The Physics of Life

Last year, I took Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Dr. Brand Fortner. He was AWESOME. He knew just what to say and just how to show something to us so that we understood it perfectly. As with anything though, there was that one topic that made life difficult.

For me, that headache was Angular Momentum. For more information, click here, and here.

But long story short, it’s a force associated with angular momentum that’s important here.

Animated GIF image demonstrating relationship ...
Animated GIF image demonstrating relationship between force (F), torque (τ), linear momentum (p), angular momentum (L), and position (r) of rotating particle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Photo Credit (Wikimedia Foundation)

See, L is angular momentum and r is just the radius of the spin. But of more important metaphorical (that’s pronounced me-TAPH-rical) use is mxvMass times velocity gives momentum.

Notice the way the blue arrow is pointing. Straight ahead. If you were standing at the red arrow and holding a string (the green arrow) tied to a ball (where the green and blue arrows meet), and if you swung it around your head like a knight swinging a mace, then the moment you let go of it, it will stop flying in a circle and fly in a straight line. It’s the same principle that people use during the hammer toss event in the Olympics.


But until that ball is released, all that energy and effort goes into keeping the ball right where it is: r feet ahead of you. Without ever letting go of the ball, all we can hope to expect is more of the same.

That’s fine and dandy if we’re content with our lives exactly as they are. But there’s always something.

Last year, I was a Mechanical Engineering student. But when I began to hit the main engineering courses, I noticed that my performance–even when I studied my heart out, was subpar to my classmates’. After going to an advisor and realizing that it would take me six years to graduate on top of that, I panicked.

Engineering was all I knew I wanted to do since the 8th grade. Suddenly here I was with nothing but a choice: stick it out the SIX years in a major that gave me daily hell with homework and exams (and that’s six years of passing every class, which hardly anyone can do), or change.

And change I did. After looking at my options, I found a new home in the College of Management, in their Operations and Supply Chain program. Not only is NC State number six in the nation in that field, but the major offers me a better mix of technical details and interpersonal interactions that define who I am.

While in my last days in Engineering, I felt like my life was that ball spinning in front of my eyes–taunting me for my poorer than usual performance. The spinning ball wouldn’t let me see past it enough to explore my alternates. It’s only when it threatened to hit me that I threw it. And it landed on this new major, that so far has me completely happy.

The best part is that I changed a defining factor about myself without changing my self-identity.

So yes, I’m no longer an Engineer, but it doesn’t mean I’m not myself.

The risk may seem daunting, and sometimes it is best to stay inside the spinning ball for a while longer or entirely. As with anything else in life, it’s dependent on the situation. But when it’s safe to do so, the benefits of throwing the ball can be incredible.

Who knows, you might just break a world record.


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