The introductory physics of being pissed off

Excerpt from an interview with physicist Melissa Franklin, in the Harvard Gazette (with a photo by Stephanie Mitchell:

A: … I didn’t go to class as often as they would have liked, so the headmaster called me in and told me I had to have a goal. He had spoken to my teachers and they thought I should do English literature. Really, just to piss them off, I did physics.

Melissa Franklin

Q: Did you choose physics because it was the opposite of literature or was there some interest left over from that first physics class?

A: I read things I find on bookshelves and I had read a few of the more popular books by the men who created quantum mechanics. So it was an intellectual interest, but I think it also was just the anti-authority part of me. It was hard because it was a two-year program and I was getting into it at Christmastime of the second year.

Q: How did you manage that? You must have had a lot of catching up to do.

A: I didn’t manage it very well. I had a great teacher, but I was pretty terrible. A week before the A level exams, which the whole country takes, they give you a mock exam. And I got 4 percent. At that point, I realized I had to study. It was spring and it was very beautiful out and somehow I got into a mode of studying that was completely intense. So for 10 days, I just studied. I did pass, but I also got really excited about physics. Then I decided I wanted to go to the University of Toronto and study physics. It was a little hard getting into the university, so I had to use the skills I had obtained at the free school to be able to convince people. I went down 34 days in a row and spoke with different people trying to convince them that I was exactly the student they wanted, that I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and eventually they let me in.

Q: At this point, you’re 16?

A: I am 16. The funny thing is, I don’t really know how I finally got in. I suspect it was someone in the Physics Department….