Physicist Wendy Ermold's career in as a researcher at University of Washington's Polar Science Center has taken her places some would never dream of going - at least not without a very heavy coat. She's lived and worked for two weeks at a camp on the frozen ocean 190 miles northeast of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. She traveled to the Chukchi Borderland in the Bering Sea with no prior seagoing experience (the team referred to her as a "greenie"). Ermold's often traveling for weeks at a time, water sampling, filing protocols, preparing instruments, and performing other tasks required in her direct-observation work.
A career like this requires constant learning. "I really, really love pure physics," says Ermold. "But sometimes I feel a little slow. I'm like the little guy who wants to play football!" Ermold channels that enthusiasm into learning new concepts and ideas in her rare off hours. "I recently picked up a book on string theory," she says. "I was having trouble working through it, so I decided I needed to really go back to basics and work my way up at my own pace. Having the video lectures [on MIT OpenCourseWare] really helps make this possible."
Ermold says watching Walter Lewin's 8.01 Classical Mechanics on OCW reminds her how fun it is to be in the classroom, but with a flexibility not possible in a traditional classroom. "I can just watch and listen, then try to recreate everything in my own notebook," says Ermold. "Then I go back to the video to see if I missed anything. Or I can pause it and see if I can work it out myself before Walter does it. But really, it's Walter himself that makes it so fun. He's really entertaining."
"What is so great about OCW," says Ermold, "is that it makes physics and math (and other subjects) available to the very interested and intelligent people who can't go to school for one reason or another, or who can't handle the fast pace. It puts a previously untouchable subject within reach for anyone who is interested. A lot of people crave good food for their brains, and to have access to such quality materials fantastic!"
Ermold says she recently purchased an iPod® just so she could watch Walter Lewin's videos during her commute to and from work. "I'm planning to watch Gilbert Strang teach mathematical methods next," she says. "A guy on the bus told me he was pretty good too. I'm looking forward to that."