I have been studying or working on Physics continuously for about 15 years now. When I was in college, I had no intention of studying Physics, but discovered the subject my sophomore year and found that I really loved it. I had a number of other interests as well, especially in languages and cultures, and divided my time pretty equally. But then, when I started graduate school, I needed to focus all my time and energy on Physics. My time in industry, as a researcher, and as a teacher were all the same. I missed spending time on other things and tried whenever possible to spend my out of work time on non-Physics related things (knitting, rock climbing, traveling, etc.).
I have always been surrounded by other Physicists who seem to love it so much more than I do. I hear them talking about trying to figure out how things work and calculating physical equations in their daily lives, thinking about research problems as they fall asleep, coming up with ideas for Physics problems on the way to and from work, and generally thinking about Physics for much of their day. I have always assumed that I just did not really like Physics as much as I ‘should.’ I have always firmly believed (and told my students on numerous occasions), that Physics is all around us in our daily lives, but honestly, I never wanted to think that much about it outside the classroom. I think I would be a better teacher if I did.
So why am I writing a blog on Physics?
At the end of the spring semester last year, I decided to take a break. I took much of the summer off, never working more than 20 hours a week on Physics-related tasks, and instead concentrated on my soon-to-be-born baby. Since my daughter has been born, there has been no time or energy for anything but thinking about her. And sleeping whenever possible (which is not very often it turns out).
Ever since my daughter was a couple of months old, I have found myself really thinking about the Physics of every day life. How loud does my daughter scream? How is the frequency content of her tired vs. hungry cries different? What’s the best way to heat a bottle of milk? Why should I breastfeed her when flying? What are the forces involved in her learning to roll over? Why is one way easier than the other? What cool images can we make with her play mirror by bending it? How does my breast pump work?
For the first time in 12 or so years, I really want to understand how everything around me works and think about how I can teach people these things and show them how interesting and fascinating Physics is.
I needed a break. Not a vacation by any means – caring for a baby is by far the hardest thing I have every done! But a break from Physics. A mental change of scenery.
It really is nice to have found that Joy of Physics again. The fascination with the world and how it works. I am glad it returned in time to share it with my daughter. Or maybe watching her explore the world around her with wide eyes has re-awakened that in me as well. It is definitely going to make me a better teacher when I get back to teaching Physics to students learning it for the first time. I hope I can share that joy and fascination with them. Not to mention all the excellent homework and example problems I am coming up with in the process of writing this blog!
Side note: While all the above is true and I have been thinking about it for a while, in the interest of complete honesty, I must note that this past week or so my daughter has not been sleeping much at all. I have been completely exhausted and haven’t cared the slightest bit about anything related to Physics…or really anything not related to me sleeping. Sleep and time to think seem to be important for enjoying much of anything.