Maryland University offers Harry Potter course

by Meredith Dietrich, Features Writer

Now Harry Potter fans at Frostburg University in Maryland will have the opportunity to earn college credit for the recently added Harry Potter science class.

Dr. George Plitnik, a physics professor at Frostburg University, a public school in western Maryland, is teaching an honors course to juniors and seniors based on the popular series. After reading the first four books of the series, he saw a presentation entitled, “The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works,” by Roger Highfield and became intrigued.

Plitnik originally proposed the idea of teaching physics through Harry Potter to the honors committee at Frostburg.

“The idea was to get students who don’t know much about science to appreciate and learn about science through popular culture like Harry Potter,” Plitnik said.

Although students are not required to have read the novels, Plitnik makes regular costume appearances, once dressing up as Albus Dumbledore, the Hogwarts Headmaster in Harry Potter.

Plitnik is known throughout campus for his costumes, practical jokes and creativity, which led the university system of Maryland to award him for excellence in research, scholarship and creative activity.

While he does not believe in magic, Plitnik said there is nothing in science that says apparition, the appearance of something ghostly or teleportation is not possible.

“Maybe in 30 years it can be done in practice,” Plitnik said.

Dr. Baha Balantekin, a University of Wisconsin physics professor, does not agree with Plitnik’s hypothesis.

“No one has succeeded doing teleportation,” Balantekin said. “It’s just not possible.”

He added that people have tried to do experiments sending information over long distances, but have never been successful.

However, some students say bringing popular culture into the classroom could be beneficial.

“I think it is great that teachers can take concepts from one of the country’s most popular theories and apply it to physics to make the learning process more interesting and fun,” UW student Talia Primor said.

Even though Plitnik has taught physics courses based on non-fiction books in the past, this is his first fiction-based physics course.

“There is a lot of scientific illiteracy in this country, and we’re trying to raise the level of science-awareness,” Plitnik said.

Class sizes are kept small and are available only to non-science majors. Plitnik gives a quiz everyday on the reading and discussion material from the lectures.

“It does not surprise me that a physics course is being taught based on Harry Potter,” said Stuart Johnson, a physics editor at John Wiley & Sons. “The general phenomenon is that physics departments want to keep their enrollment up.”

University departments are constantly in competition with each other to offer courses that students will take.

Balantekin said that as long as the class is hands-on, and the students and the teacher are both active, it is possible to attract the interest of students to almost anything.

“You can teach physics using anything you want,” Balantekin said.

He said it is a difficult task to make sure the general public understands the concepts of physics.

“I don’t really see the connection between the two, but if it makes it easier to understand physics, then I guess it works,” UW sophomore Emily Kanarek said.