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Physics for Commuters

physics for commuters

Some guys are sitting in a boat on a lake. They throw an anchor overboard. Does the level of the lake rise, fall, or stay the same?

Illustrated in cartoon format, his physics question is now appearing on placards inside buses operated in the Amherst area by UMass Transit. The placards-there will soon be five more with different questions-are the brain-children of Robert Romer, a retired Amherst College physics professor. The artist is Bruce Aller of Upton, formerly of Amherst.

"All my life I have been trying to get people of various ages to think about physics and to enjoy doing so, so this is just a continuation of that mission," Romer said.

There is even an experiment you can try at home to find the answer to the anchor question. That's posted on a special web site, www.amherst.edu/~physicsqanda.

UMass Transit is donating space for the placards. "I think it's great," said Allan E. Byam, UMass Transit manager. "I'm very interested to see how many hits his Web site gets. It's nice to have some positive stuff up on the bus, instead of just (placards saying) 'Don't eat on the bus' and 'Report hate crimes' and such."

Romer said his colleague at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John King, instigated the overall "grandiose hopeful" plan of putting such thought-provoking questions on playgrounds, matchbook covers and other places besides buses.

"He invited me to collaborate with him, the assumption being that since both of us are 'retired', we have lots of time, a common misconception," Romer said.

Romer hopes his web site will get lots of hits, so he can demonstrate interest and seek outside funds for more ambitious venues like the Boston and New York City subway systems.

—Reprinted with permission from an article by Kay Moran in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, MA.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
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