Keynote Speaker for Friday Night Banquet

This year, our Friday night banquet speaker will be Randy Beikmann.  This meeting will kick off his book tour for Physics for Gearheads.


Teaching Physics to Gearheads
Randall S. Beikmann, Ph.D.
Technical Specialist
General Motors Proving Ground
Milford, MI 48380

Randy Beikmann holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. He is a technical specialist in automotive noise and vibration at the General Motors Milford Proving Ground, where he has worked since 1983. He has published numerous papers on power­train noise and vibration and has helped design and teach classes at GM within his engineering specialty. He currently holds three patents.
Physics is considered mysterious by too many young people, even those who have an intuitive understanding of physical things. The problem is that they haven’t made the connection between the science and their intuition. An important group is gearheads, who have a deep interest in cars and other mechanical things – “deep interest” often being an understatement. In tuning vehicles for performance, they think about making power, driving one mechanism with another, and utilizing the tires’ traction. They are curious and systems-oriented – just like good scientists and engineers.

The difficulty is that they may be so familiar with the physical that they have a hard time making the jump to the abstract, especially mathematical formulas and manipulations.  The key to reaching them is to illustrate the physics through relevant and exciting automotive examples, and to reinforce it by combining concepts in interesting ways. By successfully using physics to solve and explain vehicle-related problems, students build confidence in both physics and their automotive knowledge. Concrete examples drive home the physics concepts, which they then “own.”

The book Physics for Gearheads is written for the adventurous enthusiast, with a writing style similar to auto magazines while being carefully rigorous. It follows the process just described, using physics to explain racing strategy, predict vehicle performance, and describe the effects of vehicle design on performance. Several of these problems are revisited to combine and reinforce different aspects of physics, such as kinematics, dynamics, and power. Math is in no way neglected, but the emphasis is kept on physics, followed by “translating” each concept into a formula. This gives the reader a firm foundation in physics principles, from basic kinematics and dynamics, to intermediate level energy and power. It also touches on more advanced topics like kinetic gas theory. It’s all presented as being interesting, rather than difficult. Although not mentioned by name, it practices optimization in maximizing performance, a skill that every engineer needs.

The talk will explain how coupling this approach with books of this type can enable counselors and teachers in high schools, and professors at universities, to help a group of our talented young individuals develop valuable career skills.

After Randy’s talk, a question and answer session with the audience will take place.