Physics For Future Presidents

Monday, September 14, 2009 - 4:30pm
1 LeConte Hall
UC Berkeley
Public Lecture: 

Yes, the title of the colloquium is serious.  Energy, global warming, terrorism and counter-terrorism, nukes, internet, satellites, remote sensing, ICBMs and ABMs, DVDs and HDTVs -- economic and political issues increasingly have a strong high tech content. Misjudge the science, make a wrong decision. Yet many of our leaders never studied physics, and do not understand science and technology. Physics is the liberal arts of high tech. Is science too hard for world leaders to learn?  No.  Think of an analogous example: Charlemagne was only half literate. He could read but not write. Writing was a skill considered too tough even for world leaders, just as physics is today. And yet now most of the world is literate.  Many children learn to read before kindergarten. We can, and must achieve the same level with scientific literacy, especially for our leaders. Can physics be taught without math?  Of course.  Math is a tool for computation, but it is not the essence of physics.  We often cajole our advanced students, "Think physics, not math!" You can understand and even compose music without studying music theory, and you can understand light without knowing Maxwell\'s equations.

For the last ten years I have been teaching Physics for Future Presidents at Cal.  In that time it has grown from an enrollment of 34 to over 500, and twice has been voted "Best Class at Berkeley."  The goal of my course is not to create mini-physicists, but to give future world leaders the knowledge and understanding that they need to make decisions. If they need a computation, they can always hire a physicist.  But the knowledge of physics will help them judge, on their own, if the physicist is right.  In this lecture I will give 45 minutes of physics that world leaders need to know, and can understand.