IPS Day 2

30 06 2008

I didn’t want to give this post such a generic title, but just so many things happened yesterday that I just had to put it all together like this.

First I got to hear Dr. Rocky Kolb speak. If you’ve seen the IMAX movie Cosmic Voyage (and I’ve seen it well over 300 times — remember, I was a projectionist straight out of college) then you’ve seen him standing in Fermilab describing the early universe. Well yesterday he did that for us. After his wonderfully entertaining talk I got to ask him a question. The one question I asked him was, “If I was trying to teach cosmology to high school students and knew they could only retain one or two big ideas, what ideas should those be?” Some of you remember I attempted this back at Governor’s School 2004. It didn’t work too well because I was trying to teach the whole story. He gave me this advice: “Number one, teach them that the universe is dynamic and under constant change. Number two make them understand that we know something is interacting gravitationally with everything we can see. We don’t know what that stuff is, and whatever we might think now could change in a few years, but right now we’re trying to nail down the nature of this Dark Matter. But just because we haven’t figured it out doesn’t mean it’s something we shouldn’t teach yet. We KNOW there’s something mysterious interacting with us. But number one make sure they know the universe changes constantly. That’s the most important thing to take away from any cosmology course.” Thanks, Dr. Kolb. I’ll take that advice to heart.

After that was the paper presentations. I went to as many as I could, especially those concerning education, but two really stood out…

John Stoke from NASA discussed the final servicing mission to Hubble. They’re replacing a couple of instruments and repairing a couple of instruments and replacing batteries and gyroscopes and thermal blankets. It’s an ambitious mission. I was unaware of how crippled Hubble is right now! All the instruments from the last servicing mission are out-of-order and astronomers are getting all their scientific data from a couple of original operational instruments. John delivered so much information that it would be ridiculous to try to repeat it all here. You’ll just have to find a lot of it yourself.

Toshi Komatsu from the University of Calif. described an interactive program to introduce students and the public to the Kepler Mission for discovering extrasolar planets. I wrote about the Kepler Mission here. It’s a very cool way to visualize orbital data that practically anyone can find patterns in. And as you all know, the pattern is everything in science! Once you can see the pattern, figuring out what kind of planet is orbiting the monitored star is pretty straightforward. Having regular folks interpret the data for themselves is a brilliant way to help them understand the science. And it’s one I’ll definitely be using in my classroom.

One other really cool thing happened yesterday, but I won’t let you guys in on it until I get photographic proof. heh. Details will hopefully come soon.

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One response

30 06 2008
Nick Jones

Sounds like things just keep getting better and better. I must say I truly admire your commitment to your students. While some geeks are probably there nerding it up for the fun of it, you’re there trying to refine your geeky prowess in order to carry on a new generation geeky nerds… or nerdy geeks. Way to be Johnson.
And yes I was making crude silly statements to mildly conceal the heartfelt compliment to make it less awkward for all of the beautiful people who enjoy this blog.

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