Assistant Research Professor
Keeping up with the creative ways of microorganisms requires healthy curiosity. Detailed understanding of fundamental sciences, engineering, and mathematics are always helpful. To the latter, learning new sciences and mathematics, while keeping up with research, is challenging. Fortunately, I live in the online age, in which courses taught by the world’s foremost experts are becoming available from the comfort of my home at my leisure. I have recently heard of a famous professor in the National Academy of Engineering who went MIT’s Open Courseware to brush up his/her skills in transport. Today, I will highlight three of my favorites in this blog.
WorldScienceU is an online university started by a string theorist and a Columbia Professor, Brian Greene. He offers courses on different topics and of duration, like Einstein’s special relatively. Brian emphasizes many subtle nuances that I had missed when I took special relativity back in Carnegie Mellon University. It is a true delight listening to a world-class physicist think through a problem.
Special relativity describes how we experience time and space changes as relative velocity between objects approaches the speed of light. While microbes and the outer space travel may sound like a stretch, Russian scientists recently found sea planktons on the outer surface of the international space station. Certainly, the space station travels fast enough to experience relativistic effects. Could the effects be large enough to extend the life of a microbe for an interplanetary travel? Apparently, astrobiologists have already done this type of calculation. Unfortunately for the microbe, its velocity would have to be 4-5 orders of magnitude higher than that of the space station to extend its life in a space travel. So, maybe not.
While Einstein’s relativity is a study of large and speedy extremes, like the stars and galaxies, quantum mechanics is a study of small extremes, much smaller than the microbes. A short lecture series by DrPhysicsA on YouTube makes the clearest and most accessible presentation of quantum mechanics that I have seen. In just 4 lectures, DrPhysicsA makes a skillful introduction of Dirac notation, relates them to photon polarization and electron spin, and leads the listeners to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. For anyone who has been discouraged by Shankar’s classic textbook on quantum mechanics, I recommend DrPhysicsA.
Lastly, a Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind has a website with lecture series titled “The Theoretical Minimum.” He teaches the minimum amount of physics that one has to know to understand modern physics. I only had a chance to listen to two of his lectures, but clarity that he brings to classical mechanics is astounding.
The Theoretical Minimum