Teaching Physics (and more) with Niven

Andrew E. Love, Jr.

Good evening. My name is Andrew Love. In my work at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory I give presentations on a variety of technical topics, but since 2000 I’ve given talks about science every year at Balticon and I’ve been involved in promoting the use of science fiction to teach and inspire. This talk is a bit of a combination of the two ideas, talking about the science in a few of Larry Niven’s stories and how that science can be used as a jumping off point for learning and teaching about science in general; I was fortunate enough to give this talk to an audience that included Larry Niven back at the 2007 Balticon. Since then I’ve refined my analysis in several ways; it turns out that concepts like the Ringworld and the Smoke Ring keep providing me with more things I can “do the math about” - so much so that I’ll have a hard time holding the talk down to one hour.

One more thing – it’s important to recognize that it doesn’t take a doctorate in physics to understand most of this material – I only have a master’s degree myself, after all, and all the concepts I’ll be discussing require only high school physics to understand and only slightly more advanced mathematics to actually do the calculations. Feel free to jump in with questions whenever I’ve been unclear.

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