As 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.
Professor Albert Einstein.
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.
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.
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.
How eNotes’ Math and Science intern overcame his trouble with the sciences and learned to love his Biochemistry major.
Science: the subject that many find so difficult to understand (and so boring to even attempt to understand) that they just dread learning about it, dread having to sit in class and listen to the teacher ramble on about atoms and cells and forces of nature. In high school, I used to be the type of student who wanted to ditch my chemistry and biology class. Seriously, who wants to hang around periodic tables and posters of cellular structures all day, and then have to study so hard just to learn on the test that you understood almost nothing? However, when I started college and began studying for my biochemistry degree (being Asian, I was heavily influenced to become a doctor), I began to realize why so many of us perform poorly in and, for some, even fear science. A 3rd year into my studies now, let me share with you my experience of overcoming the negative attitude and eventually growing to love this subject.
“Why do I need to learn this? When am I ever going to use this information in my lifetime?” These are questions that we’ve all asked at some point in our scientific studies. In fact, the professor of my public speaking course raised this question just 2 days ago, referring to the sciences. This is one of the many reasons that science classes may seem so difficult and scary. It seems so arbitrary and foreign to us, like learning a whole new language that we will never use, and school fails in making it seem less frightening, in making it more familiar. Instead, we are driven away by how test-oriented the material is and the amount of memorization that is required.
My love for the sciences began in my first physics and chemistry courses. We were learning about exothermic (release of heat) chemical reactions and kinetic energy. Sure, I understand that when favorable chemical reactions naturally occur spontaneously go towards products and release energy as heat, but what does this mean and why do I care? Out of frustration in how poorly I was doing in the class, I decided to approach learning science through another method. I began to explore where these concepts occur in my everyday world and that’s when I stumbled across explosions. Those beautiful explosions seen in fireworks and those awesomely crazy explosions seen in action movies can all be fundamentally explained by the basic concept of exothermic reactions. All that force, heat/light, and fire that we see as a result of an explosion is all due to a chemical reaction that releases a lot of heat, causing the rapid expansion of air molecules. How cool is that?! All that insanity due simply to a sudden, quick expansion of air molecules that help transfer heat! I’d never thought something so simple can be responsible for what we see in fireworks and explosions. This is when I realized that I can make science a lot easier and a lot more interesting to understand.
Over the last few years, I stumbled across more interesting applications of the concepts I was learning in class. In quantum mechanics, I learned that teleportation is possible and that scientists have already teleported incredibly small particles from one island to another (shout out to all those Star Trek fans who fantasize about traveling from one place to another in a matter of seconds). In physics and chemistry, I discovered the most efficient way to drive a car, meaning I can now consistently get above 40 miles per gallon in my 1996 Honda Civic, which is incredible considering that a lot of fuel efficient cars these days average about only 32 miles per gallon.
The main point I’m trying to get at is learn how the science can be applied and try to relate it to a phenomenon that you find fascinating, especially if you are someone who is currently struggling in your science courses as I did (my GPA actually dropped below a 3.0 when I started college). Explore the internet and answer that question your little voice keeps asking in your head, “When am I ever going to use this?” It’s what led me to finding better and easier ways to perform simple tasks, such as driving, cooking, and fixing broken appliances. Although it may be true that science comes more naturally for those who are left brain dominant, all you need to do is be creative and find some way to connect that scientific concept to something that really interests you, and you don’t need to be an Einstein to make that happen. In fact, that’s how most of us learn in other subjects, but science just seems so foreign at first that it’s hard to take that first, eye-opening step. Once you take that step, though, you’ll begin to realize all beautiful ideas and revolutionary technology arise from surprisingly simple concepts with a bit of imagination and experimentation. It’s what allows for the possibility of teleportation, the possibility of substituting electricity with quantum particles to make computing millions of times faster, the possibility of finding cures for life-threatening diseases, and the possibility of traveling through space and time. That’s pretty awesome if you ask me.
So, as Jesse Pinkman expresses it in Breaking Bad, “Yeah, science!”
New Common Core Standards drop classic novels in favor of “informational texts.”
The US school system will undergo some big changes within the next two years, chiefly due to a decision to remove a good deal of classic novels from the curriculum, or so the recent media reports would have you think.
The idea behind discouraging or reducing the teaching of old favorites like The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird is to make room for non-fiction “informational texts” in the curriculum. These should be approved by the Common Core Standards of each state. Suggested texts include, “Recommended Levels of Insulation by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California’s Invasive Plant Council,” among others.
Mmmm, I just love me a good read on insulation levels while I soak in the tub.
So, the idea behind this is that children who pass through such a school system will be better prepared for the workplace, their brains packed with useful, practical knowledge rather than brimming with literary fluff (my personal summation). It has the backing of the National Governors’ Association, the Council of Chief of State School Officers, and even the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which partially funded the directive.
But is that estimate correct? Will reading more non-fiction in favor of fiction breed better writing, or more informed graduates? The discussion is extremely divided. One Arkansas teacher wrote in this Telegraph article,
In the end, education has to be about more than simply ensuring that kids can get a job. Isn’t it supposed to be about making well-rounded citizens?
Meanwhile, another reader weighed in for the pros of teaching more scientific texts:
I don’t understand how adding non-fiction books to reading lists REDUCES imagination. Hard science is all about imagination–the “what ifs” of nature and the universe… I am sick of English professors acting like English Literature is the only bastion of imagination/critical thinking/culture.
When I first read that article stating that The Catcher in the Rye and other novels specifically would be gone from curriculums nation-wide, I was alarmed and frightened, though I now know it was needlessly so. The reactions of protesters are a tad hyperbolic, given that the two soporific texts I named above are found amongst a long list of alternate suggestions in various subjects, for instance Circumference: Eratosthenes and the Ancient Quest to Measure the Globe by Nicholas Nicastro, and The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story by Richard Preston, interesting and well-written books in their own right. English Literature classes will not be barred from teaching certain classic novels, as some of the reports would have you believe, though they may have more limited time to teach them than before. Yes, the school system will be changed and possibly not for the better, but Salinger and Lee aren’t going anywhere.
All in all, the arguments for both sides make overblown assumptions: on the one, that students will miraculously be better prepared for the job market, on the other, that all imagination and creativity will be drained from impressionable young adults. So, which side do you stand on, if either? Is the teaching of informational texts merited, or best left to vocational studies? Tell us in a comment below!
The curious tale of the world’s first computer programmer.
Today I stray a little from the ordinary literary and educational news updates, after coming across a nod to an exceptional woman I couldn’t pass the day without commemorating, not only for her role in mathematics, but also for her role as a woman in mathematics, far ahead of her time. I hope that her story inspires women in the sciences, or indeed anyone who perseveres to think beyond the capabilities of modern technology.
Sadly I’m usually behind the times on Google’s artistic and quirky depictions of special days via their homepage. But today, gmail just happened to crash, sending me to the Google homepage where I saw the below image:
I was curious. Who was this woman in 19th century garb, scribbling mathematical functions with quill and ink? And so, by way of technological error, I learned of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.
Ada Lovelace was born on December 10th, 1815, to the poet Lord Byron and his wife Anna Isabella Byron. She had a miserable childhood, considered a disappointment from birth for not having been born a boy. Ada was abandoned by her father before she was a month old and resultantly never knew him, as he died abroad when she was eight. Meanwhile her mother chose to keep little connection with her, possibly because young Ada reminded her of her devious husband, with whom the Baroness had an acrimonious divorce. So Ada was raised by elderly relatives and relegated to a life of suspicious observation via her mother’s friends, dubbed “the Furies.” Fortunately for us, though, she was also subject to a life of education–intended to squash any deviation she might have inherited from her father–and took a keen interest in mathematics from a young age.
Around the age of seventeen, Ada’s special abilities became clear to her tutors, all famed in mathematics in their own right. The noted mathematician Augustus de Morgan even reported of Ada to her mother that she seemed destined to become, “an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence.” Meanwhile another one of Ada’s instructors and friends, Mary Somerville, introduced her to Charles Babbage, future inventor of the world’s first computer. Ada was not yet eighteen at the time.
Babbage and Ada thus began a friendship that produced their academic collaboration on the former’s Analytical Engine. In 1843, Ada translated Italian mathematician Luigi Meanabrea’s explanation of the machine, complete with her own set of notes and conclusions (which were actually longer than Menabrea’s). In her depiction of the Analytical Engine, Ada imagined its potential as being greater than simple “number crunching,” something not even Babbage indulged in. She wrote:
[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…
Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.
Along with these forward-thinking notes, Ada wrote “a computation of Bernoulli numbers for the Analytical Engine” (below). It is this part of her thesis, “Note G,” that is universally considered to be the world’s first computer program, making Ada correspondingly its first programmer.
So there you have it: the world’s first techie was a noble lady, The Right Honourable Countess of Lovelace. That means that on this day, as you browse the Internet in search of Google poetry, GIFs, or the Ikea Monkey, you have Miss Ada Lovelace to thank for her place in imagining the capability of computers to change our lives in the myriad of ways they have today.
Ada was such an interesting woman, there is only so much of her life I could include in this post. I highly recommend her Wikipedia entry as an overview of her amazing achievements and somewhat scandalous personal affairs. In her mere thirty-six years, Ada gave us much to appreciate and stands as a prime example of the role women have played in science and technology, though they are often overlooked. She truly lived up to Charles Babbage’s nickname for her, “The Enchantress of Numbers”:
Forget this world and all its troubles and if
possible its multitudinous Charlatans – every thing
in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.
Teachers, instruct your students on the history of “The Enchantress of Numbers” with eNotes’ document on Ada Lovelace, found here. It comes with an activity to help students write their very own programs and is recommended for Grades 4-8.