Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tiny scientists mobilized to study eclipse

     I didn't want to get political on this post, but as I was watching this one fledging, ad hoc science program at one pre-school in Chicago, I couldn't help but think of millions of children in tens of thousands of pre-schools across the country being indoctrinated in the sort of magical thinking and mendacious myth that gets a Donald Trump elected president. 

     Jason Henning is a post-doctorate fellow at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago. He's been to the South Pole three times, working on the university's 10-meter telescope there.
     On Tuesday morning, he found himself advancing science in a place it doesn't frequently go: sitting on a too small chair in a basement classroom with the lights dimmed.
     "Who's ready for an eclipse?" he asked a group of 4- and 5-year-olds sitting around a table at Bright Horizons at Lakeview, a preschool.          

     The youngsters didn't exactly squeal "Yes!" in unison, but they at least cast their attention in his general direction. Henning proceeded, using a small model Earth, moon and, as a light source, a lamp with a dinosaur base.
     "Does anybody know how you make night and day?" asked Henning. "Does anybody remember?"
     "Spin the Earth," squeaked Emily.
      Henning was joined by Joshua Sobrin, a U. of C. physics graduate student, also with Kavli.
     If it seems odd that a pair of such advanced scientific talents would spend time instructing children who might miss the eclipse Aug. 21 because it arrives in the middle of their nap time, well, there's a simple explanation.
     Sobrin's wife, Sweta Sobrin, is a teacher at Bright Horizons.

To continue reading, click here.


  1. In the matter of astronomical observation don't be too dismissive of Trump supporters. They are predominantly rural, which means they often get to see a crystal clear night filled with a bright moon in all its phases, stars, planets, comets, milky way, falling stars, and the aurora borealis. Constellations in changing positions each night define the progression of the seasons and when to plant and sow. Cycle of life and all that is not based on superstition. Because of light pollution, urban dwellers all to often only get an occasional glimpse of the moon, close planets, and a few bright stars, which can present a world of mystery to children.
    I'll be watching the solar eclipse in August from the heart of the south, with many Trump supporters near Gallatin, TN. If the topic comes up again I'll report findings like the ratio of Confederate to U.S. flags on display, and the general level of ignorance or understanding of the people I meet.

    1. That may have been true for the majority of rural dwellers 100 years ago. Not everyone around here in the rural area I'm in is a farmer, and most of those farmers aren't tracking moon phases for planting anymore. True story, I was a chaperone for a Girl Scout camping trip, and the leader wanted to work on the astronomy badge. She tried to explain the moon phases by telling them that the moon literally degenerated and renewed each month. I had to step in and explain to this adult that just because it isn't visible doesn't mean the moon is gone, this got me a completely blank look. I had to use kids as models of earth, sun, and moon for her to get it.

  2. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Psalm 19.1"

    An uncle gave me a telescope when I was about five. It led me neither into the ministry nor a life of science, but did, I think, foster an inclination to contemplate the wonders of the universe and the smallness of man. Mr. Henning is planting some valuable seeds.


  3. Interesting preface to the column. The brain of a 4 or 5 year old is like a sponge. It's still developing and capable learning at an unimaginable speed. It's every bit as important what you introduce to your child's brain, as what you put in your child's stomach. Think of it as nutrition for the mind.

    As for Trump? I don't know what happened to that dude. Seems like his emotional growth hit a wall around age eight. Am I being too generous?


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