Monday, August 27, 2012

Paint, Tom Sawyer, and Errors

Today’s post is about the difference between random error (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_error) and systematic error (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systematic_error). Another analogy awaits you. (This blog could probably be entirely about errors.)

Imagine painting a wall. You finish your first coat of paint. Before passing out from the paint fumes, you notice that there are spots missing paint. Furthermore, you notice there seem to be two types of areas without paint.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Science Inquisition

Memory of your time in K-12 classrooms probably conjures up visions of memorizing facts and regurgitating them for exams.

In particular, science labs often consisted of a box of equipment, a set of instructions, and the correct conclusion. Wrong answers resulted in error analyses and feelings of shame.

Upon venturing into the science education world, I’ve repeatedly heard the words “inquiry” and “inquiry-based learning” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquiry-based_learning).

Inquiry-based learning is very opposite to traditional learning, and science is the subject most conducive to inquiry-based inquiry or open learning. In this type of classroom, there are no right or wrong answers. Students are given the box of equipment with no instructions. They spend class time exploring and then develop questions and theories based on their observations.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cross Posting!

Hey all,

The Berkeley Science Review posted my original post on numbers as a guest blog post:

If you're into repetition, feel free to read it again! There's some other really cool posts on there as well so check them out!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Error Bars, Average Heights, and Pizza

Loyal reader, have you read your research article yet? Perhaps, you've noticed little lines on all the figures and wondered what they are. Those are error bars.

In the first post, I talked about the type of error that arises due to our finite measurements.This post is about another type of error called standard deviation, which basically relates to the spread of a data set.

You take the magic ruler from the first post and attempt to find the average height of Americans. Ignoring sample size, you take two small groups of five people randomly found on the street.

Group 1 Heights: 5’7”, 5’8”, 5’9”, 5’10”, and 5’11”
Group 2 Heights: 5’3”, 5’6”, 5’9”, 6’0”, and 6’3”

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How to survive an encounter with a physicist

If you’re reading this blog, there is a high probability that you will encounter a physicist at some point in your life.

Here’s a roadmap to surviving this conversation.

Introduction: If you’re like 99% of the population, you’ll have one of the following two reactions upon meeting a physicist: “Oh, I loved physics in high school!” or “Oh, I hated physics in high school!”

Guess what? We don’t care. Feel free to keep this thought inside your own head.

Note: If you choose to exit at this point, please try to leave politely. Wrong strategy: just walking away (it’s happened).We already have enough rejection in our lives (grants, papers, dating, etc).