During a recent lecture to the Warren Astronomical Society, a presenter went over a couple mathematical formulas in great detail – several audience members were lost almost immediately, most of the rest after just a minute or so. Afterwards, I talked with one audience member who not only understood all the math and physics presented, he absolutely LOVED it – but this particular fellow had studied under Carl Sagan, and is a complete Braniac, so his “math tolerance threshold” is a bit higher than most…
I remember loving my differential equations class at Michigan Tech, I also remember struggling mightily with Calculus; I’ve completely forgotten both after 30 years of disuse – and I’ve had more math than most of the general public I lecture to.
During my lectures, I occasionally include a little bit of math; I show relevant formulas, and let the audience know that there is math involved, but that’s about all. When it comes to astronomy though, there’s mathematics all over the place, and it is very important.
How do you present math and formulas during your presentations, without losing your audience? Do you simply not talk about math when presenting to the general public, and reserve it for presentations to educational and professional groups? How do you present the math and physics on a level that the general public can understand?