The Bernoulli Effect

Alex Trebek read from the blue-screened square, “An airplane rises due to this Swiss man’s ‘effect,’ as a fluid’s pressure lessens when its speed increases.” I looked up at the TV.


“Who is Daniel Bernoulli?” replied the Jeopardy contestant.

“The ONE piece of physics you remember…” Jon laughed.

It’s true. Physics was not a strong subject of mine. I was peer-pressured into taking it in the first place. No, that’s a lie. I was teacher-pressured. (I’m looking at you Mr. Buck…) In fact, science has never been a strong suit of mine. I believe it would be fair to say that, in the matters of my educational pursuits, science is my kryptonite. (Which of course explains how I found myself creating content for a biotechnology upon my collegiate graduation.)

I voluntarily took a full year of calculus in college so as to get around the core science requirement. Finite math, statistics, calculus and NO SCIENCE. And damnit, I enjoyed every penciled in matrix and formula. Math is straightforward; one problem, one answer. Science is a giant jumble of unknown tiny guesses. This word nerd does not do word problems.

It all started in fourth grade. The elementary “upperclassmen” had a rotating science teacher for a special section of class. I called my teacher Fishlips Phillips. To the best of my recollection, she did not have fish lips, but I’ve always been a sucker for alliteration. I hated her and I hated her class. I decided then and there I just didn’t get math and science. I would pursue the more feminine-suited ideals such as reading and writing.

This belief was not dampened in middle school when I was introduced to short stories and phonics in my Language Arts/Social Science classes. I was analyzing Shel Silverstein poems and memorizing helping verbs while my science teacher corrected my name on every paper from “Tricia” to “Trish.” Fabulous. Science had stripped my identity. I wrote an eighth grade report on Wuthering Heights while mumbling that Emily Bronte likely never had to take biology.

In high school, my biology teacher was removed from his position two months into the school year after voluntary commitment to a mental health rehabilitation facility – further strengthening my hypothesis that science is bad for ones health.

This was the same year I was subjected to geometry, which was developed by Euclid in ancient times as a form of torture for non-visual people.

I also walked into my first college library to research citations for my first literary review and was overwhelmed with desire and passion for the thousands of musty smelling texts surrounding me. I did not make the connection between T.H. White’s “Once and Future King” and the scientific upper hand Merlin the Magician provided to the budding future king of Camelot.

Junior year forced me into CCP room 312 – alphabetically seated in rows and leaden with Algebra II books. Mr. Buck looked younger than most of the students. But then the quizzes and tests started coming back. 99%, 100%, 98%. Well, sure – but this stuff was easy. Halfway through the year, Mr. Buck smiled at me. “You may not want to admit this. But I think you may be good at math. You should take physics next year.”

No sir. Nothankyou. I was going to take Anatomy like all sane students researching liberal arts schools. Two months later I walked out of the guidance counselor’s office with physics listed on my senior class preference forms. Stupid Jedi mind tricks.

I was relatively certain I was going to fail physics. I was going to flunk out of high school and end up in clown college. All because I simply could not grasp the concept of velocity and tork.

At the end of the first semester, I stared down at my final exam. “Using the Bernoulli principle and equation in fluid dynamics…” I have absolutely no idea what words, numbers and puzzles followed. I didn’t then either.

I’m pretty sure should someone have explicitly drawn out the equation I could have solved for x, y or pi. But then again, that was probably the point of the exam – figure out the problem. I had no idea how to attack this particular scientific nemesis. But I HAD paid attention and at least knew what they were trying to get me to show.

So I took a deep breath. I picked up my pencil. And I made my Hail Mary pass for partial credit.

I drew a plane. And I wrote.

Bernoulli’s principle is named after the Dutch–Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli who published his principle in his book Hydrodynamica in 1738. It is most commonly associated with how an airplane can fly. Bernoulli’s principle states the faster a fluid (air in this case) moves over the wing, the lower the pressure on that surface. This means the air pressure under and outside the wing is greater or more than the pressure of the fast moving air on top of the wing. As a result lift is created and the airplane is pushed up by the air with more pressure.”

(Definition pulled from But at the time, I knew this and wrote something pretty similar next to my aeronautic artwork.)

That afternoon I showed up in Mr. Buck’s office, tears threatening to thwart my carefully constructed composure. I was in the middle of a full-blown anxiety attack. Speaking a mile a minute, I laid out my argument on why I shouldn’t be denied college. I begged extra credit, pointing out my presence in physics lab every morning at 6:45 a.m. sharp and again at 3:10 p.m.

Like he had done the year prior (before this unfortunate physics experiment), he smiled. “Tricia. You are not going to fail physics.” I reiterated my concerns, using my newfound brilliant mathematical skills to detail my fear. “Tricia! Keep your mouth shut and listen to what I am saying. You. Are. Not. Going. To. Fail. Physics.”

I swore I would never have anything to do with science again. Five years later I was gainfully employed at one of the world’s largest biotech companies and wholly immersed in the technological way physical formulas are changing the way we live.

It’s interesting what little tidbits of school will stick with you. Today I work in the technology field. I’m a writer these days; but I work alongside engineers and scientists – writing about their newly discovered formulas and processes. Not unlike how I deciphered Bernoulli.

Turns out, science isn’t so bad. Geekery is pretty fun. Not to mention the Jeopardy bragging rights…


Filed under Family Stories, School

6 Responses to The Bernoulli Effect

  1. Gramma J

    The power of teachers. If every child could have an A+ teacher (like Mr. Buck) schools would be in great shape. Thankfully, I work in a public school where the grand majority are A teachers.
    Unfortunately, when a child gets a C-/D teacher, it sticks with them forever.

  2. Jon

    Torque. Not Tork. I guess you weren’t joking . . . . 🙂

  3. Joanne Hamann

    Ugh, after reading this and Janet’s comment I feel like one of those C/D teachers – you wouldn’t believe the whopper of a mistake I made in math today!!! (too embarrassed to post). Oh well, tomorrow’s another day. And we ALL know how I feel about math and science – neither need to exist as far as I’m concerned!!

  4. megan

    Tricia/Trish-You brought me quickly back to high school…:) Mark of a good writer.
    Joanne-The fact that you even feel like a C/D teacher means that you are most likely not anything like a C/D teacher. Everyone has missteps. It’s early in the school year. Keep breathing. 🙂

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