Home | Jeremy Côté
Bits, ink, particles, and words.
The pendulum is a classic physical object that is modeled in many introductory physics courses. It’s a nice system to study because it is so simple, yet still allows students to see how to study the motion of a system. Here, I want to do through the steps of deriving what is usually seen as an elementary result, the period of a pendulum, and show how it is actually more complicated than what most students see.
I’ll let you in on a bit of a secret. For most of my life, I hated doing experiments in science.
When I reflect on my education in science (and in physics in particular), the common theme I see is just how the amount of sophistication present in the computations and concepts I learned each year kept increasing. If there was one thing I could count on, it wasn’t learning something “new”. Instead, it was about viewing things I might have once taken for granted as a process that was much more deep than I realized.
As many students in the sciences know, the reason we use mathematics to describe our results is because mathematics is the most precise language we possess. It’s not like we have some sort of favouritism towards mathematics that we don’t have to other languages like English or French. Quite frankly, it’s an issue of precision in what one is communicating. It’s the difference between saying I can see a red light and that I can see a light of about 600 nanometres. It’s the difference between basing a prediction on past results and basing on extrapolating from a model.