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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Message From Sen. Durbin

I wanted to share with everyone an email reply I received from our U.S. Senator, Richard Durbin. This is in response to a message I sent him about my concern for updated technology accessibility in schools across the country. This is dated Aug. 26, 2009:


Dear Dr. Vondracek:

Thank you for your comments about technology in education.

I share your views about the need to increase access to technology in our schools. Federal support for education is an investment in our children's future and in our nation's competitiveness. Although funding for education is primarily a state and local responsibility, federal programs provide critical assistance to help local school districts strengthen educational programs. Federal assistance for technology in education helps prepare our children for the increasing demands of an information age.

Today, technology is a critical component of a strong educational system. Students need a working knowledge of computer hardware and software, and they need to use technology as part of the broader learning process. The problem-solving skills and other strengths developed through coursework that utilizes up-to-date technology are a valuable preparation for most jobs. Moreover, the U. S. Department of Labor projects that new jobs requiring science, engineering and technical training will increase four times faster than the average national job growth rate. Therefore, adequate education technology is an enormous and pressing need.

As co-chair of the Senate Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Caucus, and as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to work to ensure that support for education - including science, technology, and math education - is a high priority, and I will keep your comments in mind as federal funding for technology in education is considered in the Senate.

Thank you again for your interest. I hope you will continue to stay in touch.


Richard J. Durbin

United States Senator"

Notice the highlighted section, stating how technology related job growth is projected to increase 4 times faster than the rest of the job market. This means it is in your best interests to at least have some background with technology and science, just so you have the option of moving into a technical field if you so desire. It starts NOW, at ETHS!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Emergence and the universe

This is an old post from my main blog some of you may find interesting and relevant to class. It deals with emergence, or the natural formation of something new from a variety of individual parts. The collective system is very different and follows different rules than what the individual components of the system follow. An example is how society emerges from individuals, whether it is humans or ants. Check this out for the 'emergence' of our universe:

Our Universe: Continual Emergence

In my last post I tried to offer some mix of examples of systems that involve emergence. Again, emergence refers to many-body systems of all types (physical, biological, social, economic, etc) where the rules/principles that govern the behavior of individual components of the system are different from the organizational rules/principles that govern the behavior of the collective system.

As others pointed out in comments, the field of complex systems and emergent behavior includes phase transitions and environmental concerns and influences as well. This discussion has got me thinking about the role complexity theory and the notion of emergent behavior will play in the next few decades. Being a relatively new area of study (at least new in the sense that large numbers of people are working on it...perhaps on order of 15-20 years), it is difficult to predict exactly where it will end up, but just from a physical science point of view consider the following progression of events and phenomena where new levels of organization, i.e. emergence, are reached:

  • Big Bang, where energy and spacetime itself emerges from a singularity.
  • Fundamental particles, the quarks, organize into baryons (such as protons and neutrons) and mesons, via strong nuclear force.
  • Nuclei (isotopes of hydrogen, some helium) emerge from a sea of baryons and gluons.
  • Simplest atoms emerge from sea of hydrogen and helium nuclei and electrons, via electromagnetic force.
  • Gas molecules of hydrogen and helium emerge from sea of atoms.
  • Gas clouds emerge from sea of gas atoms, via gravity.
  • Protostars and stars emerge from gas clouds.
  • Heavier elements (up to iron) emerge from thermonuclear processes inside star cores (nucleosynthesis).
  • Clouds of heavier elements (up to uranium) emerge from first generation supernovae.
  • Second generation stars, first generation planets/solar systems emerge from gas and heavy element clouds.
  • Primitive atmospheres and terrestrial environments emerge on various planets.
  • For earth, more complex molecules, including carbon-based molecules, emerge in the chemical mixtures of the atmosphere and oceans (this includes amino acids, which can be formed naturally when lightning occurs in the primitive atmosphere, as shown in experiments).
  • Still more complicated molecules, including proteins and RNA, emerge, and from this mixture first set of single-celled life emerge.
  • Multicellular systems emerge from sea of single-celled critters.
  • Ultimately great variety of life emerges, including humans, from evolutionary processes.
  • From this point, social organization occurs, language emerges, technology emerges, social networks emerge, economies emerge, and so on.

In each of these separate eras of the development of the universe and life as we know it, we are talking about a transition from simpler, smaller components that organize into larger entities whose behavior and properties are vastly different from the individual components that make it up. We are at the point where we know an awful lot of the physics that describes how particles, atoms, molecules, stars, galaxies, planets, geological processes, and solar systems behave individually. Chemists and biologists know an awful lot about individual reactions, molecules, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, and organisms. This is what science has worked on for the last few centuries. In other words, we know a lot about the basic rules and principles that govern individual components for each individual step of the evolution of the universe and life on earth.

However, what we don’t understand very well is how steps make the transition to the next step. We don’t understand the organizational principles or the rules that govern the phase transitions between steps, which means we don’t understand the emergence of complexity in our universe. This is where we are now and, in my opinion, such studies will dominate whole fields of physical science, biological science, mathematics, economics, social science, behavioral science, technology, and even philosophy, for decades to come. To those who have suggested the end of science is near, think again.

How to access Interactive Physics Computer Experiments

Try this one out, especially if you are a visual learner. Interactive Physics is a program we have where you can use existing experiments in numerous areas of physics, or make your own simulation from scratch. This video is for accessing existing simulations and experiments. You can make graphs in real time, as well as change parameters of the system and of the world! See what it would look like on other planets, with or without air friction or charge, change materials in collisions, and so on. It is pretty cool!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How to Access iLab Data

This video is for those who have run the radioactivity iLab, and then came back to it later. You will need to find the data file, and then use it for your analysis.

How to Access Radioactivity iLab

Here is a 'How to' video showing how to access and run the radioactivity iLab. The equipment will run down in Queensland, Australia.

Accessing the Chem-Phys Moodle Page as a Guest - Especially for Parents

This shows how to get into the Chem-Phys Physics Moodle page as a guest. Students get full access to everything on the site, and guests can access most of it. This access may be of interest to parents, so you can see some of what we are doing in class.

Welcome to Physics!

This is Doc V's blog for his physics classes. While most class materials will be on the class Moodle pages, numerous "How to" and other instructional videos will be posted on this blog. This is but one more tool to help all of us on our quest to discover how the world works!