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Physics Lessons From The Science Teacher You Wish You'd Had

OPB | Aug. 19, 2014 12:30 p.m.

Portland’s Christine McKinley wears many hats: she’s a mechanical engineer, a musician, a composer, an author and a former TV personality. She’s also on a mission to make math and science more fun. Her book Physics for Rock Stars is part memoir, part science lesson, and part advice column. It reads like a practical guide to the world from a clever, nerdy friend:

Like atoms, at our core we are something so distinct that to disassemble our core is nuclear fission or fusion — terribly energy-consuming, explosive, and likely to leave dangerous leftover parts. If you are dependable iron and you try to be heady hydrogen or exotic einsteinium, you will likely make a mess of yourself. It will hurt. And it won’t work. Be an iron person if you are iron. Or be carbon if that’s how you’re made. There’s a place for every type of bonder in the world, just as there is a box for every element in the periodic table. You are somebody’s match. Or you are a noble gas. Either way, you have a place in the universe.

McKinley says there’s no reason to be afraid of math and science, and she draws on examples from her own life to prove it. She shares that math didn’t come easily to her initially, and that it took a stylish pre-calculus teacher named Mrs. Johnson to help her realize that solving equations could be fun and even glamorous.

Now McKinley manages industrial and commercial construction projects for Intel. She says she hopes Physics for Rock Stars encourages younger readers, especially women, to consider engineering as a career. There are a lot of  jobs available, she told OPB, and they’re well-paid — which means engineering can also be a way into the middle class for low-income students.

Were you intimidated by math and science when you were in school? What could your teachers have done to change your mind about those subjects?

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