Fun With Physics and Life

by minton on December 11, 2018

I was saddened to learn that Dick Minnix died on November 28. Dick was a hero to me, and I suspect many others, and truly had a large positive effect on physics education.

I first met Dick in California at a large conference for community college math professors. Dick was there as a keynote speaker and I was there to give a much smaller talk. Which is to say that we were not of equal status. Nonetheless, Dick spotted my nametag, introduced himself and we had a great time chatting. I was very glad that my talk was well before his, because the man put on a show! You can see one of his bits – spinning a glass of water without spilling a drop – online from a Facebook post of Main Street Lexington titled “The ever-amazing Dick Minnix wowing the crowd at the Science Festival.” This shows Dick at 80 years young!

In California, one of his routines was based on mirrors and had him flying – you can see a very brief piece of this in the Roanoke College Medalist video for Rae Carpenter, at the 2:52 mark. It is wonderful! Minnix and Carpenter were both Roanoke College graduates who became physics professors at VMI, and their “Dick and Rae” shows entertained and inspired countless students and non-students. Their book Dick and Rae Physics Demo Workbook is a thick treasure trove of clever illustrations of physics principles. I bought the book after seeing Dick’s presentation of one of the projects that uses coffee filters to investigate the effects of air resistance. This idea was central to a very successful calculus lab we used at Roanoke. Who knows how many other great classroom experiences owe their existence to the innovative minds of Rae and Dick?

As a young mathematics teacher, I looked on one side and saw painful struggles with theoretical mathematics and then looked to another side and saw Dick Minnix flying and doing loops with water. It was clear which side was having more fun, and which side students preferred. More importantly, it was clear that students were learning physics concepts while having fun. I have tried, not always very successfully, to bring as much Minnix magic into my mathematics classroom as I could.

I’m sure I speak for many others when I say thanks to Dick Minnix for making it fun!