Sunday, April 30, 2006

Visions in Collisions, Hummingbirds, etc.

So last night I finally had my chance to teach "Physics for Filmmakers" and the results kind of look like this. The whole thing was a real 'hail mary', in that I came up with the title in mid-March before I had any idea, but eventually the actual content somehow nucleated around the title. I first tried to show how physicists image the fleeting traces of particles, which are not visible to the human eye, by means of various detector technologies. Lucky for me that even cursory Google searches yield troves of classic particle physics images. Then I tried to sketch out how we take these images of particles and "run the movie" backwards to understand the primordial event that yielded them. I tried to keep the tone breezy and the focus on the visuals (and make wisecracks whenever possible), and I hope it worked. I had a lot of fun giving the talk to this audience of filmmakers and friends and I think they had fun too. I even got a few questions during the wine & cigarette break (all the smokers took an unplanned exit when we had a few video problems at the start of my talk...).

Other highlights for me were:

  • The Thereminvox performance by Anthony Jay Ptak (who turned out to have gone to high school just down the road from Brookhaven...)
  • An unbelievable archival film of Edgerton's high speed stroboscopic films. Smoke, birds, snakes, insects - one always forgets the richness of physical and biological phenomena when one sees them at "human" speeds. 6000 frames a second can show a lot...
  • Liquid crystals filmed by Jean Painleve
  • Void Ratio by Ray Sweeten - the funniest oscilloscope tutorial I've ever seen. Should be a part of every freshman physics course, including the extended visual freakout in the second half.
  • I also liked Jennifer's The Garden Dissolves into Air, a montage of images from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden processed through the "optical printer" (and a Macintosh, of course...)

A fun evening, all in all. You can find my slides here.

No comments: