TPT 50th Anniversity book - page 18

I don’t remember having heard of AAPT
when I was an undergraduate. I was schooled
in Canada, so that may be part of the reason
for my ignorance. After doing my graduate
work at Cornell and a postdoc at Los Alamos,
what I most enjoyed was the basics of all areas
of physics. So it became clear that a primarily
undergraduate university or liberal arts college
would be the best fit for me and I interviewed
at such places. The University of West Florida,
a school in the Florida state system, made
me a tenure-track offer, so we packed up for
Pensacola in fall 1996. The physics department
had four tenured professors. I was replacing
Dick Smith, who had started the Listserv
PHYS-L (still a great forum for asking about
and discussing physics at the college level).
There was also Jim Marsh, a quantum theorist.
Jim had the interesting habit of periodically
writing up a short handout on whatever topic
he happened to be thinking about at the time,
such as the quantum measurement problem or
converting magnetostatic integrals into their
electrostatic analogs. In a matter of months, I
was doing the same thing—and have continued
writing what I call white papers ever since.
(The long list can be accessed at
scholarship.html.) Sources of inspiration include
issues that arise in class or when I’m preparing
to teach a topic (or grading homework),
something I read in a journal such as
, or
an item from PHYS-L (motivated by my desire
to preserve the ideas in a more settled form
than the archived postings offer). Eventually
one of these white papers was sufficiently rich
that I dared to consider publishing it in 2001,
by which time I had moved to the U.S. Naval
Academy, which afforded me better research
Let me back up to 1996 again. That autumn,
I got into the first New Physics Faculty
Workshop, held at College Park and sponsored
by AAPT. This event was my first exposure to
AAPT (not to mention Peer Instruction, as well
as an organized physics demo show like those
run by the University of Maryland, and many
other innovations). I was delighted when they
sent me to the subsequent National Summer
Meeting in Denver. (My wife and six-month-old
son were there, each with their own nametags.
We stayed in the dorm and gave our son
baths in the kitchen sink.) I joined AAPT and
subscribed to
. Every issue had ideas for
a starting physics faculty member like myself,
struggling to teach seven courses a year with
new preps every semester.
We aren’t exposed to
in typical physics
degree programs. At least I was not. We stumble
across it one day in our time of need. What a
difference compared to reading a research
journal: you could open any issue of
to any
page and understand right away what you read
there. You didn’t need to be a specialist in some
sub-sub-sub-field of study!
Around that time, I was analyzing the
demonstration of a spool pulled by a ribbon
at different angles relative to a table. The spool
can either roll forward or backward, much to
the delight of introductory physics students,
especially if they are first asked to predict
which way it will roll. (“All of you are right….”)
I developed an expression for the maximum
acceleration of a symmetric spool that rolls
without slipping. I already knew there is a
special angle when the ribbon’s line of action
intersects the contact points of the outer rim of
the spool with the table. At that angle, the spool’s
translational acceleration is zero; if pulled hard
enough, the spool slips in place when static
Carl Mungan
Carl Mungan is an associate professor of physics at the U.S. Naval Academy
in Annapolis, MD. His research interests are in high-power solid-state lasers.
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