Dear Professor Einstein

Albert-EinsteinAs arguably the most important intellectual of his time, Albert Einstein exchanged letters with powerful contemporaries: fellow scientists, heads of state, dignitaries, philosophers. But what most might not know is that he also corresponded with children around the world.  That’s right–curious children would write and Einstein would reply, even at the height of his career and influence. Their letters back and forth are touching, honest, often hilarious but also poignant, thanks to the tone Einstein took with every note, never talking down to the children. A selection of these can be found in the book Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children, as well as a sprinkling below.

In a 1920 response to the question of what he looked like, Einstein wrote

Let me tell you what I look like: pale face, long hair, and a tiny beginning of a paunch. In addition, an awkward gait, and a cigar in the mouth … and a pen in pocket or hand. But crooked legs and warts he does not have, and so is quite handsome – also no hair on his hands as is so often found with ugly men.

In 1943, a young girl wrote to Einstein about her difficulties with mathematics in school. He encouragingly replied

Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.
Best regards
Professor Albert Einstein.

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The World According to Isaac Asimov

If you’re anything like the average employee at eNotes headquarters, you’re probably still drooling over the forthcoming generation of Apple iPhones. So allow me to ease you out of your reverie with a fun retrospect of how our bright future was predicted near perfectly almost 50 years ago.

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Back in 1964, the Jetsons were on television, the lava lamp had just been invented, and the Moon was as yet uncharted territory. Isaac Asimov was also a popular science fiction writer of the time, though it was still six years before he would write his most famous short story “I, Robot.” Instead, he wrote an essay for the New York Times in which he imagined a trip to the World’s Fair of 2014, five decades into the future. On the brink of that very event and in the middle of a whirlwind of technological advancement, let’s take a look at five of the astounding predictions Asimov made for the 21st century:

Lighting 

The brave new world would apparently be designed without windows in mind.

One thought that occurs to me is that men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button.

Windows need be no more than an archaic touch, and even when present will be polarized to block out the harsh sunlight. The degree of opacity of the glass may even be made to alter automatically in accordance with the intensity of the light falling upon it.

60s futurism glassesSorry Asimov, but for the most part we still look to good old window dressings to block out the sunlight. We do, however, have polarized transition lenses in our eyewear. Though I believe science is still trying to work out a way that won’t leave one with permanently halfway-tinted glasses in your averagely lit room…

There is an underground house at the fair which is a sign of the future. if its windows are not polarized, they can nevertheless alter the “scenery” by changes in lighting. Suburban houses underground, with easily controlled temperature, free from the vicissitudes of weather, with air cleaned and light controlled, should be fairly common.

Once again we’ve wasted one of Asimov’s completely practical ideas by employing it for needlessly decadent purposes, like having a casino in Vegas that’s lit to make you feel like you’re walking the streets of Paris… but hey, it’s something.

Food Preparation

Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs. Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare “automeals,” heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on. Breakfasts will be “ordered” the night before to be ready by a specified hour the next morning. Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing.

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Can Women in Science Also Have Kids?

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I was in graduate school in 2005.  During the Spring semester, I was enrolled in two courses which I adored and looked forward to daily. One was “The History of Science” with Dr. Pamela Gossin and the other was “Women in Science and Science Fiction” with Dr. Edrie Sobstyl.

I also had an eight-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son.  I was a teaching assistant at my university as well. I thought it would kill me.

I’ve always had an interest in science and love to learn about process and theory, but sadly, I’ve never had the math brain to pursue “real” science. But I knew plenty of brilliant women who did.  I knew what would be required of them, far more than would be asked of someone in humanities pursuing a doctoral degree.  Many of these young women also wanted to have children.  They wondered and worried about how they could pursue the intellectual life they loved and the emotional life they also desired.  There was no good answer.

But we all realized how the system was “stacked” for men. So in the winter of 2005, when Harvard President Lawrence Summers made  dismissive remarks about women’s intellectual abilities, many of us balked at how unfair such comparisons were,  The reasons women were not reaching the upper echelons of research and academia had almost nothing to do with ability. Instead, what mostly held (and holds) women back is a system designed around the lives and needs of men.   A recent article on this topic in the Atlantic by Nicholas H. Wolfinger clearly articulates those reasons.  Wolfinger writes:

“[L]ess than one half of tenured female faculty all disciplines are married with children. Consequently, aspiring female scholars don’t have a lot of role models, especially those who’ve managed to combine marriage and children with a successful career in academic science…Married female scientists are almost always in dual-career marriages, while only around half of male faculty have wives who work full-time. One spouse must defer, and that spouse is likely to be wife (unfortunately we have no data on same-sex unions, or non-marital live-in relationships). And unlike in most other professions, taking an academic job typically requires relocation to another state. The baby penalty is even easier to understand. Many women are loath to face the demanding “publish or perish” assistant professor years while caring for young children; cognizant of this challenge, some academic search committees are reluctant to hire women perceived to be on the mommy track rather than the tenure track. These problems persist because the rigid academic career structure really doesn’t offer women any good time to have children.

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Isaac Newton and the Cat Flap Fail

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Isaac Newton… Scientist Extraordinaire.  Figured out the laws of physics and composed the law of universal gravitation.  Designed an Orbital Cannona thought experiment about a super weapon that, given enough gunpowder, could knock the Earth off its orbit. Newton, who composed the Three Laws of Motion.

Newton, the Father of Calculus… defeated by… you guessed it… A CAT.

Nothing throws off your deep thought process quite like this:

Surely, the man who vastly improved the telescope could solve this simple problem!

If you think this, you surely have never met a Determined Feline.

Like Nerds Immemorial, Newton was a single guy. No marriages, no girlfriends. But he did have cats; cats who care nothing about scientific inquiry, unless it is a careful gauging of how much food is left in the feeder before Panic and Rioting should ensue (answer: Let X  = Anything below 1/2 of the dispenser). Cats who want in. Cats who want out. Cats who want to stand in the middle of the threshold,  making up their minds.

Legend has it that one day, Newton had had enough of scratch-scratch-scratch-MEOW-Scratch-SCratch-SCRatch-SCRATCH and called a carpenter to his home. Newton asked for two holes to be cut in his front door, a large one for his mama cat and a little hole for  her kittens.  Newton, whose Westminster Abbey tombstone declares that “there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race,” nonetheless could not figure out that the second hole for the little ones was superfluous. The kittens, of course,  just followed their mother through the larger hole.

Is the story true? According to a contemporary of Newton’s, it is “indisputably true…that there are in the door to this day two plugged holes of proper dimensions for the respective egresses of cat and kitten.”


A Chemical Test-Drive: Fun with Chem-E Cars

Wilson, eNotes’ Math and Science intern, shares his experiences of creating a car from scratch and racing it in a statewide contest. Science nerds, prepare to freak out!

The day finally came. After hours and hours of testing, we were finally ready to have our miniature car compete with those of 10 other California universities, including Stanford, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and San Jose State, at the Chem-E (Chemical Engineering) Car competition hosted over the weekend at UC San Diego.

The requirements were that this car should be relatively light, be powered by a chemical reaction of our choice, be able to have a time-dependent braking mechanism, and be able to carry a certain amount of weight (water) across a certain distance in under 2 minutes.

Our “Bruin Car” ran off of an electric motor powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, which was supplied hydrogen using a chemical reaction between hydrochloric acid and magnesium. The braking mechanism was an iodine clock reaction that would interfere with the transmittance of light onto the photoresistor in our circuit; thus, when the solution turned completely dark, the photoresistor’s resistance would increase, causing the current to drop and cut off the source of electricity to our electric motor.

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A Day in the Life of a Student Researcher

Are you studying for a career in the sciences? Not sure where to begin to gather that lab experience that is oh so important for obtaining your degree and landing a great job? Our Math and Science intern Wilson shares his experiences of finding his place as a student researcher and shares the four lessons he’s learnt both inside and outside of the lab.

Lab work doesn’t always involve looking down the lens of a microscope, one thing I learnt in my work as a student researcher studying autism spectrum disorders in children.

For almost 2 years now, I have been a student researcher at UCLA studying the physiology of anxiety in youth with autism spectrum disorders. This position has opened my eyes up to the professional, research-oriented community and taught me to dismiss some of the common misconceptions I had before I received this opportunity. Here are a few things I learned on my way to becoming a student researcher.

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Like Free Stuff? Like Science? Here You Go!

free_sci_books

One of the most exciting things to happen to knowledge is the increasing amount of free information, available to anyone, for any reason.  A recent entry into this new market comes from PhysicsDatabase.com.

There are over 150 titles available for free download, covering a range of science-related topics for students, professionals, and amateurs as well.  Here are just three of those selections. Find the entire list here! 

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