“We give the students a truly remarkable, green, metallic-shelled scarab beetle,” Lincoln says.
“We ask them to work out what’s going on with the polarising effect on its green wings. Why is it evolutionary?
“Polarising optics is very tricky to teach. Using the beetle, there’s certainly not much in the way of old-fashioned plotting of graphs and equations in this approach – but it’s a lot of fun,” he says.
Holographics, lasers, ions flowing in water and magnetic fields are other ingredients in this brilliant approach to teaching physics where industry-applicable, problem-based learning is the recipe.
The approach extends into the second and third years of the physics course, where students are grouped and given a real-world problem to solve. The lecturers demand fast, smart thinking in a situation that is as close to a real industry situation as possible. Students plan their attack, order equipment (which the department buys or builds for them) and then each group creates a device. After just 16 hours over four weeks, the students present different solutions to the one problem.
“Monash is great for this type of learning,” Lincoln says. “It’s an adventurous place and not afraid to try new things. It’s big enough to genuinely change with conviction as there’s the support and depth to do it. It’s open-minded, flexible and supportive.”
Because Monash is so large, Lincoln believes excellent students gravitate which, in turn, leads to a brilliant cohort of PhD candidates.
Lincoln has a ferocious appetite for physics, passionately describing his research interests. His experiments using ultra cold physics involve temperatures of less than a millionth of a degree above absolute zero. “Matter behaves in a really interesting way at these temperatures. It is rich and full of possibilities …with a fascinating degree of quantum weirdness and mind-bending quantum physics.”
He loves the fact that one of his experiments can yield results within an hour while scientists in other fields might need to wait a decade for their findings to emerge.
The potential for physics to transform our lives is enormous.
“We could have 3D views of the inside of our bodies from an MRI in our iPhone – and it would use the Earth’s magnet rather than one in a huge machine. It could constantly scan our body and alert us when something goes wrong.”
Lincoln offers a tantalising tip for the future of 3D TV. “Holographic TV and phones are coming. The 3D TVs you see today are hopeless compared to the exciting possibilities ahead.”
Holographic TV and phones are coming. The 3D TVs you see today are hopeless compared to the exciting possibilities ahead.