The Hacker's Guide to Physics

Welcome to the Hacker’s Guide to Physics! This short lecture series will introduce modern physics using basic high school maths, and is designed to be a virtual successor to the UBC Physics Circle. A (rapidly evolving) lecture outline is below.

The first lecture will be on Thursday, May 14. Stay tuned for further details!

Lecture outline

  1. Dimensional analysis (Thursday, May 14, 2020)
  2. Fermi estimates (Thursday, May 28, 2020)
  3. Random walks (date TBA)

Isn’t hacking bad?

Nowadays, a “hacker” is someone who breaks security systems. But there is an older use of the term referring to a spirit of play, exploration, and creativity in technical matters. In the words of open-source pioneer Richard Stallman,

[Hackers] wanted to be able to do something in a more exciting way than anyone believed possible and show ‘Look how wonderful this is. I bet you didn’t believe this could be done.’

In this older sense, “hacking” is about using technical insights to do impossible things. Examples include student pranks at MIT, the Lego inket printer made by Larry Page (co-founder of Google), and even the nerdtastic webcomic xkcd.

The "holy grail" of MIT hacks: tetris on a campus building.

Hackers do not look for the most powerful, or obvious, or easy tool for the job. They delight in using humble means to achieve extraordinary ends. Viewed this way, we can hack physics just as well as we can hack Lego blocks or a campus building.

The "holy grail" of physics hackers: Albert Einstein.

We will try to approach physics with the hacker spirit of physicists like Albert Einstein or Richard Feynman, discovering deep facts about the world using simple tools. In a motto:

Deep facts from cheap hacks.

You don’t need complicated math to share quantum secrets, size up a black hole, or probe the genome of E. coli; just the back of a napkin and couple of hacks. Join us as we hack our way to the heart of modern physics!