Two months ago today, I wrote my last blog post for the 2014 Tour de France. An intense two months of work on Tour de France modeling had just ended for me. Intermingled among that work was my research on Brazuca, the World Cup soccer ball. The media attention my colleagues in Japan and I received for our soccer research was fun and flattering, but by the end of July, I was spent. I needed a break, and I took my first time off of the year with family as we vacationed in Michigan. What I didn't realize at the time was that my blog writing would be put on hold for so long.
I've had many inquiries about when my next blog post would appear. Such inquiries are flattering because it's always nice to know that someone actually cares about what I write in this space. Believe me, I don't take myself nearly so seriously as to think that what I write here when the mood strikes me is worthy of public consumption!
Now that I've had a break from blog writing, I feel ready to get back at it. My college's academic year is well underway, and I'm loving my work more than ever. My introductory physics students have just been introduced to Newton's way of thinking about the world, and energy is the next topic on the agenda. My electricity and magnetism students have reacquainted themselves with special relativity so that they may gain a deep understanding of magnetism. My statistical mechanics students have already seen how Boltzmann joined the world of the unseen with the one we experience in a beautiful equation that actually resides on his tombstone. My research student and I have been learning more about friction as I prepare to be in England during the next academic year. The beauty of my job is that I get to play with so many wonderful ideas and research the world, always learning new things and always nearly jumping out of my shoes each time one of my students thinks physics is cool. It's no wonder I run up the stairs to reach my office in the early morning hours of each day I work.
Doing science is so much fun. It's also so much more than that. Helping young people to think critically and skeptically is such an important part of what I do. The US has some of the best scientific minds and institutions in the world, yet we are plagued with scientific illiteracy in our population, and we are embarrassed by politicians who eschew advances in our scientific understanding of the world. If you have not seen the climate science exchanges that took place a week or so ago between John Holdren, our President's science adviser, and certain members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, I urge you to search the internet for articles and video. I watched the exchanges not only as a scientist, but as a thinking citizen, and all I could feel while watching was shame and embarrassment. One wonders if the goal of certain members of that committee is really to stultify science and its progress. Kudos to John Holdren for his responses and not doing what many other scientists would have done, which is stare at the committee with jaw agape and wonder if there is any hope.
I'm actually full of hope. I've got great kids in my classes who are interested in how the world works. All it takes to improve one's scientific literacy is the willingness to ask questions -- and the willingness to work hard to find the answers. Remember, too, that science isn't about telling us things that we want to hear. It's about seeking how things actually are. It's much easier to simply believe something that makes us feel good than it is to invest the effort into figuring out what generations of scientists have actually come to accept. The latter endeavor is SO much more fun!