Week 9: Week of the Last Hurrah

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Friday, August 2, 2013


Caleb Heath

It’s been sitting on my shelf for months now, that little wind-up wonder with the AIP logo on its rotating breast. It hasn’t moved since I played with it the first Monday morning at the office. The office . . . that’s how I think of it now. And home . . . for nine weeks this small patch carved out of primeval dormitory in Foggy Bottom has been home. In a week though? I will move, and like a crab, I take my home with me.

“Tell your mama, tell your pa,

I’m going to send you back to Arkansas . . .”

Yeah. I dig it, Ray. I think we done good too.

Our final outreach event was earlier this week. Fourteen rising ninth graders, and it does my heart glad to see so many interested enough in science to dedicate two weeks of summer to it. I remember going to something like this the summer before I started middle school. It wasn’t terribly inspiring, and I don’t remember very much of it. We made Ooblek, which is a fine substance, but not terribly enlightening. I like to think that what we did this week was more memorable.

(On a side note, did you know that you can mix iron oxide with silly putty to make a blob that eats magnets? I know what I’m going to put in the Easter baskets next year.)

Our length measuring activity has been kid-tested and teacher-approved, so we left the ropes at home on Tuesday. The modular theremins finally got to have their day in the sun, connecting wires peeking out of their transparent cases, hungry for input. We gladly obliged.

The students were a good group, curious and well-informed. We ask, “What is physics?” They say, “Everything!”

We have a small proposition, a modest endeavor really. We’d like to understand the universe. That’d be swell, wouldn’t it? No, don’t run away! It’s just like eating an elephant. One bite at a time.

Back to Tuesday morning . . .

We decided to run the sweep of sensor activities, starting with the basics, and moving up through the advanced concepts. We got pretty far, which was gratifying, even though we lost a little steam at the end. All that can be done is too take note of it, and try to best correct the plan. Perfection is impossible, and there is little laudable about the idea either. Perfection is a phantom, to some a deliriant, to others a narcotic.

There’s no harm in taking the limit, however.

Mathematics held an entirely new beauty once I finally began to understand the idea of limits. Where once was an endless morass of procedures and rules, I began to see possibilities and language with which to express them. You could indeed, “wave your hands at it”, use a bit of knowledge, a dash of intuition, and an answer would appear.

The rest is work and will, as water wears down rock.

Caleb Heath