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Amazing books on quantum mechanics

Quantum mechanics is humanity’s most astounding achievement in understanding how our universe works. It completely upends our ordinary understanding of matter, time, and space, yet does so in a way that is mathematically rigorous – and testable. What books can we, as intelligent readers – yet without a background in physics – read to learn more?

The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature, Heinz R. Pagels

One of the best books on quantum mechanics for general readers. Heinz Pagels, an eminent physicist and science writer, discusses the core concepts without resorting to complicated mathematics. He covers the development of quantum physics. And although this is an intellectually challenging topics, he is one of the few popular physics writers to discuss the development and meaning of Bell’s theorem. Anecdotes from the personal documents of Einstein, Oppenheimer, Bohr, and Planck offer intimate glimpses of the scientists whose work forever changed the world.

The Cosmic Code

Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics, Nick Herbert

Herbert brings us from the “we’ve almost solved all of physics!” era of the early 1900s through the unexpected experiments which forced us to develop a new and bizarre model of the universe, quantum mechanics. He starts with unexpected results, such as the “ultraviolet catastrophe,” and then brings us on a tour of the various ways that modern physicists developed quantum mechanics.

And note that there isn’t just one QM theory – there are several! Werner Heisenberg initially developed QM using a type of math called matrix mechanics, while Erwin Schrödinger created an entirely different way of explaining things using wave mechanics. Yet despite their totally different math languages – we soon discovered that both ways of looking at the world were logically equivalent, and made the same predictions. Herbert discussed the ways that Paul Dirac and Richard Feynman saw QM, and he describes eight very different interpretations of quantum mechanics, all of which nonetheless are consistent with observation…

Quantum Reality Nick Herbert

In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality, John Gribbon

“John Gribbin takes us step by step into an ever more bizarre and fascinating place, requiring only that we approach it with an open mind. He introduces the scientists who developed quantum theory. He investigates the atom, radiation, time travel, the birth of the universe, superconductors and life itself. And in a world full of its own delights, mysteries and surprises, he searches for Schrodinger’s Cat – a search for quantum reality – as he brings every reader to a clear understanding of the most important area of scientific study today – quantum physics.”

John Gribbon

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, Brian Greene

 “Brian Greene, one of the world’s leading string theorists, peels away the layers of mystery surrounding string theory to reveal a universe that consists of eleven dimensions, where the fabric of space tears and repairs itself, and all matter—from the smallest quarks to the most gargantuan supernovas—is generated by the vibrations of microscopically tiny loops of energy…. Today physicists and mathematicians throughout the world are feverishly working on one of the most ambitious theories ever proposed: superstring theory. String theory, as it is often called, may be the key to the Unified Field Theory that eluded Einstein for more than thirty years.”

 

What are amino acids and proteins?

What are amino acids and proteins? This is where biology meets chemistry. It is critical to know the basics of this to understand health, nutrition, and medicine.

Short version:

Amino acids are small organic molecules found in most of our foods.

We eat amino acids, and our cells bond them together into longer molecules – proteins.

Just as we build a house out of wood logs or panels, we build proteins out of amino acids.

Image from Ajinomoto Group, What are amino acids?

What are amino acids?

Each protein has their own important job in our bodies.

And not just in our bodies – amino acids & proteins play the same basic roles in all life on Earth!

What are amino acids?

They are small organic molecules.

What are organic molecules? They are any molecule based on carbons and hydrogens connected together.

Below, each sphere is an atom. Black is carbon, white is hydrogen, and red is oxygen.

Each one of these is a different shape.

What makes them organic is that they are based on chains of C and H attached together.

So there about about 20 different common types amino acids.

We aren’t showing the exact shapes here. Just know that there are about twenty different varieties.

Adapted from an image by Troy Day, mast.queensu.ca

Like individual Lego blocks, most of these don’t do much by themselves.

They do become when they are bonded together into something larger.

Amino acids bond to build something larger

A monomer is any simple chemical by itself.

A polymers is many of the same chemicals, just bonded together.

Here we can see some amino acids (reds, blues) bonding together into a complex structure.

Here we see (many of) 2 monomers, repeatedly being connected to form a polymer.
From http://www.dynamicscience.com.au/tester/solutions1/chemistry/monomers%20DM.htm

Here’s another way to show amino acids bonding together.

From tradecorpaustralia.com.au, Amino Acids Peptides and Proteins

Proteins fold up into three dimensional shapes

Amino acids are three dimensional objects, but are very tiny and thin. Even when they link up together, how do they do anything? They need to be built into a three dimensional structure.

Consider an old fashioned plastic model kit. Each of the pieces, individually, is small, somewhat flat-ish.

We cut them out and assemble them together to make a three dimensional machine, like this:

images from modelcartips.com

The same is true for proteins; these tiny amino acids link together & then fold up to make a beautiful, three dimensional object.

Each of these has their own job in the body.

500px-Main_protein_structure_levels_en.svg

How specifically do these chains of amino acids fold up into a 3D protein?

Here we see

from AskABiologist on Youtube, by DeLano Scientific using PyMo

If you have time then see this app:  Protein folding

What foods have amino acids/proteins?

Many plants are high in protein.

Vegan Protein nuts vegetables

Meat, fish, seafood, and fowl all are high in protein.

Jobs of proteins?

Gatekeeping proteins

Some proteins float in a cell’s lipid bilayer (cell membrane)

Some of these proteins control which molecules enter or leave the cell.

For example, some membrane proteins say to nearby molecules:

While those same membrane protein molecules will let the right ones through:

Here is a membrane protein (in purple) floating in the cell membrane, letting certain molecules through.

from the Virtual Cell Web Page

Hormone proteins

Some proteins act as messengers. They’re released in one part of the body and travel to another part.

Here we see protein hormones moving from the brain, thru our bloodstream, down to our kidneys.

And other proteins are travelling from the kidneys back up to the brain.

Pituitary gland Adrenal gland Kidney Endocrine hormone

from Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, marvistavet.com

Structural (building) proteins

The organelles in our cells are made of proteins (and other types of molecules as well.)

Organelles

Hair and nails structure

These are made mostly of of protein

Hair and nails

Bone proteins

Bone is is a matrix of protein fibers and minerals

Immune system

Antibodies are a special type of protein

Antibodies have a special shape which lets them attach to bacteria or viruses.

Antibody Immune Response by Nucleus Medical Media

Enzymes

Chemical reactions in our cells, by themselves, are too slow.

Some proteins are specially shaped to speed up these reactions.

Such reaction-speeder-up proteins are called enzymes.

Salivary amylase enzyme mouth GIF

from dynamicscience.com.au

Skin pigments

These are colorful proteins.

Eye pigments

These are colorful proteins.

Eye color pigments

Learning Standards

8.MS-PS1-1. Develop a model to describe that (a) atoms combine in a multitude of ways to produce pure substances which make up all of the living and nonliving things that we encounter, (b) atoms form molecules and compounds that range in size from two to thousands of atoms, and (c) mixtures are composed of different proportions of pure substances.

Clarification Statement: Examples of molecular-level models could include drawings, three-dimensional ball and stick structures, and computer representations showing different molecules with different types of atoms.

HS-LS1-6. Construct an explanation based on evidence that organic molecules are primarily composed of six elements, where carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms may combine with nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus to form monomers that can further combine to form large carbon-based macromolecules.
Clarification Statements:
• Monomers include amino acids, mono- and disaccharides, nucleotides, and fatty acids.
• Organic macromolecules include proteins, carbohydrates (polysaccharides), nucleic acids, and lipids.

Disciplinary Core Idea Progression Matrix: PS1.A Structure of matter

That matter is composed of atoms and molecules can be used to explain the properties of substances, diversity of materials, how mixtures will interact, states of matter, phase changes, and conservation of matter.

What are amino acids and proteins? Honors

What are amino acids and proteins? This is where biology meets chemistry. It is critical to know the basics of this to understand health, nutrition, and medicine.

Short version:

Amino acids are small organic molecules found in most of our foods.

We eat amino acids, and our cells bond them together into longer molecules – proteins.

Just as we build a house out of wood logs or panels, we build proteins out of amino acids.

Image from Ajinomoto Group, What are amino acids?

What are amino acids?

Each protein has their own important job in our bodies.

And not just in our bodies – amino acids & proteins play the same basic roles in all life on Earth!

What are amino acids?

They are small organic molecules.

They all have a small group on one side with Nitrogen and a couple of Hydrogens (the amino group)

and a C, O, and OH on the other side (the carboxyl group)

They all have this same structure.

They only vary in one place – where it says “R”, the “R”est of the molecule. That side chain has a lot of variety.

So there about about 20 different common types amino acids.

Adapted from an image by Troy Day, mast.queensu.ca

Amino acids are bonded together to make peptides, or proteins.

Amino acids bond together into something larger

A monomer is any simple chemical by itself.

A polymers is many of the same chemicals, just bonded together.

Here we can see some amino acids (reds, blues) bonding together into a complex structure.

Here we see (many of) 2 monomers, repeatedly being connected to form a polymer.
From http://www.dynamicscience.com.au/tester/solutions1/chemistry/monomers%20DM.htm

Here is another way to show amino acids bonding together into something more complex.

From tradecorpaustralia.com.au, Amino Acids Peptides and Proteins

Making a peptide bond

Oh, you want to know the chemistry, the details>

When two amino acids join, one of the amino acid’s loses an H atom.

The other amino acids loses an OH.

Those extra pieces then join together to form H2O (water.) That H2O floats away in the cell.

Then the N on the left molecules bonds with the C on the right molecule. They fuse to make a peptide bond.

This is a condensation reaction.

peptide bond formation 1

Doc Kaiser’s Microbiology Home Page (Gary E. Kaiser)

Here’s another animation of the same process

The link created is called a peptide bond (red)

Water (blue) is removed.

This process can be continued to form longer proteins.

peptide bond formation 2

BioTopics.co.uk by Richard Steane

Here is yet another way to show this process:

Amino acid and peptide bond

Proteins fold up into three dimensional shapes

Then it folds up into a 3D shape – that’s a protein.

These proteins each have their own job in the body.

500px-Main_protein_structure_levels_en.svg

Here is a great app that teaches us about protein folding – Protein folding

What foods have amino acids and proteins?

Many plants are high in protein.

Vegan Protein nuts vegetables

Meat, fish, seafood, and fowl all are high in protein.

.

What are some jobs of proteins?

Some proteins float in a cell’s lipid bilayer (cell membrane)

These proteins control which molecules enter or leave the cell.

Creative Biomart Lipidsome-Based-Membrane-Protein-Production

Some proteins are hormones (chemical messengers.)

They’re released in one part of the body and travel to another part.

Pituitary gland Adrenal gland Kidney Endocrine hormone

from Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, marvistavet.com

The organelles in our cells are made of proteins (and other types of molecules as well.)

Organelles

Hair and nails are made of protein

Hair and nails

Bone is is a matrix of protein fibers and minerals

What about our immune system? Antibodies are a special type of protein!

Antibodies have a special shape which lets them attach to bacteria or viruses.

Antibody Immune Response by Nucleus Medical Media

Where else do we use proteins?

Chemical reactions in our cells, by themselves, are too slow.

Some proteins are specially shaped to speed up these reactions.

Such reaction-speeder-up proteins are called enzymes.

Salivary amylase enzyme mouth GIF

from dynamicscience.com.au

Skin pigments are from colorful proteins.

Eye pigments are from colorful proteins.

Eye color pigments

Learning Standards

8.MS-PS1-1. Develop a model to describe that (a) atoms combine in a multitude of ways to produce pure substances which make up all of the living and nonliving things that we encounter, (b) atoms form molecules and compounds that range in size from two to thousands of atoms, and (c) mixtures are composed of different proportions of pure substances.

Clarification Statement: Examples of molecular-level models could include drawings, three-dimensional ball and stick structures, and computer representations showing different molecules with different types of atoms.

HS-LS1-6. Construct an explanation based on evidence that organic molecules are primarily composed of six elements, where carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms may combine with nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus to form monomers that can further combine to form large carbon-based macromolecules.
Clarification Statements:
• Monomers include amino acids, mono- and disaccharides, nucleotides, and fatty acids.
• Organic macromolecules include proteins, carbohydrates (polysaccharides), nucleic acids, and lipids.

Disciplinary Core Idea Progression Matrix: PS1.A Structure of matter

That matter is composed of atoms and molecules can be used to explain the properties of substances, diversity of materials, how mixtures will interact, states of matter, phase changes, and conservation of matter.

Everything We Eat Both Causes And Prevents Cancer

Everything We Eat Both Causes And Prevents Cancer?! Some background knowledge, first: What is cancer? What causes cancer?

Before we get to the substance of this discussion we should address a misunderstanding. Many people believe that “chemicals” cause cancer. Not so. In fact, all foods are made of nothing but chemicals.

The average person – and even the average medical doctor – have little idea of how statistics work, specifically as relating to the design of studies on diet or medicine. Experts in the field have shown that even among peer-reviewed, published scientific studies, the majority of them have results that are never confirmed or replicated.

There’s a wonderfully accurate and infamous paper called “Is everything we eat associated with cancer? A systematic cookbook review.” Researchers randomly selected 50 ingredients from a cookbook. You know, the foods that most people eat every week, as part of a lifelong diet. They looked for studies which tested whether or not these ingredients were carcinogenic (cancer causing.)

It turns out that most of these ingredients had several peer reviewed articles showing that they caused cancer. Meaning that most of the foods that most people eat, cause cancer. In a real and literal sense – if those conclusions were correct – then everything causes cancer.

But what else did they discover? Every one of those same foods had other studies supposedly proving that they didn’t cause cancer. And what else did they discover? You guessed it – many of these same foods also had yet other studies supposedly proving that these foods reduced the risk of cancer.

The people at VOX put together this graphic showing the results:

Conclusion – Everything We Eat Both Causes And Prevents Cancer?!

That’s obviously a symptom of a field of science with systemic pathologies. Many later studies of those papers showed serious problems with the experimental set up, and with the data analysis.

How can that be? Unlike research in particle physics, biochemistry, geology, or astrophysics, the data about how humans react to chemicals in foods or medicine is much more noisy. In some ways it is simpler to design a spaceship to send a man to the moon than it is to design a dietary study. We can’t just look at one or even ten people. After all, everyone’s genetics is slightly different; everyone has a different gut microbiome.

So while a particular amount of some food ingredient, or medicine, may be helpful or harmful to a few people, for many purposes we don’t care about that. Rather, when you mix ingredients to bake food, you want to know if it is safe in general, not just for some random person in Boise. When a doctor wants to prescribe a medication for heart disease or diabetes, she wants to know if it is safe in general, not just for Tom Smithers from Missoula.

So we need to do dietary and medical studies on large numbers of people. But the way that a molecule interacts with a person is wildly complex. There are millions of proteins, enzymes, and RNA molecules floating around in every cell. And every person eats foods with millions of different molecules, every day. And every person has some medical imperfection, infection, or disease (even if not yet diagnosed.) So, in many ways, studying how the universe created stars and nuclear fusion is orders of magnitude simpler than studying diet.

None of this is to say that we can’t learn anything about these topics: Clearly our medical knowledge is far better today than in the year 1900, and orders of magnitude better than it was in the middle ages. Progress can be made. But most of our progress has come from learning about “low hanging fruit” – molecules that have strong and immediate effects on our bodies. For instance, antibiotics, antivirals, or medications that treat asthma: For anything with a strong and fast response it is pretty easy to separate what works, from what doesn’t work.

But for molecules that take years – or decades! – to show an effect that is so much more complex to study, for the reasons described above.

Consider “Is everything we eat associated with cancer? A systematic cookbook review” by Jonathan Schoenfeld and John Ioannidis.

They selected 50 common ingredients from random recipes in a cookbook. They found studies on the cancer risk of each ingredient. They found that 72% of the scientific studies concluded that the tested food was associated with an increased – or, get this, a decreased risk in cancer! Almost every food they tested was claimed to either cause cancer, or also prevent cancer!

In Vox, V writes

This is why you shouldn’t believe that exciting new medical study. In 2003, researchers writing in the American Journal of Medicine discovered something that should change how you think about medical news. They looked at 101 studies published in top scientific journals between 1979 and 1983 that claimed a new therapy or medical technology was very promising.

Only five, they found out, made it to market within a decade. Only one (ACE inhibitors, a pharmaceutical drug) was still extensively used at the time of their publication. One. But you’d never know that from reading the press… This cycle recurs again and again. An initial study promises a miracle. News stories hype the miracle. Researchers eventually disprove the miracle.

Most medical studies are wrong… all studies are biased and flawed in their own unique ways.… real insights don’t come by way of miraculous, one-off findings or divinely ordained eureka moments; they happen after a long, plodding process of vetting and repeating tests, and peer-to-peer discussion.

The aim is to make sure findings are accurate and not the result of a quirk in one experiment or the biased crusade of a lone researcher. [Unfortunately, news reporters] seize on “promising findings.” It’s exciting to hear about a brand new idea… We don’t wait for scientific consensus; we report a little too early, and we lead patients and policymakers down wasteful, harmful, or redundant paths that end in dashed hope and failed medicine.

A highly regarded service that vets new studies for clinicians finds — on average — only 3,000 of 50,000 new journal articles published each year are well-designed and relevant enough to inform patient care. That’s 6 percent.

…There is no cure for our addiction to medical hype… Through the internet, we have this world of knowledge at our fingertips. But more information means more bad information, and the need for skepticism has never been greater.

Related articles

Everything We Eat Both Causes And Prevents Cancer, BEC Crew, 4/1/2015

This is why you shouldn’t believe that exciting new medical study, Julia Belluz, Feb 27, 2017

Everything we eat causes cancer…sort of, David Gorski, January 7, 2013

Associated math that we need to understand:

Data dredging (also called p-hacking) is the practice of mining data to uncover patterns that can be presented as statistically significant, without first devising a specific hypothesis as to the underlying causality.

 

Why can’t we always use Punnett squares?

Punnett Squares are a simple tool for seeing how likely it is for a baby to inherit a specific trait from either a mother or father.

parents that are heterozygous for the purple/white color alleles.
From commons.wikimedia.org Punnett_square_mendel_flowers.svg, by Madeleine Price Ball.

It works not just for people, it works for all forms of life with two genders.

Punnett squares don’t work for most inherited traits – it only works for some traits.

Consider humans – do we have a food allergy? How do we build muscle? What is our skin color? How do our bodies process oxygen? None of these things are simple; none depend on just one gene inherited from either a mom or dad.

All of these parts of our biology are complex: they depend on many genes working together.

Punnett squares are only used to investigate traits when the genes for these traits are independent of each other.

What does that mean? Let’s use some simple visuals

Here is a (purple) cell. See the (pink) nucleus in the center? That’s where our genetic material is.

Our genetic material is our genes, which are wrapped up into chromosomes.

Let’s unfold these chromosome into a straight line. Here we see them, super simplified.

learn.genetics.utah.edu

When men and women combine a sperm and egg cell, they can create a baby – this baby inherits half of the genes from the mother, and half from the father.

During the process of making new eggs, or new sperm cells, the chromosomes duplicate, and then randomly swap pieces.

learn.genetics.utah.edu

You’ve probably done something like this – Ever shuffle a 52 deck of cards?

How many ways can you shuffle this one deck?

The math is wild, we won’t even attempt to touch that today

(but read here outside of class if you like)

Crazy Math: Every time you shuffle a deck of cards, chances are that you make history

But there are billions of billions of combos possible.

So what about eggs or sperm? There’s more than 52 genes, right?

So when our cells “cut the deck” and “shuffle” genes, how many combos can result? Trillions and trillions. That’s why no two sperm or egg cells are every exactly alike.

learn.genetics.utah.edu

THIS is what brings up back to “When can we use Punnett squares”

We can only use them for genes that are INDEPENDENT of each other.

That means that they aren’t physically stuck together.

This only happens when either (a) the genes are on the same chromosome, but far apart, or (b) they are on different chromosomes.

learn.genetics.utah.edu

Experiment in class – cut and shuffle a deck of cards.

Lay out the first 20 cards. Photograph. Now put those cards back in the deck.

Cut and shuffle a deck of cards, again. Lay out the first 20 cards. Photograph.

Repeat this, five times.

When you are done, compare the five results: In what ways are these similar? In what ways are these different?

How does this result to the shuffling of the deck when our bodies produce new eggs or sperm?

 

Physics and Engineering in Africa

Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most populous continent, after Asia in both cases. Vast in size, it has 20% of Earth’s land area. With 1.3 billion people it has 16% of the world’s human population.

Despite a wide range of natural resources, Africa is the least wealthy continent per capita, and hasn’t had an extensive system of STEM education in public schools; most of the continent hasn’t had a system of universities sharing expertise through collaboratives. As such, there has been very little that is equivalent to the large, high tech developments that one has seen develop elsewhere. There has been no African equivalent of Silicon Valley, the space program, system of particle accelerators for exploring particle physics, etc.

Some of the reasons for this are external: The Africa that exists today has been shaped due to 1300 years of colonialism.  From 632 to early 800, the northern region of Africa – a region known as the Maghreb – was conquered by Islamic Arab armies. During the 17th to 19th centuries there was European colonization of many parts of Africa. In the 20th century some African nations were drawn into the cold war between Russia and the United States. And the economy and development of Africa today in some places is being shaped by predatory financial colonial activities by China.

Another reason for the lack of a well developed STEM and high-tech culture is that most African nations haven’t had a long history of democratic rule. The ruling parties haven’t prioritized K-12 public schools – like the systems seen in the USA, China, and Russia – which in part were meant to develop a large percent of the population for a possibility of going into STEM fields in colleges.

Recent economic expansion make Africa a growing important economic market. This has had the effect of allowing for greater investment in public schools and universities. As such there is a growing development of mathematics, physics, and engineering in Africa today.

Examples include the African Strategy for Fundamental and Applied Physics (ASFAP)

They write

Although vital for development, Africa’s science, innovation, education and research infrastructure, particularly in fields such as Fundamental and Applied Physics, has been over the years under-valued and under-resourced. The vision is that Africa should take its equal place as a co-leader in the global scientific process, along with all the social-economic benefits thereto

The ASFAP has a vision that Africa is an ideal location for a global research infrastructure (RI)… It is not without precedent in that the largest astronomical global research infrastructure is located in Africa, and is developing very successfully and on schedule. Its early installed equipment has seen major innovation in design and construction from Africa, as well as investment from Africa

.. In order to extend—or augment—the existing international scientific ties to this continent, in the development of the strategic visions for fundamental and applied physics, engagement in physics education, communication and outreach, toward developing countries, should be strengthened and sustained also in targeted programs toward Africa…

…The central long-term objective… would be to help improve higher education in Africa across national borders and in so doing, to contribute in a significant way to the development on this continent. We believe that maintaining the leadership of the organization of targeted education programs in Africa, in partnership with other interested institutes and African governments and policy makers, presents a unique opportunity for the international community to pioneer the scientific and technological development of a region of more than a billion people with large unmet needs but vast human potential.

Topics of development include Astrophysics & Cosmology, Atomic & Molecular Physics, Biophysics, Computing & 4IR, Earth Science, Energy, Fluid and Plasma physics, Instrumentation & Detectors, Light Sources, Materials Physics, Medical Physics, Nuclear Physics, Particle Physics and accelerators

Sponsoring organizations include

The Network of African Science Academies (NASAC);
The African Physical Society (AfPS);
The South African Department of Science and Innovation;
South African Institute of Physics;
iThemba Labs, South Africa;
Hassan II Academy of Science and Technology;
Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche Scientifique, Tunisie.

TBA

Development of Engineering in Africa today

TBA

Examples of African scientists today

Brian Gitta of Ugandan won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for a device combining optics, biology, and computer science to diagnose Malaria.

Julius Mubiru of Uganda developed a vein locator which “helps doctors and nurses locate a child’s veins easier. By mapping out veins as shadows on the child’s skin, medical staff can draw blood or insert intravenous drips far easier.” He used optics, physics, and anatomy, not “other ways of knowing.”

Philip Kyeswa of Uganda developed “a remote monitoring and metering system for solar mini-grids that gives utilities control and oversight to manage installations and power use.” He used mathematics and computer engineering principles, not “other ways of knowing.”

Kwaku Aning of Ghana in chairman of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, and former Deputy Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He uses mathematics and physics, not “other ways of knowing.”

Related articles

Chinese economic colonialism in Africa

China in Africa: win-win development, or a new colonialism? Nick Van Mead, The Guardian, 7/31/2018

China’s Engagements in Africa: Is China a “Partner” or a “Predator”? Kaze Armel, Center for African Studies School of International Relations

China in Africa: Debtbook Diplomacy? Nathanaël T. Niambi, Marien Ngouabi University, International Relations and China’s Foreign Policy

China in Africa Implications of a Deepening Relationship Larry Hanauer, Lyle J. Morris

What do we know about Chinese lending in Africa? Zainab Usman

Mathematically Gifted and Black. Accomplishments of black scholars in the mathematical sciences.

5 Ways to Show You Care for Your Black Students: Education Week

TBA

Why learn about pH?

In high school we learn about acids and bases. We then learn about the pH scale, which is an easy way of telling how acidic or basic something is.

So why should we know about pH?

from www3.epa.gov, acid rain, student site.

The pH (level of acid or base) plays an important role in the chemistry of everything all around us.

◉ In order to obtain nutrients like Phosphorus and Nitrogen, most plants need to grow in slightly acidic soils (pH of 5-7) to easily obtain these nutrients.

Types of Grains found on Recipematic

Anyone involved in agriculture needs to know about this; and they use knowledge of chemistry to improve crop yield.

from foodsolutionsne.org

◉ Seawater is slightly basic (pH of 7.5-8.5) making it easy for many marine invertebrates like snails and corals to build calcium-based shells.

Our increased production of greenhouses gasses, especially CO2, is changing the pH of the world’s oceans, affecting how ocean life grows in many ways.

The pH in our cells and body fluids plays important roles within our bodies. 

◉ Gastric acid in our stomachs (pH of 1.5-2) helps break down food, specifically proteins.

◉ Carbon dioxide buildup in deoxygenated blood makes it more acidic and when exposed back to oxygen, makes the blood more basic and facilitates gas exchange in our lungs.



◉ Our kidneys regulate the acid-base balance in our blood and urine.

from Osmosis. org

◉ Household and industrial cleaners work depend on pH.

.

Ray tracing optics lab

This is an amazing way for high school students to learn about geometric optics. It can be done from grades 8 to 12, at any level from foundations to honors.

Geometric optics is all about tracing rays of light.

“Geometric optics” is a useful approximation of how light works: We assume that light is made of tiny, fast moving particles (“photon”) that travels in a straight line.

To a significant degree, lets us understand the basic behavior of devices like mirrors, lenses, shadows, eyeglasses, microscopes, telescopes, and solar or lunar eclipses, etc.

When we get further into fine experimental observation, we eventually discover some things that don’t jibe with this assumption (i.e. light travels in straight lines.) We eventually begin to discover that light has a wave nature, not just a particle nature. That’s outside the parameters of this particular lab, though. You can learn more about that here – the wave nature of light.

Required items

Laser Ray Box

A small metal or plastic box with several (preferably 5) lasers. The lasers should be very well aligned, so that they create beams that are parallel with each other. You can see these boxes in my photos, below.

Large, flat bottom, lenses

These are shaped so that they can lie flat on a table. They could be made of glass or some high quality plastic.

Large, white pieces of paper

These are to put the ray box and lenses on. On them – as seen in the photos – you place the lenses, and then trace the beams of light.

When you have the right lenses in the right order, you create a simple microscope, telescope, model eye, or model camera.

Sometimes you can find science suppliers that sell all of these together as a kit. (See photo below.)

Kits make this lab easier. But even without a kit you can put the pieces together yourself.

Instructions

1.  Learn how to safely use laser ray boxes.

They are fragile so they must be handled carefully. Never (ever) look into a laser beam, or aim the beams at someone’s face.

2. Students divide up into small groups (2 to 4 works well.) Each group gets a kit. Start by placing one lens (any shape) on a piece of paper.  Place the ray box a few inches on one side of the lens. Turn it on. Use pencils and rulers to trace the rays on the paper.

Next, turn the lens around. Some lenses are symmetrical and some aren’t. Have students do the ray tracing again.

3. Each group should eventually trace the rays through each of the lenses that you have.

They will see that some lenses have the beams converge at a focal point.

4. A wide variety of simple optics experiments should be done. Use the examples in your physics textbooks. (*)

No matter which textbook or resource you use as standard in your class, every physics classroom should have a wide variety of physics textbooks on a bookshelf in your classroom.

Ray Optics Demonstration Set User’s Guide

This example (above) from Ray Optics Demonstration Set User’s Guide, Stanislav Holec, Kvant Ltd.

5. Prisms are important to use

Ray Optics Demonstration Set User’s Guide

6. You can create (or purchase) mats showing common optical devices such as: Cameras, telescopes, microscopes, etc.

Place the mats on a table top. Place the lenses on the indicated region, and then place the laser ray box. By placing the box and lenses in the correct locations they will literally see the ray tracing showing how the device works.

They should trace this out on their own paper, label the diagram, and have each member of the group clearly sign their name.

This can be done with several set ups, simulating several optical devices. Whenever possible set aside several 45 minute classes for this lab. I prefer a week of hands-on labs. Each period could be a combination of you presenting some information, mini-lecture, notes, and then mostly hands-on experimenting.

Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

HS-PS4-1. Use mathematical representations to support a claim regarding relationships among the frequency, wavelength, and speed of waves traveling within various media. Recognize that electromagnetic waves can travel through empty space (without a medium) as compared to mechanical waves that require a medium

HS-PS4-3. Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning behind the idea that electromagnetic radiation can be described by either a wave model or a particle model, and that for some situations involving resonance, interference, diffraction, refraction, or the photoelectric effect, one model is more useful than the other.

HS-PS4-5. Communicate technical information about how some technological devices use the principles of wave behavior and wave interactions with matter to transmit and capture information and energy. Emphasis is on qualitative information and descriptions. Examples of principles of wave behavior include resonance, photoelectric effect, and constructive and destructive interference.

NGSS Appendix F – Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS

Practice 3 Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Planning and carrying out investigations in 9-12 builds on K-8 experiences and progresses to include investigations that provide evidence for and test conceptual, mathematical, physical, and empirical models…. Select appropriate tools to collect, record, analyze, and evaluate data

Science versus other ways of knowing

2012 Conference on “Indigenizing the Academy” at the University of The Fraser Valley.

How do we learn about the physical world in which we exist? The only way of learning is through logic and the scientific method. Contrary to claims in postmodernism and deconstructionism there are no “other ways of knowing.” No “other ways” produce verifiable scientific knowledge. Some of the many proposed other ways of knowing include

Astrology
Bibliomancy
Divination
Feminist ways of knowing
I Ching (Book of Changes)
Indigenous, Ancestral Knowing
Oracles
Palmistry
Reading entrails
Reading tea leaves
Religious revelation from deities, angels, supernatural entities

In recent years we have increasingly been told that various native peoples – for instance, Native Americans, Métis, Inuk, Bantu, Berbers – have indigenous ways of knowing which are no less legitimate than science. This position is pernicious as it not only is false, but also (albeit unintentionally) racist and sexist.

One of the background assumptions of this way of thinking is that careful observations, critical thinking, measurements, hard work, and analysis of results are “white culture,” and that logic is “male.” In this view non-white people and women have other ways of thinking

For those who us who studied the history of racism, we know the propaganda of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party. Those racist groups taught that careful observations, critical thinking, measurements, and hard work, are “white” or “Aryan,” and that one wouldn’t see these traits from other peoples.

This racism becomes obvious when we speak to black scientists and engineers. None made achievements through “other ways of knowing

This misogyny becomes obvious when we speak to women scientists and engineers. None made achievements through “other ways of knowing

This is why we must study history, including the history of misogyny. Women were said to not have brains capable of logical thinking. Some people involved in pseudoscience, new age mysticism, and radical anti-science feminists teach that there are “women’s ways of knowing” Some even claim that women’s brains question the notions of objectivity

Ironically, this view of women “accepts and uncritically valorizes traditional, empirically unfounded stereotypes about women’s thinking (as intuitive, holistic, emotional, etc.) (Haack 1993). Valorization of “feminine” ways of thinking may trap women in traditional gender roles and help justify patriarchy (Nanda 2003). Promotion of feminist epistemology may carve out a limited “separate sphere” for female inquirers, but one that will turn into an intellectual ghetto (Baber 1994).”

Consider Dr. Sian Hayley Proctor, an American geology professor. She flew into space in 2021 as pilot of the SpaceX Crew Dragon space capsule. She is the first African American woman to pilot a spacecraft. She spent 21 years as a professor teaching geology and planetary science at South Mountain Community College, Phoenix, Arizona.

At no time did she use so-called “other” ways of knowing: The knowledge she learned and created was through science, logic, and mathematics. Geology, mathematics, astronomy, physics.

Consider Christine Darden. She is one of the researchers featured in the book Hidden Figures. She earned a master’s degree in mathematics was hired into NASA’s all-female pool of “human computers” at the Langley Research Center. She transferred to NASA’s engineering division and later earned an engineering doctorate. She went on to lead the Sonic Boom Group of NASA’s High-Speed Research Program. Her groundbreaking work laid the foundation for a new era of research on experimental planes (known as X-planes) that NASA launched in 2016.

Darden never used so-called indigenous or other ways of knowing, ever. The knowledge she learned and created was through algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and physics.

Christine Darden – The NASA Engineer Who’s a Mathematician at Heart

Soninc Boom Test Dr. Christine Darden in Photo

Consider physicist Mary Gaillard. In 1974 she and Ben Lee predicted the mass of a hypothetical elementary particle called the charm quark, which was discovered mere months later. She has also worked on electron-positron collisions, and supergravity theories based on superstrings.

At no time did she use so-called “other” ways of knowing: The knowledge she learned and created was through science, logic, and mathematics. Geology, mathematics, astronomy, physics.

This unintentional racism also becomes obvious when we speak to scientists and engineers from across Africa and Africa. They never use “indigenous ways of knowing.” Black African engineers they don’t consult local religious traditions to learn how to combat global warming or develop better jet aircraft. They don’t read tea leaves to work on vaccines against viruses. They use trigonometry, geometry, calculus, and differential equations. They learn physics, electromagnetic wave theory, and quantum mechanics. They study chemistry, biochemistry, organic chemistry, microbiology, and genetics.

Brian Gitta of Ugandan won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for a device combining optics, biology, and computer science to diagnose Malaria.

Julius Mubiru of Uganda developed a vein locator which “helps doctors and nurses locate a child’s veins easier. By mapping out veins as shadows on the child’s skin, medical staff can draw blood or insert intravenous drips far easier.” He used optics, physics, and anatomy, not “other ways of knowing.”

Philip Kyeswa of Uganda developed “a remote monitoring and metering system for solar mini-grids that gives utilities control and oversight to manage installations and power use.” He used mathematics and computer engineering principles, not “other ways of knowing.”

Kwaku Aning of Ghana in chairman of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, and former Deputy Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He uses mathematics and physics, not “other ways of knowing.”

The African Strategy for Fundamental and Applied Physics is based on physics and mathematics, not “other ways of knowing.”

Sources

What Makes Science Different From Other Ways of Knowing?

“Unlike art, philosophy, religion and other ways of knowing, science is based on empirical research. A scientist conducts this research to answer a question that she or he has about the natural world. Empirical research relies on systematic observation and experimentation, not on opinions and feelings. These systematic observations and experiments provide research results (evidence) that must meet two criteria in order for a scientist’s research to withstand thorough questioning. These two criteria are validity and reliability. Validity means that research is relevant to the question being asked. Reliability describes the repeatability or consistency of the research. Research results are considered reliable when other scientists can perform the same experiment under the same conditions and obtain the same or similar results.”

Climate Science Investigations (CSI): South Florida, FAU Center for Environmental Studies

Pitfalls on Multicultural Science Education, Bernard Ortiz de Montellano

Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science, Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, 1994

Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, 1999

Scientism Schmientism! Why There Are No Other Ways of Knowing Apart from Science, Maarten Boudry, 10/8/2020, The American Philosophical Association (APA)

Science-based medicine versus other ways of knowing, David Gorski on June 11, 2018

Nature of Science, NSTA

Science vs. Lived Experience: A False Dichotomy, People regularly confuse the utility of each. Matt Grawitch, 1/2/ 2021

Other ways of knowing, Rational Wiki

Richard Dawkins on truth and “ways of knowing”

Indigenous Ways of Knowing Steven Novella

What are laws of nature? What are theories?

What are laws of nature? What are theories?

Laws

We start by using words carefully. The word “law” could mean

* rules made up by people and instituted by governments

* the belief that are universal moral laws in nature.

* mathematically precise rules by which the objects in our universe operate

We may look at the differences between those uses of the word here. For our purposes, a “law of nature” is something scientists have learned about how things in our physical world work.

What do physicists mean by “law of nature?”

A law of nature is a precise relationship between physical quantities, and is expressed as an equation.

“Laws of nature” are relationships universally agreed upon – but not agree upon because we want this relationship to exist. Rather, the formulation is only accepted because repeated experiments show us that this relationship exists.

Are laws of nature true? What does “true” mean?

Mathematics is the only subject in which a statement can be absolutely proven “true” or “false”.

For example…

1 + 1 = 2    –  True

1 + 2 = 1    –  False

2*(AA) = 2A2    –  True

2*(AA) < 2A2    –  False

A (two dimensional) plane can be defined by any three points    –  True

A (two dimensional) plane can be defined by any two points    –  False

However, outside of mathematics, by definition, we always have a very different definition of “true” and “false”.

For example, George Washington was the 1st president of the USA.  Is this “true?” This statement is supported by vast amounts of evidence. No reasonable person could argue otherwise, and claim that, for instance, Napoleon Bonaparte was the first American president. So we say that this statement is true.

Sure, one could possibly argue with any individual piece of evidence. No one alive today was alive back in the time of President Washington. Thus a person could pick apart each individual piece of evidence, and then claim “We cannot be certain that Washington was the first president. This claim therefore may be false.”

Nonetheless, given the vast amount of historical evidence which exists, that position isn’t considered reasonable.

An early Islamic philosophy, Avicenna – Ibn Sina (980-1037 CE) defined truth as “What corresponds in the mind to what is outside it.”

Metaphysics of Healing, Book I, Chapter 8,

In science, what does it mean for a law of nature be considered “true?”

It means that there have never been repeatable, contradicting observations.

So in physics laws of nature are –

* Universal. They apply everywhere in the universe (as far as we can observe)

* Simple. Laws of nature are expressed in terms of mathematical equations.

* Stable. Unchanged since first discovered.

However known laws can be incorporated into new discoveries:

Previously known laws of nature have been shown to be approximations of an even more fundamental law.

“Even Theories Change”

Example law of nature: Newton’s 2nd law

When you put a force on an object, the object accelerates.

The acceleration is proportional to the force, and also inversely proportional to the object’s mass.

force = mass x acceleration

All of mankind’s observations and experiments so far show us that this relationship is true for:

* all objects in our classroom

* all objects anyplace on Earth

* all objects anyplace in the Solar System

* all objects anyplace in the observable universe.

Example law of nature: Gravity

Newton’s law of gravity shows that the force between any two objects depends only on their mass, and on the distance between these objects.

This is stated in mathematical form:

For centuries, this law was tested on all kinds of objects, on Earth and in space, over large and small length scales. For centuries this law always held up. No measurable exceptions were found.

Then, in 1918 Albert Einstein announced a new physical law he had discovered, one that was broad, comprehensive, and breathtakingly wide in scope.  This new physical law was soon called Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

It says that the observed gravitational effect between masses results from their warping of spacetime.

Like all others laws of nature, in some ways it is quite simple, and can be written as an equation, like this:

In some ways this is simple, just one equation as a sentence. However this isn’t algebra; this is an advanced form of calculus (tensor calculus).

At first the equation appears very different from Newton’s law – and under certain circumstances it makes different predictions.

So this does mean that we were “wrong” about Newton’s law of gravity being a law of physics?

Not at all – instead something special is revealed: Newton’s law of gravity turns out to a special case of general relativity. They are an approximation, that works very well.

What are theories?

Let’s nail down a few terms

Fact – An observable, potentially measurable piece of information; a physical quantity.

Law – A precise relationship between physical quantities that is written as an equation.

Laws don’t explain why something happens. They are descriptive.

Theory – An explanation which explains why or how something happens. Theories are explanatory.

“A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than ‘just a theory.’ It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter (stating that everything is made of atoms) or the germ theory of disease (which states that many diseases are caused by germs). Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.

Science, Evolution, and Creationism, National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine

Laws of nature in Chemistry

All the ideas that we learned above are used in chemistry, but often the terminology is used more loosely.

For instance, in Chemistry we talk about relationships called “gas laws”

Boyle’s law

Charles’s law

Avogadro’s law

Gay-Lussac’s law

Graham’s Laws of Diffusion and Effusion

All of these are ideas about how gases behave when we change their pressure, temperature or volume. They are very useful, and they correctly predict the behavior of gases over many scales of magnitude.

None of these are really “laws of nature,” as physicists define the term. These relationships hold true under most ordinary circumstances. But when the pressure or temperature is wildly increased, or the volume decreases far too much then these equations start to give erroneous predictions.

All of these rules are really just useful simplifications – they are derived from actual, mor basic laws of nature -> Newton’s laws of motion, Maxwell’s equations, and quantum mechanics.

Laws of nature in Earth Science

All the ideas that we learned above are used in geology and Earth Science but often the terminology is used more loosely. For instance

Law of superposition

New rock layers are always deposited on top of existing rock layers. Therefore, deeper layers must be older than layers closer to the surface.

Law of original horizontality

Sediments were deposited in ancient seas in horizontal, or flat, layers. If sedimentary rock layers are tilted, they must have moved after they were deposited.

Law of Cross-Cutting Relationships

Rock layers may have another rock cutting across them, like the igneous rock pictured below. Which rock is older? To determine this, we use the law of cross-cutting relationships. The cut rock layers are older than the rock that cuts across them.

Are these laws, “laws of nature” on the same basic level as the laws of physics? No.

What geologists call laws are more like “the way that rocks and magma usually move over time,” and of course ultimately all such motion of rock and metal on Earth (or any other planet) is always in accord with the base levels laws of physics (Newton’s laws of motion, quantum mechanics.)

Laws of nature in Biology

Biologists usually don’t talk about living things in terms of the laws of nature, except under certain circumstances.

For instance when we look inside living tissue, we see that all tissue is made of cells. And all cells have organelles. And those organelles are a collection of molecules.

For instance, consider mitochondrial ATP synthase:

Or myosin and ATP acting to make our muscles move:

Image from Mohammad Attari and Hossein Khadivi Heris at the McGill Univ Bio Active Materials (BAM) Lab

So heck yeah, when we look real close – biology meets physics – Biophysics.

The motion of every atom, in every organelles, in every cell, is governed by Newton’s laws of motion, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics.

That’s another big one by the way: all living organisms obey the law of thermodynamics – and thermodynamics is one of the major basic laws of how our universe works.

Now, like the gas laws in chemistry, there are other things called “laws” in Biology. And these laws of biology are very useful rules that help explain a wide range of phenomenon, such as

The Hardy–Weinberg principle – describes how variations in genes are present in a species from one generation to the next. Its called a “principle,” maybe sometimes a ‘rule,” but when we look closely it is a general behavior that is only true under certain conditions. It’s not actually a basic law of nature.

Cope’s law of large animals – A mathematical relationship showing how, up to a point, animals develop wider bones to deal with gravitational stress on their bones. It is a general pattern that only holds true for some families animals, starting with some minimal size, and which quickly maxes out at some higher maximal size (e.g the Blue whale.) It’s not a basic law of nature.

Articles

10 Scientific Laws and Theories You Really Should Know, Jacob Silverman, How Stuff Works

Scientific Theories and Laws, Dr Michael G Strauss

Science without Laws. Model Systems, Cases, Exemplary Narratives, Angela Creager, Elizabeth Lunbeck, and M. Norton Wise