Showing posts with label How to. Show all posts
Showing posts with label How to. Show all posts

How to become a physicist like Isaac Newton?

how to become physicist like isaac newton

Did you know that Isaac Newton's mother wanted him to become a farmer? He was 16 at the time and busied himself by building model windmills and sundials to take his mind off farming, an occupation he hated.

Was Newton a child prodigy? Well, his teachers did think so and he invented calculus by the age of 22, so the answer to that question might be yes. However, one can imbibe Newton's three qualities as a teenager to become a physicist like him...


Newton was way more inquisitive than his schoolmates. He always wanted to get to the bottom of things and never gave up before quenching his curiosity. This would sometimes cause him to end up alone though.

It was one summer afternoon that he was resting in the shade of an apple tree in their farm. It is said that a fall of an apple encouraged Newton to investigate the force of gravity. Was this the first time that things fell to the ground?

No. Millions saw the apple fall before Newton, but nobody ever bothered to ask why it did. This questioning attitude is the hallmark of a physicist or any scientist for that matter.
There might not be immediate answers to most your questions. However, when all other people give up chasing them the scientist continues to dig deeper – it's a game after all. As Feynman said: There is a pleasure in finding things out.


How to feed curiosity? By experimenting. Experiments come in two kinds: theoretical or practical. And Newton was well versed in both. That is why, he not only invented something as complicated as calculus but also Newton's disc, as shown below:

how to become physicist like isaac newton disc

Once again the idea was inspired by nature itself. Newton was mesmerized whenever he saw the rainbow over his house in Woolsthorpe. This led him to questions about the behavior of light which he investigated with glass objects.

After completing experiments, Newton illustrated his findings with a color circle, popularly known as Newton's disc, in 1704. He divided the circle into component colors and it would appear white when spun really fast.


Newton was a keen observer of things so he carried around pocket notebooks to record any interesting activities of the day. After he obtained his BA degree in 1665 the university shut operations due to the ongoing plague.

He returned to his village and revisited the notes from his university days. It was there and then in Woolsthorpe that private studies of his notes would lead him to discover the binomial theorem which in turn gave rise to calculus later.

Newton also had recorded life and work of notable previous philosophers such as Descartes, Kepler and Galileo. Hence, his most famous saying: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Newton took great pleasure in writing or drawing things down. Taking notes would ensure that he wouldn't miss any good ideas. For example, the following is an original drawing of Newton's reflecting telescope:

how to become physicist like isaac newton

Newton would spend most of his time alone, thinking. He would completely engulf himself in the process of ideation. Much of the human civilization today is built upon Newton's ideas and drawings. We enjoy our lives at his expense.

Summing up

Sure one has to go through college and rigorous training in order to become a professional physicist. But we can learn from Newton that ideas are lying around everywhere, waiting to be noted down and drawn.

He famously said: To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me. So, let's mimic Newton's infinite curiosity, adopt his approach and do experiment in the backyard. For who knows what is possible?

Which Books Richard Feynman Studied From?

feynman richard books

We all know Richard Feynman as a Nobel Prize winner and a beloved teacher whose lectures on physics are enjoyed by millions of people. It would be interesting to know how Feynman became so imaginative and curious about the world. How did Feynman learn physics and mathematics? Let's find out in this post.

When asked in an interview, if anybody could become a physicist like him, Feynman candidly replied: "Of course. I was an ordinary person who studied hard. There are no miracle people. It just happens. They got interested in this thing and they learned all this stuff."

The young Richard Feynman was largely influenced by his father, Melville Feynman, who encouraged his son to ask questions and challenge orthodox thinking. Melville was a sales manager but he always wanted to become a scientist himself.

Feynman recalled: "The most important thing I found out from my father is that if you asked any question and pursued it deeply enough, then at the end there was a glorious discovery of a general and beautiful kind."

Feynman also learned from his father the difference between knowing and understanding. For instance, you can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird.

Feynman goes on to comment: "I don't know what is the matter with people: they don't learn by understanding; they learn by some other way – by rote or something. Their knowledge is so fragile."

When Feynman found a subject which interested him, he was not the kind to wait for the right teacher to come along; Feynman was determined to master the topic by himself. This is how he practiced early on the art of teaching.

For example, Feynman self-studied calculus at the age of 14 by reading Calculus for the practical man. This and other books written by James Edgar Thompson, such as Algebra for the practical man intrigued him.

Richard Feynman's notes calculus
Table of contents. Picture credit: Melinda Baldwin

Feynman's notes were quite extensive, less wordy and more visual in nature. This habit of taking notes helped in revision. Feynman would use drawings to simplify a difficult concept, which helped him win a Nobel prize later on.

While Julian Schwinger's formulation of quantum electrodynamics was mathematically superior and far more complex to work with; Feynman's drawing approach, on the other hand, broke the whole thing down into simpler diagrams.

Feynman studied really very hard in his Caltech years too. Before giving a lecture, he would prepare late into the night. Feynman's strategy was: To study in the most undisciplined, irreverent, and original manner possible.

In other words, Feynman's ability to consume knowledge was phenomenal. He would teach it to himself and in the process discover tricks and tips to succeed in maths and physics. Thus, in short, his two secrets to success in academics: Self-learning and teaching.

Feynman was a life-long learner and no matter how long it would take him to learn on his own, he would never give up or lose hope and stayed focused till the problem at hand was resolved.

How To Teach Physics Like Richard Feynman

how to teach physics science teacher

Physics is a beautiful subject, apparent and applicable in the day-to-day life. The mysterious phenomena of nature have sparked human interest since time immemorial. But if the education system is unable to keep the curiosity alive then something must not be right.

In this post, you will learn how best to teach physics by using the IRADE technique, a teaching method of taking multiple approaches. It is based on American physicist Richard Feynman's philosophy: "The best way to teach is to be very chaotic, in the sense, that you use every possible way of doing it."


Narrate the history of the concept in a story-like format. How and why something being taught was discovered is a good way to start. Make use of humor whenever possible. This will take students on a ride and peak their interest. Then, define the concept with a bookish definition along with the equation associated with that concept.


Give at least three real-world examples of the concept. For example, suppose you are teaching the third law of motion. It is visible in many instances of life, such as while walking, jumping, swimming, recoiling of gun, rocket propulsion, etc.

how to teach physics science teacher

This is an important step because otherwise their understanding is merely bookish, that is, robotic in a sense. If students know examples, the next time they observe similar phenomena they will immediately recall the associated concept in physics.


Solve at least two numerical problems from the textbook. From the beginner level to the advanced. Make sure that students understand the approach. Accept questions from students if they have any doubts.


Visual demos are necessary for science teaching because they implant the concept in the mind of the learner. In the case of third law of motion, you could use balloon in a controlled propulsion activity.

how to teach physics science teacher

You may even start the lesson with demonstration (before narrating that history) or insert it in the middle somewhere. There is always at least one experiment for each physics concept. Try to find it on the internet and replicate in class if possible.


In the end, test your students (but make it fun, like a quiz). You may group them into teams and even give incentive to the winner. Students will look forward to this event and it will not only strengthen their understanding but also develop teamwork. You may also examine students more formally once this activity is done.

Summing up

Teaching is a noble profession but half-hearted teaching benefits no one. By using the IRADE technique, any science teacher can become a rock star for their students. More importantly, physics classes will not bore students like it used to before. So please share this post with a fellow science teacher.
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