Scott Calvin

Scott Calvin

Undergraduate Discipline

Physics

BA, University of California-Berkeley. PhD, Hunter College. Taught courses or workshops at Lowell High School, University of San Francisco, University of California-Berkeley, Hayden Planetarium, Southern Connecticut State University, Hunter College, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Ghent University in Belgium, and the Synchrotron Light Research Institute in Thailand. Recent projects include the spectroscopy of advanced battery materials for electric cars, a textbook on X-ray absorption fine-structure spectroscopy featuring cartoon animals, a pop-up book promoting a new Department of Energy synchrotron light source, and a physics study guide in graphic novel form. SLC, 2003–

Current undergraduate courses

Classical Mechanics (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Fall

Calculus-based general physics is a standard course at most institutions and, as such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in physical science, engineering, or the health fields. (Alternatively, the algebra-based Introduction to Mechanics will also suffice for premedical students). But to our knowledge, no one else teaches it in quite this way. Where most general physics classes approach their topic gradually, like a child dipping her toe in a pool, this class will start from the central concepts and work our way out to applications and ramifications. This leads to a clearer understanding of the essentials, along with mitigating the frenetic pace that generally characterizes introductory courses in physics. The course will cover introductory classical mechanics, including dynamics, kinematics, momentum, energy, and gravity. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including problem solving, development of physical intuition, computational skills, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. In addition to seminars, the class will meet weekly to conduct laboratory work. These laboratories will be held jointly with students taking the non-calculus-based general physics sequence; you may choose either of the two laboratory courses listed in the schedule. An optional course-within-a-course, preparing students for the MCAT, will be available for premed students and will count as part of their conference work.

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Electromagnetism and Light (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Spring

This is the follow-on course to Classical Mechanics, covering topics from electromagnetism and optics. Please see the description of Classical Mechanics for further information on this sequence.

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Modern Physics

Fall

This course covers the major developments that comprise modern physics—the paradigm shifts from the classical, Newtonian models covered in the introductory study of mechanics and electromagnetism. Topics to be covered include Einstein's special and general theories of relativity, wave-particle duality, Schrodinger's equation, and the mathematical and conceptual bases of quantum mechanics. Emphasis will be on mathematical models and problem solving, in addition to conceptual understanding. Seminars will include a mixture of discussion and mathematical problem solving.

Faculty
Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Previous courses

Astronomy

Year

On the first night, we will look up and see the stars. By the last, we will know what makes them shine, how they came to be, and their ultimate fates. In between, we will survey the universe and humankind’s investigations of it—from ancient navigation to modern cosmology. In addition to the stars themselves, we will learn about solar-system objects such as planets, asteroids, moons, and comets; the comparative astronomy of different eras and cultures; the properties, lifetimes, and deaths of galaxies, nebulae, and black holes; and theories and evidence concerning the origin, evolution, and fate of the universe. In addition to readings and examination of multimedia material, students will conduct astronomical observation and experiments, at first with an astrolabe, then a simple telescope, and finally with the most powerful telescopes on and around the Earth. Comet ISON, a potential Great Comet appearing in the fall, will receive special attention! Emphasis will be placed on modes of scientific communication so that each student will keep a notebook, participate in debates, present posters, write papers, give oral presentations, and participate in the peer review process. Students will also experience famous astronomical debates through role-play. Conference projects may be dedicated to critically examining some topic in astronomy, conducting astronomical observation, or investigating the relationships between astronomy and other aspects of society and culture.

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Crazy Ideas in Physics

Fall

Time travel. Cold fusion. Tesla’s death ray. Free energy. Variable speed of light. A nuclear reactor at the Earth’s core. These are all exotic concepts that contradict conventional scientific theories. Those who assert their existence are making truly extraordinary claims. But, as Carl Sagan “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This course will examine radical physical theories by asking students to distinguish potentially revolutionary scientific ideas from the work of crackpots and frauds. Students will be asked to choose a “crazy” idea of this type and try to convince the class that it is scientifically plausible. The class will then try to evaluate just how unscientific the theory is. For conference projects, students could construct a nonsense theory and present it as science or take an established scientific theory and disguise it as the ravings of a madman.

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First-Year Studies: Physicists Are People, Too

FYS

When someone introduces him/herself as a physicist, the most frequent response is, “Oh, you must be smart!” But is that all there is to it? Is it, even as a general rule, true? In this class, we will study physicists past and present, real and fictional, from Galileo to Meitner to Feynman. To learn more about physicists—and how to think like they do—we will read technical works and popularizations, as well as plays, biographies and memoirs, and science fiction. We will design and conduct our own experiments—and even compete to have our ideas for a grand project funded. And for those who think the threat of torture may have been a better motivator than the promise of money, we will recreate the trial of Galileo and take on roles as members of the Inquisition!

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Rocket Science

Spring

This course covers the physics of space travel from conservation of momentum to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Hands-on experience with model rockets will be a central feature. Participants will design and build their rockets, use equations and simulations developed in class to predict characteristics of their rockets’ flights, check the accuracy of their predictions by measurements made during actual launches, and work in a group to propose a future space mission. Conference projects could include more elaborate work with model rockets, proposals for new space vehicles, and studies of the history of rocketry.

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Steampunk Physics

Spring

“Love the machine, hate the factory.” That's a central motto of steampunk, the literary, social, and fashion movement that re-imagines the Victorian era as a time of creative technology and personal independence. But if you’re going to love the machine—really love it—then you need to know how it works. In this class, our gears aren’t just glued on; and our airships really fly. We will use vintage sources to learn about the science and technology of the time (topics include optics, mechanical advantage, energy sources, and buoyancy), and then use that knowledge to create wonderful things of our own devising. Appropriate attire will be de rigueur on certain class days, but fake British accents should be checked at the door.

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