Dean Reynolds Helps Make a Point in Physics Class - Hamilton College
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Dean Reynolds Helps Make a Point in Physics Class

Tags Gordon JonesPatrick ReynoldsPhysics

Dean of Faculty Patrick Reynolds visited Professor Gordon Jones’ “Physics 190: The Mechanical Universe” class last week to help illustrate some laws of physics.  Lying on a bed of nails, Reynolds demonstrated the difference between force and pressure. In comparing a bed with a single nail to one with hundreds of nails in both cases the force (Reynolds’ weight) is the same, but the pressure is different.  On a bed of hundreds of nails the force is spread over many nails in the same way that pressure depends on the area over which a force is spread.

Jones also placed a board on Reynolds, put a cinder block on the board, then smashed the block with a hammer.  “Smashing the cinder block shows two things.  First, it demonstrates force vs. pressure again.  The small head of the hammer on the brick leads to a large pressure on the brick, but the board has a large area so that leads to a small pressure on Pat,” Jones explained.  “Second, there is a physics concept called 'impulse' which is related to how force is spread out in time.  The brick is rigid so the hammer must stop in a very short amount of time leading to a large force,” he said.

Jones reported that “Pat is more flexible (a good thing for an administrator), so the hammer has longer to stop leading to a smaller force.” Reynolds had a slightly different take:  “I think he was demonstrating the difference between pliability and brittleness --- whether in materials or simply administrators, I'm not sure.  I was demonstrating my absolute trust in the Hamilton faculty!”