In this video profile from NOVA scienceNOW: "The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers," meet theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. Inspired by Albert Einstein, who died when Kaku was just eight years old, Kaku decided that the field of theoretical physics was for him. Kaku says he usually works only with pencil and paper and that equations dance around in his head. He’s thrilled in his pursuit of universal laws about the universe.
This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.
Visit the series page here.
Before Viewing the Video
Activity #1: Whom do you know in a STEM career?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM fields include Chemistry, Computer and Information Technology Science, Engineering, Geosciences, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, and Physics, among others.
After Viewing the Video
Activity #1: Exploring Interests
Activity #2: Career Pathways
Corresponding Student Activity Handout: Career Pathway Individual Research Project Instructions (for Option 1)
Activity #3: Impacts
Corresponding Student Activity Handout: What's My Mission? worksheet
Activity #4: Career Planning
After students have watched several of the videos, have them complete the following steps to finding a career in a field that may fit their skills and interests.
For some people, real adventure lies not in travel to remote locations or chasing millions of dollars in the business world. Instead, it lies in untangling the mysteries of the universe to understand the nature of our physical reality. This is true for theoretical physicists like Michio Kaku.
Physicists develop theories about the world we live in on the basis of observation and experimentation. Some physicists work in teams, first designing physical experiments, then recording their findings, and later reporting on them. These scientists are called experimental physicists. The theories they develop can be applied to problems in nuclear energy, aerospace technology, and other areas. Theoretical physicists are more concerned with the theoretical possibilities of science. To test hypothetical scenarios that cannot be tested due to practical considerations, they employ mental concepts called thought experiments. For example, Galileo developed a thought experiment to answer the question, If Earth is indeed moving at great speed, why does it seem to all senses to be motionless? The theories that arise from thought experiments may later be proven or disproven by experimental physicists.
As he explains in the video, Michio Kaku usually works only with pencil and paper. He stares out the window, with equations dancing in his head. He hopes these thoughts might one day lead to an equation no more than one inch long that summarizes all physical laws, from the Big Bang to the creation of our solar system. If you share his love of trying to answer big questions with simple equations, your name might one day be grouped with the likes of Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Johannes Kepler, all of whom were theoretical physicists.
A good theoretical physicist must possess a lot of background knowledge and prior experience in science to be able to formulate theories. Like all physicists, theoretical physicists should be strong in mathematics, especially calculus. (Did you know that Isaac Newton invented calculus in order to solve a physics problem about the orbits of the Moon and planets?) But the main qualities theoretical physicists need to possess are curiosity and drive. If you’re interested in theoretical physics, see if your chosen college offers a major in it. Otherwise, you’ll need to take physics and mathematics courses as an undergraduate and specialize in theoretical physics in graduate school. While you may be able to find a job in industry with an undergraduate degree, the more education and experience you can gain, the more likely you can pursue your own theories.
Introduction to the Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers Video Profiles
How can the video profiles help you address STEM careers and the Next Generation Science Standards?
The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers video profiles provide stories of real people with diverse and interesting careers in STEM fields. Bringing these videos into your classroom can be a motivational and impactful way to discuss careers. The videos provide concrete examples that students can connect with. Additionally, students may find aspects of themselves reflected in the stories of those profiled.
The Secret Life video profiles are also useful for addressing the NGSS Crosscutting Concept: Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World component of any topic you are teaching. The video profiles showcase a diverse group of scientists and engineers and how they have an impact on society and the world through their work.
Why should you use the videos in your classroom to address STEM careers?
As technology becomes further integrated into our daily lives, and as industries seek to stay competitive in the global economy, STEM skills will be in greater demand. Through watching videos that profile real-life scientists and engineers, students will gain insight into careers that offer challenge, excitement, a good living, and the opportunity to contribute meaningful solutions to society’s problems. Students will also see the educational pathways that lead to successful STEM careers.
How can you use the videos in instruction?
The Teaching Tips section provides several activity ideas for using the videos in your classroom. The process can be used once with a single video, or over and over again to allow students to build on their work with each successive video (a process known as “iterative metacognition”).
The process outlined in the Teaching Tips will help your students
There are two student handouts you can use to complement the activities shared in the Teaching Tips:
If you simply want to embed a video in one of your lessons, match the career with the topic you are covering. For more videos, visit The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers website.
What was the name of Albert Einstein’s unfinished manuscript that inspired Michio Kaku? Do you think such a short and all-encompassing equation will one day be written? Why or why not?
Is there something about Kaku’s description of his career that appeals to you?
Would you find it easy or difficult to work in abstract ideas? Explain your response.
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