How Chinese Children Are Learning Physics

While we’re on the subject of China… The US has had space stations for decades, and people here now show limited interest, barely caring that the US currently has no rocket that can carry people to space.  Now China has its own rockets and space station, and, with plenty of excitement and national pride, is putting them to good use.

Yesterday, some 60 million Chinese children watched a presentation and discussion from space, involving astronaut Wang Yaping and a Beijing classroom, on basic physics principles: mass versus weight, gyroscopic motion, etc.

I hope she managed to explain that there is gravity in space…

Note Added: The full lecture, with English voice-over, is available here:  Thank you, Yan Wenbin.

29 responses to “How Chinese Children Are Learning Physics

  1. Hi Matt, you can find the full video of the lecture with English voice-over here:

    All the experiments did in space look fun and fit for kids. To your question, the fact that there is gravity but countered by circular motion was already explained in detail in preliminary programs, but I think she still mentioned it anyway

  2. kashyap Vasavada

    Perfect timing for this issue. I find it very difficult to explain weightlessness (floating in space stations) to people who do not have any idea of Newton’s laws. The word weightlessness itself is bad and confusing to laymen. Explaining Newton’s laws, centripetal force, normal force etc takes a long time. How do you deal with this issue?

  3. I think I will write an article on this next week.

    • That is a good idea. I look forward to it. I taught high school physics for my career. The disappearance of gravity in space is a common misconception.

    • Matt,
      I hope you are writing this from a General Relativistic poiint of view, not Newtonian. All the hogwash about balancing centrifugal and centripetal forces acting on something in orbit based on Newtonian gravity is 100 years out of date. Describing freefall in GR terms is not only more accurate, it’s a lot simpler and illustrates much more general properties of spacetime.

  4. Now here is a great example of penny wise pound foolish activity. Back in the 90’s the Single Stage Rocket Technology program was working on a series of innovative launchers called Delta Clipper. It was somewhat risky but might well have worked out. Had it continued, we would now see order of magnitude reductions in launch costs. Even if it failed, we would have learned a lot on using composite materials that would benefit existing launchers.

    Ironically it was largely defunded not because it was seen as wasteful but rather because it wasn’t wasteful enough. The initial prototype (DC-X) was developed for less money than NASA spent designing a new toilet. If it supported more jobs in more districts, it might have survived (but then would not have accomplished its goal).

  5. The BBC say that Ms Yang was able to explain that the surface tension of water is stronger in space. I’m quite impressed. I certainly couldn’t do that. Something lost in translation I suspect.

  6. It is also a fun fact that two bubbles in the water ball didn’t merge together, but a pity they didn’t elaborate this part

  7. Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

    Matt: “… and people here now show limited interest, barely caring that the US currently has no rocket that can carry people to space.”

    SomeGuy: “The initial prototype (DC-X) was developed for less money than NASA spent designing a new toilet.”

    Very interesting comments. And, they are entangled with some of your previous articles.

    SomeGuy said (in previous article) that Chinese stole many America’s technologies. Again, this space-class stole all its content from the West, indeed, as not a single point comes from the traditional Chinese culture. How low the Chinese people are? Or how “humble” they are?

    If Nature writes its secret on a rock and drops it into California desert, are any American physicists able to recognize it? My answer now is definitely a big No. They simply do not have the knowledge and the wisdom to do it.

    If Nature disguises himself as a kid beggar while selling that exact Nature’s secret and one of the American physicists does recognize it, will he buy it? The answered is definitely a big No. He would be too assumed to get it from a beggar. He will try with all his “might” to suppress it, with denying and sanction.

    The Nature knew this too well and created Chinese thieves who will eventually pickup that desert rock or steal from that kid beggar. When can we learn the humbleness from this Chinese space-class?

    • Tienzen,

      The only thing I said about the people of China was to comment on the Chinese engineers I have worked with and found to be very talented. I’m not sure how you translate that into my thinking they are ‘low’ or ‘humble’.

  8. johnmcAllison

    I find it interesting that the Chinese have accomplished so much over the past few decades, but it still darkens into insignificance compared to what the Americans have achieved over the previous century. They’re playing catch-up using established technology.

    The Americans being the first to step onto a natural body outside the Earth will always be one of the key defining moments in human evolution that’s unlikely to be surpassed in its impact for centuries, or even millennia, to come.

  9. I wanted to share with you about my friend, a 72 year old former plastics salesman. Though I’ve carefully tried to explain to him twice about the difference between mass, weight, and momentum, he STILL doesn’t understand that we can’t simply ‘blip’ an oncoming asteroid away from a collision course with Earth!

  10. This reminds me somewhat of the 1960s era of American science, when it was seen as a public good, cure all and leading to a bright future of progress.

    If they keep this up for more than a decade then I shall be impressed. Especially given the wonderful grip traditional medicine has on their culture. (We have nutjobs, but at least they’re not *official* nutjobs.)

  11. It’s funny that you mentioned “I hope she managed to explain that there is gravity in space.”

    It so happened that I once witnessed a young man giving a talk to a bunch of little kids at the Denver Natural History Museum and he mentioned that there is no gravity in space!

    I approached him after his talk and explained that he was wrong about that point. Perhaps I should have contradicted him while he was giving his talk? The children’s instructor appeared to be someone who worked or volunteered there.

  12. While we’re on the subject of China as the remarkable country overtaking the West. This is:

    How Chinese air-freight handlers transfer fragile boxes at Guangzhou Airport:

    • Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

      What a jerk! But, Chinese will certainly “destroy” the physics of the West.

      • john McAllison

        Destroy the physics of the West?

        You’re clueless; physics belongs to nature, not some particular culture.

  13. Thank you Professor,
    as layman, I beg your pardon, if there is any mistake, Please correct me with original version. I do not know Chinese language. With my simple indian English and internet knowledge, I understand….

    In the above video, to measure the “mass”, in earth, they use spring scale to measure gravity and then mass. The vibration frequencies (above 300 Km from earth) are different between the two objects (like in, ball on the spring), she had pulled means – “she managed to explain that there is gravity in space ?”

    The word “Confucious world (~400 BCE)” is misleading – may be Taoistic or Daoistic (~600 BCE) is appropriate ?
    Chinese Enlightenment (the spirit of reason and science) was started with May 4th movement (1919) – was more nationalistic.
    China’s intellectuals and scholars began to be exposed to the European Enlightenment through the translated works of Japanese scholars (period of Manchu Qing dynasty). During Sino-Japanese war (1890s), more Chinese students traveled abroad. At that time “World Parliament of Religions of 1893″ was conducted in Chicago, USA – influenced by Soyen Shaku, D.T.Suzuki interpretations of Zen Buddhism.

    There was also Enlightenment during Song Dynasty (11th century AD). The history of Gunpowder (through alchemes or traditional medicine) and Muskets were the examples.

    Mass is Phenomenological ? :
    If a verbal, as linguistic (meaning), written in a water surface, will create waves (ripples) – If the perpetual transformation of its crests and troughs makes “action without action” or “effortless doing” – the Amplitude contains the “life force” and the physical information (meaning or Logos). It is AXIOMATIC and numerical.
    The conscious void in between them is condensed and diluted, also have perpetual transformation, proportional to amplitude. This is NON AXIOMATIC.

    The still water is consciousness – has no verbal and linguistic.

    The mass is not the non zero equilibrium of the amplitude – but the non zero equilibrium of the consciousness ?

  14. ….. Please add this also… The amplitude A of oscillation (vertical axis, scaled to put the first excited state at A=1) for the state n. For small values of n, the discrete values of A lie quite far apart, but already for n=100 the allowed values of A lie so close together that the discreteness is becoming difficult to detect. In most everyday situations the value of n is so much larger than 100 that the discrete behavior of the world is unobservable.

  15. The lesson lasted 40 minutes during which the spacecraft completed half an earth orbit, with undisrupted high-quality broadcast and live interaction. This shows the capability of China’s data relay satellites, which is of strategic importance.

  16. We should all celebrate China’s accomplisments as accomplishments of humanity. Once we appreciate our common humanity perhaps then we can join together and increase progress in science and perhaps make the next quantum leap in understanding reality.

    • An admirable attitude. It always seems strange to me our desire to ‘own’ progress and advances.

      • Mr.Kudzu,
        if everything is recycled, which part of the cycle is called “progress and advances” ?
        If anybody own this part of the flat earth, they still think earth is flat – not civilized with scientific reality ?

        • Progress is adding to what we have. The castles of yesterday are the foundations of tomorrow, but progress is building on those foundations.

  17. Thank you Mr.Kudzu, foundations of tomorrow was determined by civil wars? – Humans lost their belief in verbal Logos, and replaced it with “mathematical Logos” ?

    Civil wars after Ming dynasty, cultural Revolution. Americans were rather cruel to one another during the American Civil War. The various civil wars in England are an even better example, with most of the participants having been Anglo-Saxons yet just about every civil war there was rife with wholesale slaughter, torture, and mass executions. They didn’t target or spare people based mostly on race or ethnic identity.

    After The Thirty years war in Germany (1618 -1648), the conscious space in between the above fig, the quantum number “n” was concised in favour of numerical and axiomatic “quanta”. This idea of quanta was from Hermann von Helmholtz (on the conservation of Force 1847) – this was only the quantization of the amplitude. Actually the non axiomatic increases with n < 0.
    But the Black-body radiation observed by Max Planck made it murky. To localize the reality, Gottfried Leibniz's (1676-1689) "living force" or Chinese "life force QI" helped as conservation of energy.
    "Every quanta have discrete energy according to their frequency, more quantas more intensity, but same energy" – was understood by Max Planck – became the "h".
    Sometimes, numerology automatically predict bizarre things, Einstein's speed of the light "c" made it more human – but relativity was consistent with axiomatic- became the Dirac's "h-bar". They tried to contain it with more Euler, Leibniz mathematics. Even Noether's theorem was Langrangian- to fix density function (position) – cannot fix if, n<0.

    Eventhough "reality" not justify ethics and morality, Accumulation of wealth justify every crime against ethics and morality – because of this numerological function !

    —–Please delete if it like a thesis.

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