Dan, Dan the Physics Man
I was very sad to hear this week about the death of my old high school physics teacher, Mr Livingston. I had him for five of my six years at school, and for all four years of my formal physics courses. It made me consider how important school and how especially important teachers are in getting us where to end up as adults, and it’s clear to me that without Mr Livingston’s influence there’s a good chance that I’d be (whisper it) a chemist…He was not the easiest teacher to get along with, being rather strict, and made of my classmates would probably say he turned them away from physics rather than on to it, but the fact that he really knew what he was talking about, and was able to communicate that understanding made him, in my eyes at least, one of the good ones. He was one of those teachers who was easily distracted. If he was asked the right sort of questions (often nothing to do with science) he would digress, often for a whole lesson, and it meant we often were very behind were we were meant to be. His stories about random things in physics stay with me even now, and I pass them on to my students and school kids in outreach events. The fact that cat fur used to be a mainstay in electrostatics experiments; the idea that you could learn which way German bombers were flying by listing to their engine noise; how to draw near perfect circles on a blackboard without any instruments; and of course the days when school kids were encouraged by teachers to bring in their fathers’ airguns for school experiments. I have lots of fond memories of classroom demos, and being closeted in his cupboard for my final year CSYS lessons. He was a great teacher, and I owe him a lot. May he rest in peace.