Quantum mechanics – the dream stuff is made of

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Quantum mechanics challenges our imagination. It rules the microworld and lays the foundations for interpreting light from the sun, stars and galaxies, and to learn about the universe.

It enables accurate calculations of properties of atoms and molecules and tools for communication, computing and accurate timekeeping. It provides technological possibilities to investigate the strange predictions of quantum mechanics on interactions between light and matter, down to individual photons and particles.

The list of Nobel prizes is full of examples of how quantum mechanics has changed our understanding of the world and provided the basis for technology that we take for granted. It influences our everyday lives in many more ways than we are aware of.

I will join the March for science as a reminder of the interplay between curiosity and technology.

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Bubbles

Tredjedag jul

2016 – a year when social media bubbles of misinformation and hate have grown and risen to the surface, as much as to change the world, bringing even more sorrows and worry and exposing a fragility of a civilised society. It is tempting go hiding in our own privileged bubbles, unable to take in more evil madness.

bubbles_93In my own privileged world, I have also seen many examples of social media bubbles full of friendship and support, not only with families and friends, but also bubbles with teachers sharing ideas, materials, joys and concerns in Facebook groups, asking for help and getting supported, with discussions involving teachers from preschool to university. These bubbles provide a glimpse into the very different realities across the school system, but also offering opportunities.

During 2016, our Physics Education Resource Centre has also run two conferences, attempting to bring bubbles of research and practice in closer contact, for physics teaching across the education system, and for science in preschool. I have been in bubbles of roller coaster enthusiasts, e.g. in the Wildfire at Kolmården, and at the Euro Amusement Show, and in bubbles of amusement park teachers – at Liseberg, Gröna Lund and Tivoli gardens, and presenting the project in a bubble of science communicators e.g. at Göteborg International Science Festival , and in clusters of bubbles looking into various aspects of smartphone use in teaching.

Social media can be a power for good and evil. On the eve of a new year, I wish you all bubbles rising for a better world, with more open horizons.

Happy New Year

Shadow communities

During my years as a computational atomic physicist, I sometimes noted that, while atomic theory might not have been strongly visible in the main conference program, there was often a strong shadow community finding each other in parallel sessions (in later years also at poster session), sharing results, challenges, methods, questions, challenges and successes.

In amusement parks, the technicians are often invisble – showing up only when something goes wrong. Technical details about rides are often hard or impossible to find on park www-sites. E.g. the wonderful story about how Gröna Lund got its wild mouse roller coaster can only be read at CoastersAndMore.de. And when technical details sometimes appear, as they did when Kanonen opened at Liseberg in 2005, they run a strong risk of disappearing with the next www update. Again, details can be found at CoastersAndMore.de but not at liseberg.se. (In any case, the next year will also be the last year that Kanonen is running).

TeknikbordDuring the Edutainment Days at Gröna Lund 15-16 September 2016, a total of 9 technicians come out of their hiding, proudly presenting e.g. wheels, chains, brakes, anti-rollback devices, tools, hydraulics and pneumatics, and sensors, but also illustrations of textbook concepts, such as the lever used to lift 700 kg Jetline engine, to the nearly 6000 teenagers who studied physics and technology in the park during these two days.

Also during the recent Euro Amusement Show in Barcelona, the technology aspects were hidden apart from a few exhibits. However I found that the Safety Institute was an occasion to discover a shadow community of people interested in amusement park technology.

Knowing a few academics provided grapevines to links to other groups of amusement park academics with resulting informal discussions about questions of joint interest. Would it be possible to find ways to link to local academic communities in connections with the trade shows? Some noted that IAAPA lacks a suitable membership category for those who are no longer students, but also without direct ties with commercial interests. Would it be possible to make these shadow communities more visible – perhaps through a “bird-of-a-feather” session? Questions for continued discussions in the little network.

Physik im Prater

prater_2011Last week, I was in Vienna, invited to talk about Physik im Prater und auf dem Spielplatz at the 70th annual “Fortbildungswoche für Lehrkräfte aus Physik und Chemie”, arranged by “Der Verein zur Förderung des physikalischen und chemischen Unterrichts

I made sure that I arrived to Wien in time to do some research before the presentation, to know which examples would be relevant, take some ride photos, and, of course, collect ride data from the PraterTurm, as complement to the data in the recent paper about Rotating Swings – a Theme with variations.

The walk towards the PraterTurm passes many other rides, starting with the classic Riesenrad, and a few entangled roller coasters. The photo below shows clearly the saw-toothed track part of the “anti-rollback” device, which causes the familiar click-click sound as the roller coaster train ascends the lift hill.uppdrag Continue reading

Fast away the light year passes

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Mercury and Venus were bright in the evening sky during the first week of 2015. This International Year of Light 2015 (Light2015.org) has continued to offer spectacular astronomy events, including aurora displays and a solar eclipse in March; a supermoon lunar Eclipse in September; and Jupiter, Venus and Mars lined up for the December morning skies, and, for Christmas day, a full moon.

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20 Years of Amusement Park Physics

disk_kuling_platsDuring a few days, 10-15 of September 2015, I participated in, arranged and observed three different physics/science days in three parks: Gröna Lund, Liseberg and Tivoli Gardens – and realised that I could look back on 20 years of amusement park physics. These 20 years have involved a development from a small introductory activity for 35 students to a wide range of tasks of many levels of difficulty for most rides in Liseberg and Gröna Lund, as well as international collaborations. The student assignments have been presented in some detail in a number of articles. The evolving format has built on reflections and evaluations from students, teachers and collaborators, and been scaled up to special edutainment or physics days for thousands of students, and forms for teacher involvement as described in our paper about Teacher Roles in Amusement Parks.

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Pluto Fly By and other longterm projects

Pluto, from pluto.jhuapl.eduPluto FlyBy: A triumph of classical mechanics and modern technology. But no technological advance can make the transmission of images and data faster than the more than four hours required for light to travel from Pluto to Earth. And engineers and researchers have waited nine years for New Horizons to reach Pluto. For everyone following the #PlutoFlyBy, it is a vivid illustration of the patience and long time scales often involved in research, as well as of the intense collaboration bewteen many different experts.

Budding scientists and engineers are likely to be inspired by amazing projects, like the New Horizons Pluto Flyby – and last summer’s Rosetta rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – but like the travel to Pluto or a comet, there is a long delay before an outcome, such as a possible career choice.

Assessing the impact of various science communication efforts must take time and many other factors into account, as was discussed during many sessions during this year’s  Ecsite annual conference “Food for thought” in Trento. The tweets from the conference are summarized at https://storify.com/Ecsite/.

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During one of the many exciting sessions Kevin Crowley talked about Caise – the Center for advancement of informal science education – and the aim for “a roadmap to place research in informal learning in learning sciences and ecosystems”. He emphasized that we need to do a better job of sharing and building on what we know, e.g. though the resources created, collected and shared at http://informalscience.org/.

The discussion of assessment of impact is also among those discussed in the relatively new, dedicated Journal of science communication.