Walter Lewin, MIT physics professor, retires

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This past weekend I visited Boston and the MIT campus for the first time in 14 years to attend my 25th reunion, which coincided with the centennial of my fraternity's chapter at MIT (Xi Chapter of Zeta Beta Tau) and MIT's sesquicentennial.

The headline in the latest issue of the Tech and an exhibit at the MIT Museum awakened yet another regret about my college years: I didn't take 8.01, the standard first-semester physics class covering classical mechanics.

Instead, I decided that, since I had AP credit for first-semester calculus, I should challenge myself and take 8.012, the version of first-semester physics that required calculus. The course was taught by the professor who wrote the textbook. 8.012 met twice a week for 90 minutes in lecture hall 26-100, where the lecturer dryly repeated the material from his book. The ZBT pledges would sit on the back row (we always sat on the back row) while struggling to stay awake. Over the course of the semester, our numbers dwindled as students came to their senses and transferred to 8.01 the mainstream physics course. I stayed with it, passed (freshman year is pass/no-credit) with a B-, but failed to grasp rotational physics.

It was in 8.012 that I scored in the 50s on a test for the first time that I could remember. (Thankfully, so did my classmates.)

This is the sort of thing I missed by not taking 8.01:

I wised up after first semester and enrolled in 8.02 (Electricity and Magnetism) for the spring, so I wasn't completely deprived of Prof. Lewin's teaching.

Lewin has retired, and he gave his final physics lecture in 26-100 last month.

"I have given, in this lecture hall, about 800 lectures. And it is wonderful to be back here, but it really hurts to know that this is my last lecture in 26-100," he said. "I have therefore decided that I want to leave you in style. The way I will do this, is I will leave 26-100 in my own private rocket."

Off to the side, Lewin promptly grasped his cherry-red three-wheel vintage bike, sat down, and released the tab on a canister of CO2, which propelled him across the speckled floor of the lecture hall's stage.

Despite his retirement, you can still enjoy learning from Prof. Lewin. You can see his last lecture online, and you can watch the entire set of his 8.01 lectures from the Fall 1999 semester, his 8.02: Electricity and Magnetism lectures from the Spring 2002 semester, and his 8.03: Vibration and Waves lectures from Fall 2004 at the MIT OpenCourseWare site.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 8, 2011 11:36 PM.

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