Quinn, Helen Rhoda

Helen R. Quinn

Stanford Linear Accelerator
Stanford, CA

AIP 2016 Compton Medal
Article: A Wormhole Between Physics and Education
Awards: National Academy of Sciences

Most recent: Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Hi Helen,

I say to the kids, “Everything starts simple before it becomes complex.”
“There’s always a chain of command even if you can’t discern it.”

You’ll probably find this a bit hard to believe, but
when we started, I had no cosmology.
My dislike for it was rather visceral. It’s a story that
goes back to one of those clear summer nights (no moon);
I was a kid deep in the heart of the State of Maine,
looking up from a grassy knoll out into the Milky Way,
empathizing, stretching, and reaching for those stars,
when suddenly it started filling me and I felt like
I was suffocating within that infinity. Rather strange, I’ll admit.
Probably I should go get some therapy at 72 years old!
So, I avoided cosmology… anything beyond our solar system.

Also, I will be the first to admit that I am not satisfied
with our current understanding of the Planck scale.
Those are “real” numbers for mass, charge, length and time
and there hasn’t been enough ideation about it.
I do not think the string theorists have taken that data at
all seriously. Is there anybody else thinking at that scale?
It would be nice if the Langlands program people would
think about it, but they have their own starting points…

So, I take those four base units and ask, “What might those units
look like?” John Wheeler suggested quantum foam. More recently,
there are many who are now instantiating a “plancksphere.”

So, we ignored all cosmological models to look
for some new ontological model that works on up to cosmology…

Well, may I keep you abreast of our progress? Thanks.

First email:  Wednesday, Aug 2, 2018, 5:18 PM

Dear Prof. Dr. Helen Quinn:

I send this note in light of your work on the “Framework for K-12 Science Education.”

I have been puzzling a STEM tool that we fell into back in December 2011 within a high school geometry class.

The kids seemed to enjoy it when I took over my nephew’s geometry classes, so each time I was encouraged to think more creatively. This time instead of building models, we would do Zeno’s paradox by going inside the tetrahedron and by dividing the edges by 2, going deeper and deeper inside the four half-sized tetrahedrons and its one octahedron. Then we went within the eight tetrahedrons and six half-sized octahedrons with it. It got very busy very quickly. In just 45 steps within we were in the range of the fermion. Within another 67 steps within we were in the range of the Planck base units.

That was fascinating. 112 steps from the desk-sized object down to the Planck objects where we hit the “Planck wall.”

It didn’t take too long before we doubled that classroom tetrahedron). In just 90 steps, we were out to the Observable Universe.  It was too simple. We looked around for help to confirm our fascinating project. Even Frank Wilczek encouraged us!

But, interest dropped off quickly. People didn’t know what to do with it.

It was a curious thing, yet still nobody knew what to do with it. So, I continued to push its simple logic to try to determine where that logic fell apart:

Might you be able to help?

Most sincerely,
Bruce Camber

PS. On quite another project, I will be on a tour of SLAC next Monday. Will you be in the area? -B

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