Marshall (“Roc”) Burns
Physicist, Entrepreneur, Philosopher, Explorer
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Spacewarps and Timelines
Our Magical, Relativistic World

A public service
offering presentations on advanced physics topics
to Los Angeles, California-area high schools

Sections on this page:
        About the Presentation
        Instructions for Teachers
        Instructions for Students

Copyright © 1998, 1999, Marshall Burns. All rights reserved.
Background:

     We live in the most exciting time in history. Never before has mankind had so much ability to understand the world around us. I spent a great deal of my life devoted to understanding the mysteries of physics, and the results have been very gratifying. Although I do not any longer use advanced physics in my day-to-day work, I remain fascinated with what I learned in that field. To share it, I offer a 45-minute presentation for high school classes on topics in modern physics, especially relativity and quantum theory.

About the Presentation

     The purpose of my presentation is to give high school teachers a chance to expose their students to a level of physics that the teachers may not be equipped to handle on their own. My training in physics includes a BS from MIT and a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin, where I studied quantum field theory under Nobel Prize-winner Stephen Weinberg, was a teaching assistant for Einstein protegee John Archibald Wheeler, and wrote my dissertation on chaotic behavior in highly excited hydrogen atoms. For more on my background, please visit my Web site and my list of physics publications.

     There is some flexibility in what I can talk about, but one of my favorite topics is relativity. For this subject, I title my presentation: Spacewarps and Timelines: Our Magical, Relativistic World. In this presentation, I explain

  • The difference between the 3-dimensional world we walk around in and the 4-D world of spacetime.
  • Why it makes perfect sense that twins can be different ages if one of them takes a trip to a distant star and back.
  • What it means for spacetime to be curved, and how you can feel it.
  • Whether “warp drive” can ever happen.

     The most important thing to me when I am talking to young people about physics is to explain what I’m talking about in clear, simple language, so that they gain the confidence that they can understand it. It made me very upset when I was a student and professors or textbooks would warn me, “This concept is very confusing. You won’t likely understand it. But we’ll teach you to solve mathematical problems about it even though you won’t know what you’re doing.” When I heard that, it told me that the professor himself, or the author of the book, did not understand what he was teaching, and I thought it was very unfair of him to try to prejudice me against believing that I could understand it. It is my conviction that physics CAN be understood. There may be a lot of it that I don’t understand (there is), but if today’s students work hard they may be able to figure out the remaining mysteries and understand what has never been understood before.

     While I am committed to making physics understandable, I steadfastly refuse to do that by simplifying concepts in ways that present them falsely. That would accomplish the opposite purpose, because the students would then be faced, if they decide to pursue a deeper study of the subject, with the wasteful process of unlearning what was taught to them the first time. I don’t sugar-coat my talks. I give kids the straight truth, or as close to the truth as I understand, and I encourage them to see that it really does make sense.

     If you’d like to see some articles that I’ve written with this same purpose of explaining physics in terms that can be understood, take a look at

Teachers who will be scheduling a presentation have permission to make copies of these articles for their classes. (But if your school has sufficient Internet access, why not just give your students the Web addresses and assign them to read the articles on-line!)


Instructions for Teachers or School Administrators

     Presentations are available at no charge to high schools and junior high schools in the Los Angeles, California area. A presentation can be scheduled by a science teacher or school administrator by contacting me at Contact e-address . I will make myself available to do up to one presentation per week, scheduled on a “first come, first served” basis. Please observe the following details:

  • Please make arrangements, if necessary, for my parking.
  • When the presentation is scheduled, please send me by e-mail or fax both a map and written directions showing how to get to my correct parking location for your school and, if it won’t be obvious, from there to the correct office or classroom.
  • A video tape may be made of the presentation if I am given the original and if any copies made are not used or distributed outside your school.

     If you’d like to talk to another teacher for whom I’ve done this before, contact Joe Wise at Crossroads School, JWise@KMSI.org or (310) 829-7391.


Instructions for Students

     If you have a science club or other group of students that can arrange a room for me to speak, then you can contact me at Contact e-address yourselves. Otherwise, the same instructions apply as above.

 

     Thank you for the opportunity to serve the community and open young minds to the excitement of the world around us.


Marshall (“Roc”) Burns
Physicist, Entrepreneur, Philosopher, Explorer
mail symbol
Los Angeles
Phone: Mobile (805) 451-4507
E-mail: Contact e-address, Web site: www.MBurns.com
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Copyright © 1998, 1999, Marshall Burns. All rights reserved.