Meet B.A daVinci

Who is this new chap B.A deVinci?

B.A or Buoyancy Aid- keeping you afloat with your Physics

Careful- see I’ve 2 right hands!

Mrs Physics has been very fortunate to be part of the Digital Mentoring for Schools and Colleges programme, where for one year a mentor in academia works with someone in schools. I have been very delighted to work with Dr Linda Shore, first of Napier University and laterly of Glasgow School of Art.

She has provided me with loads of ideas for inspiring students using mrsphysics website. In fact her creative ideas are so immense that I think it will take me many years to put them all into practice, and I’ll also need some more training in codewriting. Together we worked on asking students how we could make the site better- I’ve lots of work to do on that. We then thought of the tagline “Keeping you afloat with Physics” so we needed B.A daVinci to be created. He is a little lifejacket or bouyancy aid that I found on and he has been transformed by Mr C Rossi from St. Joseph’s College (where has he been hiding this talent all these years) and Master Physics.

Hopefully he can point you to everything you need to know, and he can be “keeping you afloat with Physics”.

Thanks to all of those involved and to Lesley Broadwood for putting us in touch. He is this colour as he matches the boat.

Now my classes want the full merchandise, mugs, stickers, bags… I just want them to succeed at Physics!

Oh and why daVinci? I think he must be the most amazing polymath, and he was left-handed, wrote backwards, and was just totally out of my league. What is there not to like about daVinci? (Apart from that stupid code in Dan Brown’s book which is totally readable by most lefties!)

September 2022


I really wanted to get off my chest the disaster that was Mr Physics and my attempts at purchasing a fridge-freezer during the holidays; when I am able to wait in for the delivery van, and spend the time defrosting the old one. So far we’ve had two unsuccessful deliveries and still haven’t got a new one, although the credit card balance insists I have. But alas, no one is likely to be interested. So I will vent my outrage at another annoyance, and one that I am happy to say I am not alone in. This one annoys Mr Mackenzie and Mr McPhee who are on the AH SQA Physics examining team with me.

i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii, viii, ix, x

How can this possible annoy, you ask?

Now as a teacher I often use this list in questions, although rarely get beyond vi. How can anyone think this is anything other than a counting system?

Well most young people think that Roman numerals can only have a capital, and so the list above is

aye, aye-aye, aye-aye-aye, ivy, vee, vee-aye etc.

I don’t know where students get this “Roman numerals can only be capitals” thing from? Surely it is obvious by the sequence. I mean, even this is too easy for a Mensa test

Finish the sequence…….

i,   ii,   iii,  ……

If this was just a random set of numbers your immediate answer should be


but it is

iv…. or one before five!

IT’S ROMAN NUMERALS!!! Someone should really be teaching you this at Primary School and if your teachers are calling them ayes and aye-ayes show them the pictures below.

These are aye-ayes, the largest nocturnal primate in the world. Whereas, Roman numerals are for counting…. see below

Better go and choose a new fridge freezer! Think I’ll make anyone who can’t count in Roman numerals copy out the table after class!

Looks like I haven’t done enough boating this holiday, pupils beware!

Are Exams getting easier?

Exam Papers   Blog NLS

There has always been comments, every time exam results are published that exams are getting easier. Well you don’t now need to take other people’s word for it, you can decide for yourself. The National Library of Scotland are putting examples of past papers up on their website: although I am not sure how comprehensive the list will be.

There is a great blog post by  Fiona Laing the Official Publications Curator for the National Library of Scotland.

Let me know how you score!


Inspiring Words for Young People

Mrs Physics has collated some inspiration quotes for young people. I hope that you find something here to grasp on to when things are going bad or well, and to remember that life can get better. Just know when to ask for help and when to share your success. People have an in-built desire to be needed, so ask if you feel you can’t deal with it; someone is there to help you through.

I was born to achieve

I create my own destiny

Champions are people like me.

I will love and respect myself every day of my life.

It’s not what happens in life, it’s my reaction to what happens.

My positive thoughts lead to positive actions.

All the resources I will ever need are within me.

Problems are opportunities that make me stronger.

Treating people with respect will assure my future.

Leaders are learners.


To laugh -is to risk appearing the fool

To weep -is to risk being called sentimental

To reach out to another -is to risk involvement

To expose feelings -is to risk showing your true self

To place your ideas and your dreams before the crowd -is to risk being called naive

To love -is to risk not being loved in return

To live -is to risk dying

To hope -is to risk despair

To try -is to risk failure

But risks must be taken, because the greatest risk in life is to risk nothing

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing

He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love

Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom

Only the person who risks is truly free.

Dr Leo Buscaglia

Qualities of a Great Teenager

You have a strong character and will never give in to peer pressure.

You know you are unique. You know that no-one else is exactly like you.

You are totally focussed on your goals and objectives.

You know exactly where you are going in the world.

You have the ability to get back on your feet when life throws you down.

You have respect for every human being irrespective of colour, creed, country or religion.

You know that Knowledge is important to you future and the future of you kids.

You know the difference between right and wrong.

You respect and you give more than you take.

You know your life will be a mirror reflection of how you treat others.

You know that personal sacrifices now will pay for dividends later.

You know that gangs are for followers and not for leaders.

You know that drugs and excessive alcohol could ruin your life.

You know deep down that you have talents, skills and abilities.

You are always a good friend striving to offer unconditional love.

You will be a great parent to your kids.

You know that success is down to determination, hard work and a positive mental attitude.

You know that when you are old you can look back and know your life was worthwhile.

Watch your thoughts they become your words.

Watch your words they become your actions.

Watch your actions they become your habits.

Watch your habits they become your character.

Watch your character it becomes your destiny.

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

SUCCESS To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

As we approach exam time, be inspired by these words. Do your best, you should never be embarrassed about doing your best, whatever the result.



Quotes for Students

There is a debate on Sputnik, the Scottish Physics teachers’ Forum, about displaying good quotes around the Physics Department. Since starting this website I have looked at several quotes and I think some of the quotes of Carl Sagan are fantastic.

My favourite to inspire all students is

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
― Carl Sagan.

but closely followed behind it is the following little gem.

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” ― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

I would love to have included the poem by Dorothy Law Nolte “Children Learn What They Live” and I have permission to upload it here, but it must be password protected and I’d need to take it down after 4 years and pay again. I’m afraid that much as I believe people should get full rights for writing and holding the copyright, but budget won’t sustain that, so I suggest you check it out for yourself. It is online in loads of places.

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

Albert Einstein

and here are a couple of worryingly true quotes that seem to be even more pronounced in the UK with the latest education system.

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. Carl Sagan

I think we are a long was from a society that embraces innovation.

Once you have an innovation culture, even those who are not scientists or engineers – poets, actors, journalists – they, as communities, embrace the meaning of what it is to be scientifically literate. They embrace the concept of an innovation culture. They vote in ways that promote it. They don’t fight science and they don’t fight technology. -Neil deGrasse Tyson


I remember that this made an impression on me at school but I didn’t even know it was one of Einstein’s. I wonder if it was. I suspect it was a culmination of several people’s work.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

One more on the benefits of getting educated and wisdom.

You’re blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom,
    when you make friends with Madame Insight.
She’s worth far more than money in the bank;
    her friendship is better than a big salary.
Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth;
    nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her.
With one hand she gives long life,
    with the other she confers recognition.
Her manner is beautiful,
    her life wonderfully complete.
She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.
    Hold her tight—and be blessed!- Proverbs 3 The Message

So I wanted to think of a quote for myself, to sum up everything, but I am just not that clever!


From flowers to fission

I’ve just spent the weekend away with a few friends. One was a friend I made in hospital when Mrs Physics was fighting with her gallstones and the doctor’s were trying to do a  Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatogram (ERCP) without waking her up or making a hole in her pancreas.

She was a delightful young woman who was brought into the ward following her bedside table, which had a pair of young trendy short boots and the most splendid flower arrangement I’ve ever seen. The residents of the ward were making judgements about the person who belonged to the boots and flowers. Despite this young woman being a modern kinda girl she had a homely attitude to life. We shared a liking for Lady Grey tea (her friends call it lady tea), early nights in and lots of laughter.

The flowers were from her previous boss Andrea’s Florist Stranraer, where she worked as a florist after leaving school at 16. Despite obvious talent, my friend wasn’t content with life as a florist and decided to join the navy as a medic. She joined the NAVY on 17th January 2010  HMS Raleigh in Plymouth- which isn’t even a ship! After 6 ½ years and her hospitalisation she had been determined to leave her desk job in the navy to train as a submariner (person who works on a submarine).

We spent the first night away discussing all the non classified training she had done since she left hospital and collected Charlie the dog as a companion.

She started her training in June 2016. My friend commented “The people on my course were awesome” and so everyone passed.

As part of the submariner training she learned about Biology and especially the formation of cells, meiosis and mitosis, and effects of radiation on cells, cancers tumours. Lots of maths, which they didn’t tell her about. She completed loads of calculations and fell in love with Avogadro and his number. Her confidence had rocketed since I saw her in hospital. In her Health Physics course she learned about doses, does rate, Gray, millisieverts, decay factor (half life/ time) the inverse square law and decays as well as all about the workings of a nuclear reactor.

Some of the Physics was practical linking how a submarine escape depends on the gas laws, especially Boyles’ Law. The group got to play with atmosphere equipment and the gear to detect gases on the subs. As it is the medics who are responsible for atmosphere on board. Maximum permissible levels of contaminants, 60 min emergency, 24 hour and 90 day limits were all part of the training and my friend was obviously confident to use all of these numbers, although she didn’t tell me what they needed to be. The atmosphere is sampled regularly. As part of the Health and Safety the course covers shielding , policy, half value, law and legislation.

Information on the atmosphere of the submarines is shared with NASA as there are links between the confines of a submarine and a spaceship. Whether they have a similar smell I have no way of knowing, but I was assured there is nothing like the smell of a submarine, not that it was unpleasant, it is just unique.

Escorted by tugs, Royal Navy submarine HMS Astute sails up the Clyde estuary into her home port of Faslane, Scotland for the first time following the journey from Barrow-in-Furness shipyard.
*** Local Caption *** LA (phot) JJ MASSEY

Her boss has visited the Roll’s Royce who make the submarine reactors and stated that it was not as high tech place as you’d imagine.

I could see that during the last six months my friend has become so excited by Physics and the other Sciences and was totally enjoying what she had learned. Now I am sure when she was at school she never thought that this would be what she would be doing, and could never think that this would be her day job. So what you know is that you don’t know what you might one day be using, so start learning when it is easy as it gets harder with age.

Thanks for coming away, and for sharing your experiences, see I never mentioned the pirates or the other thing!

P.S. I’ve been offered a trip for students to see what they do at the Submarine Base- would you like to come?


Well the results are in!

SQA cert

Well folks! The results are in! You should now be the proud owner of an SQA certificate for the year 2016. How do you feel about your results? Before you jump for joy or drown your sorrows, just step back and think about what your certificate says. If you are very able and achieved an A, then well done. Did you honestly work as hard as you could? Do you have the skills to continue on for when subjects get trickier?

If you didn’t get the result that you hoped or expected think about why that was? Do you really think the SQA got it wrong, or was it down to lack of focussed revision? Did you really ask your teacher to go over every question that you got stuck on?

And if you feel really down because you might not have passed, have you looked at your potential, the score you were expected to get and did you perform as well or better? If you did, then well done to you. You’re the ones I want to celebrate most.

If it was down to lack of effort, learn from your mistakes, pick yourself up and show the world what you’re really capable of achieving.

If you didn’t do as well as you hoped, all is not lost. The world is a funny place. You might become Prime Minister!

Keep in touch, and remember exam results are one aspect of life marking you. I’d rather you were a kind, generous and warm hearted person. That’s what we need most of in this world.


Me and my calculator

Whilst working with the Police Crash investigator team I had a meeting with Pete Monteith, now known as calculator Pete, whom I decided must be of a similar age to me, as he had the same calculator I’d had at school. The difference was, he was still using his, whilst I was enjoying the delights of an updated calculator.

These days calculators are more technical than the computers I was brought up with. However, I think fewer people know how to use them, which isn’t surprising given the poor quality of the instruction manual. I am on a one woman campaign to get my students to fully utilise this great resource. When I started teaching Physics it used to take two weeks to teach resistance in parallel, now the students are happy in under a lesson- the reason? Their calculators “do as it says on the tin”!

Here are a few things to check out and try. (I am using a Casio, and I know the brighter amongst you would much prefer a Sharp, but I’ve never got on with them). You can draw your own conclusions!

Let’s check out using the calculator how to find total resistance in parallel. The equation is

1/Rt = 1/R1 + 1/R2 + 1/R3… etc.

How can your calculator to do this easily?

Let’s try adding a 7 ohm resistor in parallel with a 28 ohm resistor.

  1. Make sure your calculator is in MATHS IO mode. To do this go SHIFT -> MODE->1. I’ll assume you know to turn it on.
  2. functions
  3. Press the fraction button, two rectangles one on top of the other with a line between. (see image below)
  4. fraction
  5. Now type in the first value which will be 1/7 (7 is the resistance but the equation tells us to find 1/Rt we need to put in the value of 1/R1)
  6. The up and down arrows allow you to move between the top and bottom parts of the fraction.
  7.  arrow keys
  8. Now we need to add the 1/28 to this value. Use the right arrow to make sure that you are out of the fraction.
  9. Press the + symbol.
  10. Then press the fraction button again and add in the 1/28, using the up and down arrows as before.
  11. Now when you press equals you ought to get the answer for 1/Rt, in this case 5/28.
  12. Remember this is not the answer. This is the value for 1/Rt. We need to find 1/ans to find the value Rt. Luckily we have a button for that too.
  13. Press the X-¹ button (see below)
  14. X-1 When you press the equals this gives the answer 28/5. This is indeed the right answer but the SQA does not like you leaving things as a fraction. So press the S<->D button to reveal the answer 5.6
  15. So adding a 7 ohm and a 28 ohm resistor in parallel gives a total resistance of 5.6 ohms.

Yes that really did take nearly two weeks to teach before the age of super calculators.

Remember, your calculator can be a great asset to you during your exam and your career but only if you know how to use it.

Here is another of my favourite buttons, the degrees, minutes and second button.

  1. deg min secWith this button we can easily add times together and convert between time and decimals of time.
  2. For example, we all know that 2 hours 30 minutes is 2.5 hours so we’ll just use this to prove it works!
  3. With this button, you must remember that you have to enter a number for hours, minutes and seconds even if they are not needed.
  4. Enter 2 (for the hours) and press the deg min sec. Then put in the 30 minutes and press the deg min secbutton again.
  5. Now two hours thirty minutes doesn’t have any seconds, but we need to input this into the calculator, so press 0 and the deg min sec
  6. The odd bit, that is easily forgotten, is you now need to press the equals button which reveals 2°30°0°.
  7. Press the deg min secbutton and this gives 2.5. Well we knew that but other numbers aren’t so obvious.
  8. Try 0 hours, 45 mins and 0 seconds. Yes you ought to get 0.75 hours.
  9. But does it work the other way? Yes it does.
  10. Type in 0.75 press the equals and then push deg min sec;the calculator displays 0°45°0° or 45 minutes
  11. You can add time too. Try adding 3 hours 49 minutes to 7 hours 25 minutes. This will tell me the time I will be at Euston Station if I catch the 7:25 train to London, which takes 3 hours and 49 minutes. Now I could just check the timetable or I can use the calculator and I rapidly find I will be in London at 11:14am (or I will if the train is on time: and if it is over half an hour late, remember to reclaim your train fare)

My final fun button that is now a favourite of my classes, although they are right to be a little nervous, if they don’t know what they are doing. These tips cut the time to find resultants or components of vectors and their angles. The teaching of SOHCAHTOA (which incidentally I have to spell out using Six Old Horses, Clumsy And Heavy, Trod On Albert because I can’t spell SOHCAHTOA) appears to have gone by the wayside in Maths. But once you know your Pythagoras and SOHCAHTOAs from other Greek Philosophers then this button can save loads of time, but please don’t use it unless you’re sure you know what you’re doing.

rec to pol

I am sure many of you know that a right angled triangle with sides 3cm and 4cm will have a hypotenuse (or large side) of 5cm, but what will the angle be between the X axis and hypotenuse?

For this we want to use the rectangular to polar coordinate buttons.

rec pol

We want to find the hypotenuse of a 3,4 triangle and the angle it subtends. so therefore we need the Pol button.

  1. Press shift  and then +, this causes a Pol( to appear on your screen.
  2. Enter 4 for along the bottom and then a comma ( which is shift and close brackets) ie shift )
  3. Then add the second digit, the 3 up.
  4. Close the brackets or just press equals.
  5. This gives an r=5, θ = 36.86989765 , which you’d certainly know to round up to 37°.
  6. If you know the 5cm and the angle, just use the Rec button (shift and the minus).
  7. So Rec(5,37) =X=3.99317755, Y=3.009075116, which for a Physicist is fine as 4cm along and 3cm up!

Practice using these buttons and when you need some more handy calculator hints let me know!

To Calculator Pete, if you ever want a race, I’ll time you with your factorial button anytime! When I was at school my Casio beat my friends Texas calculator by about 45 seconds every time I pressed 69 and then the factorial button (!). This then multiplied 69 by 68,by 67 etc. all the way down to 1. Funny, my new super calculator can still only manage factorials up to 69 before running out of digits, but the speed is remarkable. My question to myself, is why did me and my friend Deb Faulder, ever race regularly- as if we expected one day her calculator to beat mine.


You’re never stupid!

I really ought to be stopping for the evening, especially as I spent the day in A&E. What was particularly embarrassing was that I went there to support a relative, only to need a bed myself as I passed out! Thanks to those wonderful people in A&E at DGRI who never made me feel stupid. Anyway talking of stupid, here are two documents to get you thinking. The first is a little old. The 1927 Solvay Conference. Imagine being a fly on the wall at that event. Actually most of it would probably have gone over my head or under my wing. The other is a more up-to-date document, a survey from the IoP (Institute of Physics) suggesting that those with a degree in Physics will likely be able to earn more than the average salary.

Physics in Scotland Physics Graduates are more likely to earn more than the average salary, so it is worth persevering!

The Solvay Conference 1927.pdf A meeting of the brightest minds. How many have you heard of? Notice there might only be one woman but she won Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry so that’s something. Don’t give up as a woman and think Science isn’t for you. You can really make a valued contribution.

The Solvay Conference 1927.docx

Maybe one of you will be this amazing, or maybe you are already. I know I am not!