March’s Physics World: Feynman’s lecture brought to life in science doodle

28 Feb 2014Bristol, UK

In this month’s edition of Physics World, professional “science doodler” Perrin Ireland gives her unique take on one of Richard Feynman’s famous lectures, 50 years after it was first delivered.

The doodle is made up of an array of small, colourful, cartoon-like pictures that merge into one big collage representing Feynman’s “The Great Conservation Principles” lecture that he gave at Cornell University in 1964 – one of the first of Feynman’s lectures to be captured on film.

The doodle, which was commissioned as part of Physics World’s special issue on education, includes two spaceships passing each other to illustrate Einstein’s theory of relativity, two gods playing chess as a description of nature, and a child playing with building blocks to illustrate the law of the conservation of energy.

Ireland first adopted the doodle technique while studying for a human biology degree at Brown University and it became so helpful that her coursemates began asking for copies of her creations.

For her, and many others, thinking in a visual and story-like way enhances the learning process, helping to recall specific facts and explanations.

Ireland is now part of a growing movement of “information visualizers”, some of whom have been commissioned to “live scribe” at academic conferences to provide more aesthetic recordings of the meeting. Others, meanwhile, have been employed by companies such as Disney to “visually play” with ideas for how they want projects to turn out.

For students wanting to make use of Ireland’s doodle technique, Louise Mayor, features editor at Physics World, explains in her accompanying article that in order for it to be successful, they must try it themselves and not rely on the visualizations of others.

“Everyone’s brain contains different memories and associations, so the best way to take advantage of these techniques is to do them yourself – because when you convert the information you’re trying to learn into images, associations and analogies, you are forced to relate them to the images and concepts already stored in your mind,” Mayor writes.

Feynman would probably have been impressed by Ireland’s creation, he himself being an innovative educator who brought physics to life through his lectures.

In another article appearing in this special issue of Physics World, Robert P Crease, a professor in the department of philosophy at Stony Brook University, gives his opinion on why physicists still find Feynman's famous three-volume Lectures on Physics so useful more than half a century after they were published.

The strength of the Lectures, Crease writes, is their conceptual sophistication and ability to draw imaginative connections between topics in physics, which is exactly why undergraduates find them challenging, as they need to understand the topics first. It is for these reasons that Crease believes the Lectures actually turned out to be more useful for teachers.