Monday, November 16, 2009

Electricity 101



About the Lecture

The inimitable Walter Lewin gives a literally hair-raising performance in this MIT Museum lecture/demonstration for learners young and old. He unveils the real meaning behind words and things most of us use everyday without reflecting on what marvels they really represent.

Here are some of the mysteries exhibited, explored, and explained in this talk: How can you make two perfectly normal balloons zoom apart from each other? What happens when you connect a 12-volt light bulb to a 110-volt outlet? If you toss a handful of confetti onto a comb, why does some of it stick and some of it fly away? What’s the best way to make sure your flashlight will work the next time you really need it? (If you guessed putting in new batteries, go to the back of the class.)

Lewin is at his electrifying best when working with children from the audience. He gives a 12-year-old girl the worst hair day of her life, and offers a young boy 10 cents for 10 hours of backbreaking labor. But Lewin reaches a new high (low?) when he repeatedly beats one of his young assistants with a swatch of cat fur. Lewin doesn’t exempt himself from the torture, though: he even makes a serious attempt to electrocute himself with a 150,000-volt Van der Graaf generator.

Lewin indulges the armchair physicist who’s mathematically challenged, by covering all the basics of electricity and magnetism while introducing just one equation. If you’re still undecided, check out some of the unique special effects – sparks, flashes, smashes, and more –pinpointed in the Video Index. Keep watching, and you will find out why Walter Lewin was recently honored with MIT’s Everett Moore Baker Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

With the addition of this video to MIT World, Lewin has a total of 100 lectures available on line--94 at OpenCourseWare and 6 at MIT World.

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