Genesis of ‘Learning Physics’

Prof. A. N. Maheshwari followed an unconventional career path. The story of his academic life can be accessed from his website . He spent the last two decades of his professional career in educational administration. His principal tasks were administrative and mandate spanned the entire country. These were generally policy making, decision for maintaining   standards in national institutions and complex organisations.   Each day he would apply his problem solving abilities in examining issues put up to him. As an administrator he did not have contact with students or colleagues  involved with teaching and research of physics.

One day a thought came in his mind that he owed his problem solving skills to his past career as a teacher and researcher in physics.  He carried out an experiment of testing this hypothesis  by trying out solving problems from the standard textbooks  in physics. The books he picked were Fundamentals of Physics by Resnick, and Walker;  Physics by Resnick, Halliday and Krane. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that he could not only solve problems from these books but  could record with flow his thinking process. He started enjoying this activity.

 Where and when he could relax by engaging himself in solving physics problems? His duties involved   busy schedules of meetings and varied official tasks. However, his administrative work also involved frequent travel in India and abroad. He used the time  waiting for catching  flight s (delayed flights!!),  journey and  stay at guest houses   in problem solving. He would carry with him the three volumes of physics books, a calculator and a pad.

As days passed he filled twenty pads with solutions of over 1000 problems covering Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Optics, Electricity and Magnetism, and Modern Physics.

In a casual chat with Krishnamoorthy, then IT Advisor to NCTE, (Prof. A. N. Maheshwari, was Chairman, National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), he showed him his notebooks.  There was a discussion whether these could be taken to learners using information technology. The year was 2000.

 In the late 90s and early years of 20s, when 256 Kilo bauds that is 256 bits per second was considered as broad-band, 32 kilo bytes per second speeds, a megabyte of information should take 30 seconds to download in high speeds, but practically it use to take few minutes to download 1 megabyte in most of the situations. But we never used to get these speeds on shared wired connections.

A scanned page with required clarity to achieve readability will be around 1 MB and a three page scanned question and answers will take couple of minutes to download and view.

Krishnamoorthy felt may that it may  be possible. It was a challenge to put scanned images, on then, slow net work speeds…an experiment was carried out….

Notepads were scanned, writings alone lifted out of paper by an innovation graphic technology… few kilobytes now placed on white background …. yes now it is feasible to display solutions in few seconds …. 5000 pages taken on to An URL and made available to Physics Learners/Teachers…

Now a new problem crept in. Handwriting was not legible in some of the scanned images. There were requests from various users to make it legible. Again, a technique was worked out through tooltip java scripting to show the word through balloon control. More than 10,000 word supports created.

A publisher approached from a friendly quarter to help out entering the entire manuscript into word/pdf files. Four  problem were sent for their digital conversion. Response was received after 10 days' But  it was full of mistakes, as the mathematical equations cannot be understood by data entry operators - subscript, superscript the physics notations, a wrong entry will mislead the learners.

Prof.  A. N.  Maheshwari took the challenge of entering all 5000 pages into word document…the work should be much more complex, time consuming, requiring more time than original solution workout, needing perseverance. He acquired Adobe Photoshop and Mathtype and learnt how to use these software in Microsoft Word. Yes, he did it . The size of  files he created was 40 MB …. around 1000 solutions, 40K each. Over and above the time Professor Maheshwari had put in again it required IT skills in putting the file on the web. 

Krishnamoorthy started his exercise of making them less than 20k .html browser pages….optimisation through programs as a automated process, achieving few seconds download. The game is on now.

A neat and clean web site was created and loaded on a server for a huge price then.

lppage.jpgThe site was operated for three years. The objective of the website was to develop problem  skills by following reasoning of Professor Maheshwari. It came as a shock that  some students from abroad started paying for the site for buying solutions. Reviewing this development and our   personal commitments it was decided to close the website.

Now we have  revived it after 15 years. We were faced with many technical challenges, but could solve them. It is a free open source product now.

As our original site no more existed, many files were not found. There were  security issues, changes in browsers, languages, java scripting,  and compatibility with new browsers, new devices to support (screen sizes being large now !!!

All issues of rebirth of our original web site  could be solved and Learning  Physics is once again available as an Open source  at this URL. It is expected that physics teachers would use it extensively and students will begin to enjoy physics and as spin off of learning acquire generic problem solving skills.

To our surprise we have found it is totally compatible with mobile devices….

That way goes the story …..

Best of Teaching/Learning…..