computation that brought in the whole concept of what’s commonly known as quantum physics,” Kaufman noted.

During the next session of Kaufman’s class this Saturday, he will discuss the contributions of Albert Einstein, Lise Meitner, and Erwin Schrödinger.

“When you’re a grad student,” Kaufman told the class, “You study all this stuff as science and you don’t pay attention to who the people were.”

But Kaufman started paying attention. He studied the work and lives of the physicists whose contributions shaped modern technology as we know it. And now he wants to share what he knows with others.

When he was a student, Kaufman undoubtedly learned about Maxwell’s equations, but what he may not have had to know for the exam was that Maxwell was born in Scotland in 1831 and was considered a mathematical prodigy as a child who eventually attended Cambridge University.

And it’s no question that he’d heard of the famous Cavendish Laboratory, but what he may not have known back then was it was there that Jim Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA.

“They happened to be visiting scholars who were supposed to be doing physics, and they ended up doing biology because they had some spare time,” Kaufman said.

Upon receiving this information, Communiversity class members gave a little chuckle in disbelief.

“I’m serious!” Kaufman said, “That’s exactly the story. They just had a little extra time.”

What Kaufman hopes the class will remember is the result of what these early scientists made possible.

“These guys all come in sort of an intellectual sequence. Science precedes technology in the case of physics. A lot of modern technology [like our cell phones], directly relates to electromagnetic theory,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman’s class is easy for the average person to understand, and he welcomes questions. You don’t have to be a math whiz or an “Einstein” to appreciate the message, and it’s structured in such a way that it simply feels like you’re being guided through these amazing historical discoveries. It truly does put into perspective the time, effort, and genius that went into appliances such as the microwave, something we all take for granted today.

For more information about Rich Kaufman’s course offerings (Course #2702A) and other Communiversity classes, visit http://www.umkc.edu/commu today. Browsing and registering for classes is easy online!

The direct link to the one remaining physics class that Rich is offering this summer can be followed here: https://ecommerce.umkc.edu/COMMU/CatalogClassDetail.aspx?id=2666.

To learn more about Rich Kaufman and the tutoring services he offers, visit his website at http://richkaufman.wordpress.com/!

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
-Mark Twain


1 Comment

  1. […] This is the second part of a 2-part series.  For a review of the first session, go to https://commublog.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/physics-the-science-behind-technology/. […]

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