Parkland Press

Sunday, October 21, 2018
PRESS PHOTO BY STEPHEN ALTHOUSE“A lot of times people get really confused about physics because it’s a lot of math,” said Parkland High School senior Nina Cao, shown teaching a class on the theory of special relativity May 23. Copyright - Copyright 2009 PRESS PHOTO BY STEPHEN ALTHOUSE“A lot of times people get really confused about physics because it’s a lot of math,” said Parkland High School senior Nina Cao, shown teaching a class on the theory of special relativity May 23. Copyright - Copyright 2009

Forget Einstein, Parkland’s Nina Cao is a relativity specialist

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 by Stephen althouse Special to The Press in Local News

Don’t worry if you did not ace high school AP physics. Nina Cao can pick up the slack.

Not only can the Parkland High School senior pick up the slack, the physics whiz can literally teach the class.

And, teach the class is exactly what she did May 23.

“Nina is one of the top students I’ve ever had,” Parkland physics teacher Sean Flueso said. “She’s extremely personable and will do a great job in presenting.”

Cao had the idea to lead a class on physics to her peers earlier this year.

The Upper Macungie Township resident took two advanced physics classes this year at Lehigh University to further develop her keen interest.

“I always like to ask ‘why’ and then help others understand,” she said.

Her dissertation focused on special relativity.

Originally proposed by Albert Einstein in 1905, special relativity is the “generally accepted and experimentally well-confirmed physical theory regarding the relationship between space and time.”

In short, “the theory paved the way for modern physics,” according to Flueso.

Cao’s teaching style is deliberate but engaging.

Blessed with a fierce intellect on the subject, she also conveys that knowledge easily.

“It’s all about practicality,” she said of her lecturing style. “So, using examples is really important. A lot of time people get confused by physics because it’s a lot of math, and so what I try to do is have people imagine things from their perspective or using practical examples.

“That’s how they start to understand things a little bit more because they can picture it in their mind.”

Teaching, Cao notes, is not a sprint, but more like a jog.

“It’s really important to take things slowly,” Cao added. “Saying things multiple times. The first time someone is exposed to something new, they might not really understand it.

“So patience, you know repetition, try to break it down. That’s really all there is to it.”

Right. That’s all there is to it.

OK readers, get ready to take notes. Class is in session.

Cao explained why the concept of “aether” was introduced by physicists, before moving on to discuss what the Michelson-Morley experiment proved.

The Michelson-Morley experiment was designed to find the presence and properties of aether, a substance believed to fill empty space.

After showing a few bullet points and charts, the high school senior showcased both the Galilean and Lorentz transformations, regarding a particle in motion and the principal of relativity.

The next pitch is on Einstein’s two principles of special relativity and Cao states their significance in physics.

She then shows the derivation for either the time dilation or length contraction.

To close the lesson, she waxes on a few other topics, such as lack of simultaneity, the muon experiment or the twin paradox.

Fortunately, for the less science-inclined, class is over and it’s time for lunch.

But not for Cao, who after graduation is going to hang with other really smart people at Harvard University where — you guessed it — she’s going to study physics.

Later, she’ll likely hit grad school.

“The idea now is that I hope to become a professor, maybe, in physics, but I’m not a 100 percent sure,” she explained.

So, the next time you meet someone who is whip smart you may call them an “Einstein,” but one day you may be calling them a “Cao.”