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Reading Tips for Physics for Future Presidents

Richard A. Muller is professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Muller’s book "Physics for Future Presidents" is based on his renowned course for non-science students, which has been twice voted as the “Best Class at Berkeley.” A past winner of a prestigious MacArthur Foundation, Muller is also a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and is associated with the Institute of Nuclear and Particle Astrophysics. Muller is the Founder and Scientific Director of Berkeley Earth Inc., which was developed in early 2010 with the goal of addressing the major concerns of skeptics regarding global warming and the land surface temperature record. As of February 2013, Berkeley Earth Inc., became an independent non-profit organization.

 Dr. Muller is passionate about communicating science to the general public so that citizens and future leaders are well informed to make personal, civic, and policy decisions about the important challenges facing us.  More about Muller can be found on his website: http://muller.lbl.gov/


Physics for Future Presidents

Why should you care about the book? There are an almost infinite number of topics Muller could have included in his book, but he narrows the number to five broadly defined general topics --- terrorism, energy, nuclear issues, space, and climate change. These are topics that you will encounter every day in the news and in ways you may not think about. For example: What is the TSA really checking for in airport security? How does GPS work? Why is ethanol required in automobile fuel? The topics also impact big questions that face us as a county: Is Iran or North Korea a genuine nuclear threat? What is a “dirty bomb”? Could a terrorist likely construct one? Are there viable alternatives to fossil fuels and why should we be developing them? What is global warming and can it be stopped?  As a citizen and future leader, these are issues you need to know something about.  These important questions are why we chose this book as your common reading! Over the course of the fall semester

In the book’s introduction Muller quotes the nineteenth-century humorist, Josh Billings, humorist as saying:

The trouble with most folks isn’t their ignorance. It’s knowin’ so many things that ain’t so.

Most of us probably have misconceptions about the key topics Professor Muller addresses in this book. As you read the book, keep this quote in mind and jot down those so-called myths or misconceptions that Muller dispels. Keep up with current events. Invariably the key topics discussed in Physics for Future Presidents will appear daily in the news. Challenge what you are reading or hearing in the news. Train yourself to not only think about the science behind the issue, but also the political, economic and social ramifications of what is being discussed. Solving real world problems invariably draws upon multiple disciplines as well as having good scientific data.



Five Tips for College Reading

  1. Don’t be afraid to write in your books!  Have a conversation with the text.  Written notes are more effective than strips of yellow highlights in determining what you were thinking when you read the text.
  2. Follow your interests!  Make a note of something if it is interesting or surprising.  Look up key words or topics. Today’s internet can present you with a wealth of information in an instant.
  3. Make connections to the major you have chosen. Make connections to the material being covered in your classes.  Making connections to things you already know enriches your understanding of what you are reading.
  4. Remember the Josh Billings quote used by Professor Muller and use everything you read to constantly rectify those things you know that “ain’t so.” Know what you don’t know! College reading is often challenging.  Look up terms you don’t understand, or ask a friend if they know a good reference. Ask questions in class or during office hours; if you are confused about a concept, it’s likely others are, too.
  5. Slow down! Setting small, realistic goals can help: “Today I’ll read 10 pages” or “Today I’ll read two chapters.” This helps pace your reading and gives you time to connect with it. Also, make it a practice to always have a book with you to break out a moment’s notice when you might have a few minutes to just sit back, relax and read.


Patterned after first year experience study guides prepared by Karen Weathermon at  Washington State University and Rebecca Campbell at Northern Arizona University.


Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. --Sir Richard Steele