Core at Mudd: Electives

As I build my schedule for next semester, I’ve been thinking about some of the choices of classes I made for the past two semesters. During the first three semesters at Mudd, we take the Core Curriculum. Especially in the first two semesters, almost all of our classes are part of Core. However, you do also have the opportunity to take electives. And, during the first semester, you have access to electives that are frosh (Mudd freshmen) only. These tend to be really fun, exploratory classes. They are totally optional, but about half of my friend group took one. I think my choice to take one is probably the best choice I’ve made in scheduling so far!

I took the elective called “Physics on the Edge.” On the first day of class, Professor Sahakian let us know that the full title was actually “Physics on the Edge of Sanity.” The class was split into two parts and definitely lived up to its name. During the first part of the semester, we studied a collection of new and weird ideas in physics using only high school math.

The textbook for the course came in app form, and it had some interactive components (applets). For example, the first unit we covered was First Principles. One of the applets demonstrated the principle of rotational symmetry by showing how the velocity and radius vary together to keep rotational symmetry.

We also studied quantum theory, black holes, the big bang, and string theory. The work was very theoretical, as most of these concepts require math far beyond the high school level. It was also very fun! We often worked examples on squirrels (i.e., What happens to a squirrel in a black hole?), and got to explore concepts outside of the scope of most introductory classes. I also found this class very helpful in teaching me how to puzzle through the ideas in a complex problem. I definitely used some of the techniques I learned in this class for Special Relativity (a frosh fall Core class) and this semester in Mechanics.

During the second half of the semester, we each researched our own topic (something that was in the news and related to physics) and gave a presentation on it. My presentation was on Planet Nine, the theory that there is a super earth in the far reaches of the solar system. I found the research for my presentation absolutely fascinating! Other students did research on quantum computing, the system that allowed us to take a photo of a black hole, and primordial black holes. It was really cool to get a glimpse of the different new discoveries that are occurring. Overall, I really enjoyed this class!