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MIT lecturers top the iTunes U top ten

Walter H.G. Lewin
Walter H.G. Lewin

MIT lectures on physics, psychology, math and architecture have been among the most popular items this summer on Apple's iTunes U, which allows colleges and universities to post audio and video educational content online.

Professor of Physics Walter H.G. Lewin's lectures, for "Electricity and Magnetism," an MIT physics course, held first place in the list for the last week in June, over Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' Commencement address at Stanford, in second place the same week.

Lewin's lectures on the science of everyday phenomena also held first or second place on iTunes U's Top Ten list for the first week in July.

Lewin is known at MIT for his clear and often dazzling presentations. His legendary lectures are not only popular in Cambridge and on iTunes U: On May 9, five of his lectures were in Google video's top 100 listing. Lecture 32 from Electricity and Magnetism was number one in the list for that day, ahead of all sex videos.

In "Electricity and Magnetism," Lewin dives into the science of rainbows, musical instruments, red sunsets, and aurora borealis; he also decodes the mechanics of pacemakers, radio telescopes, and particle accelerators.

People from all over the world have told him that the sight of a rainbow is even more beautiful now that they understand its physics. He personally reads and responds to each email he receives from students worldwide. These include not only physics students and professors, but also people who have never before studied physics, who are able to virtually attend his lectures because they are freely available online.

Lewin approaches the classroom as a place to inspire as well as impart knowledge. "What counts is not what you cover, but what you uncover," he says, "My goal is to make every student love physics."

"I try to connect the physics with their daily lives whereever possible," Lewin explains. Thus, in a lecture on classical mechanics, he swings from a wire to demonstrate that the period of a pendulum -- the time required for one complete swing from crest to crest -- is the same regardless of the mass hanging from the pendulum.

In lecture 19 for Electricity and Magnetism, a student volunteer gets an in-class electrocardiogram in a demonstration of how the cells of the heart muscle produce an electric field. The "art" Lewin brings to the classroom helps his students to retain physics concepts.

Other Lewin lectures available online via MIT OpenCourseWare and iTunes U are those for Classical Mechanics (course 8.01), and Vibrations & Waves (course 8.03). More of Lewin's lectures are also available via MIT World.

In addition to his work as an astrophysicist and MIT professor, Lewin hosts a weekly competitive art history quiz at MIT.

Jeremy Wolfe, senior lecturer in brain and cognitive sciences, is also a professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. Lecture topics for Wolfe's MIT course, "Introduction to Psychology," range from "Social Exchange: Romantic Economics" to "Freud and Fairy Tales" to "Defining Mental Illness: Are Suicide Bombers Insane?"

Both Lewin and Wolfe received MIT's Everett Moore Baker Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching--Wolfe in 1989, and Lewin in 2003.

MIT had two other courses on the iTunes U top ten recently: "Mathematical Methods for Engineers II," taught by Gilbert Strang, professor of mathematics, and "Architecture Studio: Building in Landscapes," taught by Jan Wampler, professor of architecture.

Launched May 30, 2007, iTunes U provides access to course lectures, videos, and podcasts. iTunes U consolidates universities' free lecture offerings through the iTunes online store.

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