6.055J / 2.038J The Art of Approximation in Science and Engineering

Spring 2008

Circular water ripples on a pond produced by drops of rain.

Water waves produced by drops of rain spread in all directions. Learn more in Chapter 10 of the readings. (Image courtesy of Stephen Cannon on Flickr.)

Course Description

This course teaches simple reasoning techniques for complex phenomena: divide and conquer, dimensional analysis, extreme cases, continuity, scaling, successive approximation, balancing, cheap calculus, and symmetry. Applications are drawn from the physical and biological sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Examples include bird and machine flight, neuron biophysics, weather, prime numbers, and animal locomotion. Emphasis is on low-cost experiments to test ideas and on fostering curiosity about phenomena in the world.

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Dr. Sanjoy Mahajan

Course Meeting Times

3 sessions / week
1 hour / session