“Physics on your feet: Berkeley Graduate Exam Questions”
By Dmitry Budker and Alexander O. Sushkov
W. W. Norton & Company, 224pp | Buy on Amazon
Up until high school, I didn’t really like going to school that much… but physics was the exception. I always loved physics; it just seemed so interesting, so rational, and so fun! With that in mind, I was really excited to get my hands on this book and see if I can work my way through it.
Physics on your feet is basically a collection of physics problems (with solutions at the end), presented in an illustrated and humorous way. The book is definitely not for everybody – in order to be able to tackle the physics problems, you need strong knowledge of physics (graduate level) from all areas of physics. The problems are generally short (some are extremely short), but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. This being said, I don’t want to scare you – it’s not the math-filled physics many would likely expect and math knowledge is required only when strictly necessary, while many of the problems can be approached, at least at the basic level, without applying any complex formulas.
What I really liked, and what I feel that makes this book special compared to others is that even though the questions are easy to formulate and quite short, the answer is always more complex than you’d think – and it often requires an out-of-the-box approach. The authors say that the questions were actually asked (or could have been asked) at oral PhD exams at Berkeley – if this is true, then that’s quite the fun exam!
Just imagine being asked, at a PhD exam, why the tears on a boiled hot dog are longitudinal and not transversal – how tasty would that be? Personally, while I did manage to find the answer to that question, I was stumped by the next question: why do hot dogs curl into a C shape when fried in a frying pan? Talk about a hot physics question!
But hey, when all else fails, you can just go to the solutions. Every single problem has a detailed solution on the next page, and while of course, you should try to solve them by yourself, if you can’t – the solution will definitely clear things up.
So all in all, the book is recommended for everyone who wants to pursue a graduate education in physics (or related areas), but also for anyone with some knowledge of physics wanting to test or amuse himself with a set of interesting physics problems. I’d say that the book doesn’t test your physics knowledge so much as it tests your way of thinking, which to me seems much more important. I’d dare say even people with only basic knowledge of physics can get a lot from this book, by going through the solutions and learning. All in all, I had lots of fun with it. I successfully answered some questions, but I failed others. I’m not sure if I’m ready for a PhD at Berkeley… are you?