“Everything we know emotionally and everything we know quantitatively we know through metaphor. When we have a law in physics, it’s really a metaphor for how the universe works, because it works no matter how we describe it. It doesn’t need us to operate.”
Jamie Day’s interest in physics goes deep but his love for learning goes far beyond a linoleum-floored laboratory.
Day can be found outside with a telescope, showing students the transit of Venus across the sun. Or you might find him in Transylvania’s Monroe Moosnick Medical and Science Museum, where he offers tours of the collection of nineteenth-century science and medical artifacts and anatomical models. Or you may find him at a Transylvania Creative Retreat, where Day can indulge his artistic impulses by carving exquisite wooden bowls and spoons.
A steadfast supporter of the liberal arts curriculum, Day believes that all disciplines—arts and sciences—are connected, although the interrelationships may not always be “intuitively obvious.” He has team-taught with faculty from art, psychology and religion, in addition to math and science.
He is currently developing a May term poetry and physics class with Maurice Manning, professor of English and Transylvania writer-in-residence. A casual observer may think the two disciplines are quite dissimilar. But Day would disagree.
“Everything that we express emotionally we express through metaphor. There’s no way we can really convey what neurons and all the chemicals in a body are doing. But you can create a metaphor to share that experience with someone else.
"In poetry, metaphors overlap with those of physics. If someone wants to describe an emotional experience, they do it with metaphors drawn from the world that is governed by physics, which we describe using our own metaphors.”
From a young age, physics appealed to Day because he could solve problems “without having to memorize stuff.” It was more than understanding numbers. “It’s about how the universe and matter work,” says Day.
But Day knows that physics is no piece of cake. That’s one of the things he loves about teaching it. “Every physicist I know is frustrated by physics. You have to see the bigger picture to be able to push through.”
With that in mind, Day reminds his students that delayed gratification pays off. It makes him proud to watch students develop confidence in their problem-solving skills.
“I think the way physics teaches students to persevere through difficulty applies to many areas of life. In the real world, problems can’t be solved in 15 minutes.”
For Day, nothing can take the place of simply doing the work. “You can have digital tutoring systems and you can try all kinds of gimmicks, but you still need to sit down with a pen and paper and calculator and do problem after problem after problem until you learn to do them right.”
Through this slog, Day is there for his students, whether it’s for a simple homework problem or senior independent research. He believes Transylvania’s opportunities for independent research offer a unique advantage.
“A lot of our students have the upper hand once they get to graduate school because they’ve already been in the lab. At larger schools, most students wouldn’t have had a chance to do that type of research.”