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Innovative ‘Boombox Physics’ Provides Sound Education

February 17, 1998
University Of Oregon
Turn on the receiver, pop in a CD, crank up the volume and . . . let’s do physics.

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EUGENE, Ore.--Turn on the receiver, pop in a CD, crank up the volume and . . . let’s do physics.

Freshmen at the University of Oregon enrolled in a course called Stereo Physics are exploring the sometimes daunting laws of physics with the help of an unusual study aid--a stereophonic sound system. The course is the creation of Stanley Micklavzina, an instructor in the physics department.

“Eighty to ninety percent of the central principles of physics are incorporated in a stereo system,” says Micklavzina. “I am always looking for ways to make physics real to people, to help them understand that physical laws can be studied in very practical ways.”

Many of the topics of a usual physics class are covered in Stereo Physics, Micklavzina explains, “but we study them in very practical terms closely reinforced by the hands-on work the students perform using stereos and physics lab equipment.”

In Stereo Physics, students learn about wave theory as it applies to sound from speakers, and thermodynamics as it applies to the heat transfer occurring within a stereo receiver. Lecture, demonstration and lab topics such as “Optics and the CD player” and “Electricity and magnetism: tape decks and tuners” are the result of Micklavzina’s hybrid approach. “It is a good class for someone not normally suited to a course in physics,” says Colin Gibson, a freshman pre-journalism major from Oakridge, Ore. “I love music and I’ve always been interested in sound, so I can relate to what is being taught.”

The course is offered as a “freshman seminar,” a kind of course specially designed to provide freshmen at the University of Oregon a more intimate and involved educational experience than what the first-year student might otherwise encounter in larger, more impersonal courses. “I think this class is really good for freshmen,” says freshman Dustin Vifquain of Hillsboro, Ore., who also takes courses in psychology and philosophy, both of which have upwards of 300 students and are held in large lecture halls. ”In my other classes there isn’t much one-on-one attention, but in Stereo Physics there’s a lot of hands-on work and work in small groups. I like it.”Freshman seminars are limited to 20 students, and instructors are expected to emphasize the development of student writing skills and critical thinking.“Critical, independent, inductive thinking is something I am stressing in this course,” Micklavzina affirms.

To this end, he gave students the unusual homework assignment of going to local stereo stores with instructions to shop for a music system, to listen to and ask questions about the terminology the salesperson uses, and then to write a report on these experiences. Micklavzina uses the reports as a jumping off place in his lectures.

“There are salespeople who claim that speaker wire that costs $45 per foot will somehow deliver significantly better sound than other wire. And yet, we know that the real current carrying capacity of this stuff is almost indistinguishable from that of ordinary wire of the appropriate gauge. Their sales pitch has to do with profit, not physics, and helping students learn to critically assess such claims is an important education,” says Micklavzina. “By developing a discriminating mind when it comes to stereo salespeople, students can apply the same kinds of critical thinking to the words of politicians, journalists, spin doctors and others.”

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University Of Oregon. "Innovative ‘Boombox Physics’ Provides Sound Education." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 February 1998. <>.
University Of Oregon. (1998, February 17). Innovative ‘Boombox Physics’ Provides Sound Education. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 26, 2017 from
University Of Oregon. "Innovative ‘Boombox Physics’ Provides Sound Education." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 26, 2017).