Lectures for a New Year: A Physics Classic from 1960

In 1960, University of Toronto physics professors Patterson Hume and Donald Ivey produced a half-hour educational film explaining basic principles of physics. They called it Frames of Reference, and used the opportunity to make the seemingly-boring topic of physics education actually pretty fun (or at least as fun as an educational film from 1960 featuring dudes in suits could be). Using visual gags and a series of engaging experiments featuring themselves and hockey pucks, the professors explained how objects move, how we perceive their motion, and why those things matter. If you enjoy nothing else about this physics lecture, just check out their staging -- they had to build a complex set and camera rig to film this thing! This is one of several engaging films made by the seminal Physical Science Study Committee.

Topics: people upside-down, movement, velocity, observation, hockey pucks, force, unbalanced forces, and of course frames of reference.

For: anyone who wants to learn some basic physics, or who enjoys old educational films. There's also some inherent interest here for educators -- this film has been used in classrooms for fifty years to explain physics, and is a stellar example of how education on heady topics (like physics) doesn't have to be boring.

Viewing notes: Audio doesn't start until about 30 seconds in. Also, if the embedded video below doesn't work for you, try YouTube: part one, two, three. The YouTube videos are lower-quality, but work on more devices. A high-quality download is available from

Further Reading

Ivey and Hume also worked on the classic CBC TV series The Nature of Things. You can see more recent incarnations of the series from the CBC. The pair also wrote a book about physics (in two volumes) on the topic, though it's a little tricky to buy copies these days -- each volume goes for more than a hundred bucks on Amazon! Check for it in your local library instead (I found a library copy just ten miles away!).


I haven't been able to find a transcript of this talk. The only option I've found is to enable YouTube's automated captioning system, which frankly doesn't work very well with this fuzzy audio.  UPDATE:  here is a transcript, though you need access to the American Journal of Physics (usually best done achieved via a library).

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we'll check it out!

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Tulane University Offers Free Semester to Students Affected by Hurricane Maria
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As Puerto Rico continues to assess the damage left by Hurricane Maria last month, one American institution is offering displaced residents some long-term hope. Tulane University in New Orleans is waiving next semester’s tuition fees for students enrolled at Puerto Rican colleges prior to the storm, Forbes reports.

From now until November 1, students whose studies were disrupted by Maria can apply for one of the limited spots still open for Tulane’s spring semester. And while guests won’t be required to pay Tulane's fees, they will still be asked to pay tuition to their home universities as Puerto Rico rebuilds. Students from other islands recovering from this year’s hurricane season, like St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are also welcome to submit applications.

Tulane knows all too well the importance of community support in the wake of disaster. The campus was closed for all of the 2005 fall semester as New Orleans dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. During that time, schools around the world opened their doors to Tulane students who were displaced. The university wrote in a blog post, “It’s now our turn to pay it forward and assist students in need.”

Students looking to study as guests at Tulane this spring can fill out this form to apply.

[h/t Forbes]

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Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism
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Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]


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