OoM Torque
an order-of-magnitude interactive

What does a Newton-meter of torque look like? Screwdriver! Bottle cap!

I suggest Chrome or Firefox, with a cursor.


"What does a Newton-meter of torque look like? It's a screwdriver! A bottle cap!",

When I mention this to science and engineering graduate students, I get reactions like their eyes lighting up, and "Ooo, I never had a feel for them".

Developing a rough-quantitative feel for the world, requires content focused on that. What might it look like? How much fun could it be?

Status of demo

This is still a very rough and incomplete draft. A one month exploratory spike.

The user interface is still little tested, and it's user testing poorly.

The content is still missing a lot. It's a torque page... that's missing torque wrenches, bolts, screwdrivers, engines, pulleys, springs, reaction and moment wheels, power flywheels, yarn, and so much else.

The biggest I-didn't-get-to-it UI piece is multiscale themed vertical strips on the right-side oom graph. Like, "Motors", from ATP synthase to cellphone vibrators to EEE container ship engines.


The right side looks rather dark and cluttered?

Yes. It's actually a background, for content to be scrolled in front of. I've just not gotten to that content yet.

Will I do more measures?

Perhaps length, but otherwise maybe not. Why not?

  • It may not be seen. This torque page is very unfinished, and it's still unclear whether it's usable or interesting to people, or can be made so.
  • It's a lot of work. Can one do "just a few" measures? Length, but not area, volume, speed, or acceleration? What about kg/m^3, kg/m^2, kg/m, and m^3/m^2, and the multiple measures for each of those? Energy, but not J/kg, J/m^3, or J/$, where interesting engineering stories lie? Which all suggests building serious tooling, and doing measures in bulk. Torque, torque/kg, torque/m^2, torque/A, torque/rad, torque/m, and so on. And lots of technologies and systems. But that could be a text-book size project, eating a year or few.
  • Putting it off, makes it easier. The hasn't-won-yet state of open-access science and engineering literature was a key bottleneck. And browser tooling is slowly improving.
  • It may not be useful. I don't know of anyone seriously pushing on a rough-quantitative interdisciplinary approach to learning science and engineering. The highest potential payoff is pushing it down towards early primary school, but this wouldn't be the way to try that.
So... no other measures for now.

Someone suggested my objective in projects like this one, is to make people unhappy. To give them a taste of unfamiliar content, content they didn't realize they really wanted, and then break the news that they can't have it any year soon. Which sounded better when science education research funding was more available, so someone else could follow up on it.

What's new?

2014-12-01 Improved UI and content, for more user testing.
2014-11-24 Online for early user testing. Content is shallow and sparse. UI is rough.
2014-10-31 On a Halloween bus, an MIT 8.01 student mentioned having difficulty with torque, motivating this spike.

Backstory: My questions

This demo was created to explore some questions:

  • Just how expensive is it for me to create content like this?
  • Do people actually like it?
  • What user interface is sufficient to like it?

Backstory: Motivations

My goal is to encourage some unusual approaches to science and engineering education content. This is an early draft of one demo for doing that.

My target age is almost always K-graduate, but the demo is currently poorly serving the low end. K-grad? When you give first-graders a feel for how big cells are, they're doing better than many medical school graduate students. As for torque, kids can watch commercials, pointing on the screen, going "a circle, another circle, a circle!", and "pivot, pivot, pivot!". There seems no reason they can't do "twisting, more twisting, another twist!".

College introductory physics professors report wishing they could spend more time on "sense making", and their students want more "real-world relevance". But neither cares about the other. I suggest it's a package deal. One which also addresses the concern "why would anyone want to pursue physics, when they're not being shown any interesting physics?!".


This demo wouldn't exist, if not for:

  • The open-access movement, and all the researchers who put their work online. Searching for non-paywalled primary and review literature is still incredibly painful, especially for long-term urls to use in educational content, but it's much better than it used to be. Progress.
  • Google scholar.
  • The MIT community. Thanks everyone.

Thanks also to:

  • Sources of open-licensed images: google image search (even if PLOS is still blocking it as of 2014-12), Flickr, and Commons.Wikimedia.org. And to all the photographers, in science and out, who explicitly license their images for reuse.
  • Impromptu user testers, on the Red Line subway and elsewhere.
  • React.js.
  • Chrome and Firefox - buggy, slow, poorly staffed, and a civilization bottleneck, but still better than the alternatives.

Page history

Fleshing out page.
Online for early user testing.
Started an exploratory spike.
Mark it up No JS?
Email me

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