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I know a guy who knows Conan O’Brien. I mean, this is pretty freaky: how often is a piece of lab equipment in the place where you did your undergrad thesis mentioned on TV?

Here is Conan, setting up the problem:

And here is Prof. Fisher with the solution:

“8.02” is actually the electromagnetism class. Side note: it was during my electromagnetism class that, halfway through a ninety-minute lecture, Prof. Fisher said, “A student just told me that a plane hit the World Trade Center. . . .” My first thought was of a problem in my high-school algebra textbook, about a B-25 which hit the Empire State Building (task: calculate how long the people on the street below have to get out of the way of the falling wreckage). Later, I found I wasn’t alone in that reaction: at least a half-dozen students in my materials science class had the same response.

Anyway, on with the story:

One point which should be mentioned is that, strictly speaking, one trial isn’t enough to demonstrate that removing the air from around the ring is ineffective. But hey, this is TV.

Tip o’ the fedora to Flavin the Gateway Skeptic.

EDIT: Curses. The second and third videos have been removed from YouTube. You may be able to watch them on NBC’s website, if you have Adobe Flash Player 9. I may or may not have updated this post to embed new copies of those videos, which may or may not exist on YouTube.


  1. As silly as it was, it was riveting.

  2. Oops, content removed.


  3. CRAP !!!! I could watch the first one and not the second two !!! FISHER !!!! gaaah. I’ve been waiting all day to watch these!

    And, damn, you were taking an early 8.02 class. Me, I was told over zephyr … and also thought it was joke.

    • Rob
    • Posted Tuesday, 12 February 2008 at 03:04 am
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    Second two links don’t work.

    • The algorithm
    • Posted Tuesday, 12 February 2008 at 16:09 pm
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    Offtopic: some of your fellow Bostonians are voting on whether to make their publications open-access by default.

    Curious: do MIT folks look down their collective nose at any IM system besides zephyr? Is Google Talk OK because it’s Jabber-based and massaged by the highest-quality code monks? Or does Institvtional pride prohibit even that?

  4. I was a zephyr person myself, but I don’t recall any particular prejudice against AIM. Google Talk wasn’t around when I was an undergrad, so I can’t speak directly about that.

    • Ivan
    • Posted Wednesday, 13 February 2008 at 01:38 am
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    Awesome! I learned special relativity from Prof. Fisher back in the day.

    Whole episode: here

    • The algorithm
    • Posted Wednesday, 13 February 2008 at 01:39 am
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    Own IM system and it isn’t treated like secret treehouse club. Who’d’a thunk. </completely-random-question-time>

    • jackd
    • Posted Wednesday, 13 February 2008 at 10:23 am
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    If memory serves, the opening scene of Sex, Lies, and Videotape has James Spader talking on the phone in his office and spinning his wedding ring on the desk. It was a very striking image, and went a long way to establish Spader’s unpleasant and amoral character.

    Also, I was able to view some of the second link, but it crapped out with almost a minute to go, probably due to issues on my end of the connection.