This is a stealth dual-purpose post, as it’s both my latest ‘What I’m Reading Entry’ and me talking about my daily life. The book is Symmetry, A Unifying Concept by István and Magdolina Hargittai, and it was given to me by my boss in preparation for the course that we’re teaching. The first class is tomorrow. I’ve known that we’d be teaching this fall for a while now, of course, and I’ve actually been bugging him to let me teach almost since I started, but it really just sunk in – I’m now on the other side of the student-teacher relationship. Like, for real. I think the moment it officially hit me full force was when I saw my name on the class schedule, just like a real instructor.
I’ll be fine, I know. We’re both doing this together, and I imagine he’ll do most of the heavy lifting tomorrow. And I have taught before – the first year physics labs back in Ottawa (how could I ever forget marking those rassa-frassin’ lab reports?) – and I suspect I got reasonably good at it by the end, because they gave me an award, but it was a few years ago and I vividly remember those classes where I made an ass of myself –
(Of course, I also remember those classes where I got to demonstrate explosive vaporization of liquid nitrogen.)
Right, never mind me. Just a few pre-class jitters. It’s all part of my master plan to acquire a sofa.
Anyway, back to the book. It’s basically a hard-copy version of what we hope to accomplish in the course – an introduction to the concept of symmetry and all the many ways it occurs both in the natural world (plants, animals, and of course minerals) and in man-made creations (art, architecture, music, even literature), with introductions to some of the fundamental concepts like rotations, reflections, translations, point groups and space groups. It’s full of great pictures, many of which I’m sure we’ll be ganking for in-class examples, and has already given me a few neat ideas.
Gene Shalits with 4-fold rotational symmetry
One unique thing I like about the book is its a short chapter on antisymmetry – i.e. where an operation doesn’t transform an object into itself, like a symmetry does, but into its opposite. Think of the two opposing sides of the chess board, black and white, or of an operation where you exchange all the positive electrical charges in a system for negative and vice versa. It’s a topic you don’t see treated in many discussions on symmetry, but in certain areas of physics like quantum mechanics it’s almost as crucial.
Antisymmetric Gene Shalits
It’s not a textbook, though, and we won’t be using it as such. It’s a pretty basic book – no math or advanced theoretical discussion, mainly just a pictorial introduction. I browsed through it on the bus and before bed yesterday, so it’s not particularly text-heavy, either. But symmetry really is primarily a visual concept, one that can be elaborated mathematically, so it makes a good introduction.
Now I have to find a way to work Gene Shalit into my lectures, but how…?