Lee Walker, the first President of Dell Computers, formerly a NASA award winning PhD candidate in Physics and one of the top professors at the University of Texas, launched his Cambridge-style Oral Examination of the Launchpad Eagles: “I was in my pick up, driving down Manor road, hurrying to get here when a lightning bug dropped from the overpass…”
For the last five weeks Launchpadders were immersed in a Physics MOOC (Massive-Open Online Course,) conducting hands on experiments, exploring the lives of Physics Heroes and learning to think with the childlike curiosity of Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman.
Yes, being able to quote Newton’s Laws of Motion or the Laws of Thermodynamics and F=MA matter, but far more important are having the curiosity and disciplined thought processes of a world class physicist.
For 90 minutes Walker asked probing questions about the force of his “2,000 kg truck accelerating at 3 m/s*s” impacting a lightning bug with “1/1000th of the mass,” weaving a fanciful tale Feynman would have enjoyed, ranging from gravity, to electromagnetism to the strong and weak nuclear forces to Quantum Physics and the Theory of Relativity. Eagles moved between childlike questions of their own, using equations to solve problems, describing the discoveries of Physics heroes, reliving previous experiments and exploring analogies.
In the end it was simply great fun for the audience, witnessing a mix of structured and unstructured exploration of the wonders of the universe.
Launchpadders — shown here in a “thank you” photo sent to Walker — next will create a Next Big Thing, a deep dive into an area of Physics we hope will become a personal passion.