His classes are out of this world. No, really, they are!
With a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics, Jeremie Vinet has taught at Marianopolis College for a decade. Here is what he has to tell high school students about his Physics courses and about the importance of trying new things.
Which classes do you teach at Marianopolis?
I teach all three core Physics courses, Mechanics, Waves Light and Modern Physics, and Electricity and Magnetism. I have at various times had the chance to teach the enriched version of these courses. I have also taught the Astrophysics elective course for the past two years, participating in the acquisition of the College’s top-notch fleet of telescopes used by students in this course, as well as by those taking the Astronomy complementary and sometimes those taking History of Science.
What topics do you cover in your Astrophysics class?
We cover everything starting from the motion of the stars and planets in the night sky and the Ptolemaic and Copernican models, to the characteristics of planets, moons, comets and asteroids in the solar system, to the formation, lifetime and ultimate death of stars, to galactic dynamics and the large-scale structure of the universe and the Big Bang. And yes, we do cover black holes!
Students are required to buy a small tabletop telescope instead of a textbook. For about $60 they get an easy-to-use tool that Copernicus and Kepler would have paid a king’s ransom to get their hands on. The students get to make the same observations Galileo made, all from the comfort of their own backyard! We also go out on the College’s front lawn at least one evening in the semester and make use of the College’s numerous high-quality telescopes to look at whatever the sky has to offer that particular evening. Students also get to complete an end-of-semester research project on exoplanets and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. They debate various solutions to Fermi’s Paradox, which asks “If the universe seems to be filled with planets that could apparently support life, why is it that we haven’t met any intelligent aliens yet?”
Some students take the course because they intend to study physics at university but many also take it precisely because these are the kinds of topics they won’t get to study at university and want to take advantage of this opportunity to learn about our amazing universe.
Marianopolis is all about student life. How are you involved outside the classroom?
I am the Physics mentor for our Honours Science students. I’ve coordinated Physics competitions, acted as the resource person for the Physics Club and have been a member of the Faculty Reach for the Top team.
What’s your favourite thing about teaching?
It’s that moment when a student’s face suddenly transitions from a looked of perplexed confusion to one of understanding. Their eyes suddenly widen, their mouths open wide and they go “Oh!” And those occasions when they then immediately turn to the person next to them and excitedly start explaining what they’ve just understood, well that’s just icing on the cake!
I also love it when students ask questions to which I don’t know the answer. Being forced to constantly look up new information and learn new things well enough to then explain it to the students the next time we meet is definitely one of the perks of the job.
Are teachers accessible to students outside of the classroom?
Yes! The massive pile of lab reports and assignments on my desk that I always wind up having to take home to mark is definite proof that students take full advantage of our open-door policy.
What piece of advice would you give to incoming students?
Never be satisfied until you really understand the material you’re learning. Ask your teachers questions, ask your classmates questions, ask yourself questions, answer your own questions, answer your classmates’ questions, look up the answers on the web, at the Library. Be passionate about learning and take advantage of the fact that you’re surrounded by hundreds of people who are as passionate as you are!
I also want to reassure students that it’s not the end of the world if they’re not sure what they want to study at university. Don’t be afraid to try a variety of things. As long as you’re learning along the way, you’re not wasting your time and you’ll eventually find what you’re truly passionate about.