Column: Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy physics physics too


I arrive at my coffee maker and turn it on, complete a circuit that allows electrons to flow from the wall socket to the heating element, which converts electrical energy into thermal energy, and the water gets warmer. After the little blue light lights up and shows me that the water is ready (another cycle), I put my reusable filter with my selected coffee grounds in the machine and press the button (many other forces are involved here). A pump inside the machine reduces the pressure in the water line so that the normal pressure of the atmosphere can push the water in the container up and down into the filter. Gravity takes over, pulling the hot water through the coffee grounds and filling my mug with warm caffeinated goodness.

This is just a taste of the physics of a simple, everyday task. Physics is the study of everything that surrounds us and how everything works, from entire superclusters of galaxies to the smallest atoms and even the particles that make up the atoms. When you take a physics class, you’ll learn motion and forces, energy, gravity, momentum, simple harmonic motion, waves and sound, heat and phase changes, electricity and circuits, magnetism, light and optics, and maybe even a little quantum mechanics depending on which class you’re in take.

We offer three physics levels in Minnesota West, each with a laboratory component so you can get hands-on physics as you learn the concepts.

Survey of Physics is a basic course that provides you with a general foundation on many of the topics listed above and their effect on our everyday lives. It is aimed at students who need a science class to graduate but are not comfortable with math and science.

Fundamentals of Physics is an algebra / trigonometry based course that goes deeper than the survey class and really digs into the concepts and is taken by students entering a science, engineering, engineering, or math (STEM) area. but don’t need the full Calculus version of the topic. This includes those studying in computer science and pre-medical degrees, or anyone who wants a firmer foundation in physics.

General Physics is the full Calculus version of Physics. Isaac Newton invented calculus to mathematically express his laws of motion and other ideas in physics. So this course leads to the roots of physics. Those looking to enter an engineering field or other highly technical STEM careers take this course.

I’m sure you’re all thinking, “Uh, physics sounds tough!” Seriously, when I tell people that I teach physics in Minnesota West, I get reactions of, “I loved physics!” to “I loved physics the day I finished it!” The advantage of taking one of the courses in Minnesota West is the small class size and the personal attention you get from me when you take one of my courses . You may not get this type of help at many major universities, so Minnesota West is a good starting point for a four-year study program for all of the STEM background courses we offer in biology, math, chemistry, and physics.

Easier said, we also have a basic astronomy course that gives an introduction to the entire universe and also counts as a laboratory science course for your degree. I am excited about the expansion of our new telescope and observatory where we can see many of the actual objects we study in class. I also plan to do public viewings at the observatory for everyone, hopefully in autumn.

Minnesota West is a great place for students to take physics or any of our other science and math courses, whether you’re getting a two-year degree or moving to a four-year school. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to make coffee.

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