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Campus Profile

8.01 Professor ‘Eddie’ Farhi shares insights into life and freshman physics

By Brian Loux

The Tech had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with MIT physics Professor Edward H. Farhi the day before fall classes began. This semester marks the third year that Farhi has taught the notorious freshman class -- 8.01, Physics I.

The Tech: Do you have any nicknames?

Professor Farhi: Everyone calls me Eddie. It just started as a kid. My mom called me Eddie and it became my name.

TT: Where did you grow up?

Farhi: I grew up in the Bronx. I attended the Bronx High School of Science. I already became interested in physics when I was in high school. A lot of my friends went to MIT.

TT: But you didn’t?

Farhi: No, I went to Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. It’s about 10 minutes away from Boston.

TT: So after being there and here for a while, do you feel like you are a resident of Boston or not?

Farhi: I still feel that my roots are from New York. I wish that MIT was in Manhattan. That would be perfect.

TT: What other courses do you teach?

Farhi: I’ve taught every single possible quantum mechanics and relativity class at MIT. Those are my real interests.

TT: So how did you become the teacher for freshmen physics?

Farhi: They basically said, “say yes now or say yes later.” (Laughs.) It’s a different adventure.

TT: Were you initially interested in teaching?

Farhi: No, more in research actually. I would say that I dreamt more of being a research scientist than a teacher when I was growing up. But I like teaching.

TT: How do you stay on track when you are giving a lecture that is one hour or longer?

Farhi: Hmm ... I don’t really think about it too much. I basically just follow my instincts. I don’t plan every word I say. So each class is different, and I hope to improve some things in the second class of the day.

TT: Do kids that sleep during the lectures tick you off?

Farhi: I’ve gotten used to it. Well, over it, I’ll say.

TT: Do the kids that sit up front and correct you tick you off?

Farhi: That I don’t mind. Students who are engaging I like. But what I don’t like is when I say I’m covering something deep like the origin of the universe and “it won’t be on the test” and people leave.

TT: How well did you do on your first college physics exam?

Farhi: I did very well on it. I was a good college physics student.

TT: Do you guys really do the exams to be sure you can do them?

Farhi: Yes, we do. We don’t sit in a quiet room and do them, but it is definitely checked over by the staff.

TT: Has the line “I’m an MIT Professor” ever given you unusual special privileges?

Farhi: I would say it brings you acceptance in any social circle.

TT: Who is your role model in the realm of physics?

Farhi: Lots of physicists I respect. As scientists in terms of achievement. The living physicists I respect the most are Murray Gellman, Steven Weinberg, and Gerard ’t Hooft. It’s not important that they have Nobels, it’s important what they accomplished.

TT: What is the most interesting thing that people at MIT do not know about you?

Farhi: (thinks for a minute) I was rejected from the astronauts. I applied to NASA and they didn’t accept me.

TT: Do you like physics jokes?

Farhi: Yeah. I like any jokes as long as they’re funny.

TT: What kind of car do you own?

Farhi: A 1989 Toyota Camry.

TT: Pretty dependable, eh?

Farhi: Very much so.

TT: Using the laws of Physics, explain why the Boston Red Sox will win or lose the World Series.

Farhi: Hmm ... who are the Red Sox?

TT: All right, last question. What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Farhi: Anything from Tosci’s.