It was sixteen weeks ago that I took up the challenge of doing a hard-based third year science course, the last of my science requirement in my degree program, and back then I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I embarked on Astro Physics. The fourteen week long course took me on some very wild rides as I fumbled with my scientific calculator, and gawked at the streams of formulas with enough Greek letters to make a bowl of soup with, and it made me ponder the true extent of our universe.
Last night I wrote my final for that class. At the end of the 3 hour exam, which I managed to complete before the required time period was up, I got my list of overall marks from the professor. I was elated with joy when she said that my final mark may hinged between a B or an A, depending on the outcome of my final exam. (I was happy that it was not the difference between a C or a B.) I remembered how hard the mid-term was. I squeaked in a borderline B+/A- in the mid-term, after putting a lot of hours repetitiously memorising the 150 pages of texts for that exam. The big blow to the chest was that the final exam was accumulative, meaning that it covered everything from day one till the final moment of the last class. I had to work harder for it!
I remember sitting in the class, dumbfounded, when we were given our Math labs. Physics has a dual whammy with it, in that it deals with theory and Math all in one, and they are inter twined. You can not happily wonder through the course with just the theory and not take in any of the Math components–you would never be able to answer any of the questions, or get full marks for them. So seeing numbers, huge numbers, written in scientific notation like this, scared the pants off me. But once I figured out to enter them into the calculator, and properly understand them, then the wheels started to turn for me.
I was hard on myself. I only saw the people in the class that were getting all of the questions. I did not see that the class mean was only 67 percent, or that a quarter of the class was very close to fail mark of 60 percent, depending on what benchmark you use from what degree program you are in. I made sure that I allowed myself several hours per week going over the notes, textbook and labs. Disappointment came from the labs becuase of the level of Math that was involved. One lab, I got 7 out of 30 marks becuase of not moving the decimal point far enough to the right when converting measurements when calculating Mass into Solar Units. In another lab I was given only fifty percent becuase my line on the graph was “sketched in” as opposed to a nice thin line drawn in. My graph making skills lacked in the Physics department. On top of that, I saw one student hand in a computer generated graph, and the prof accepted it–“hey I could have done that!”
Oh, I guess I should explain what the four numbers mean eh? Well, the first two are part of the world of Physics known as Physical Constants, the first is the speed of light measured in metres per second, and the next one is the mass, in kilograms, of a electron. The next two are are Astronomical Constants, AU, or Astronomical Unit which equals the distance form the Earth to the Sun in kilometres, and last one is the mass of the Earth in kilograms.