My family is the most important part of my life. I have a smart, funny, incredibly wise wife who also happens to be amazingly beautiful and is the love of my life. I also have two witty, inquisitive daughters who are my greatest joy. I’m incredibly lucky and I don’t know what I did to deserve such luck.
After my family, the highest priority of my life is learning and teaching about the world. Teaching and learning is at the heart of everything I do, whether it be in my writing, my work at COSI, even my vacations and trips with my family.
Although I believe that everything (everything) can be interesting if you look deeply enough into it, I’m mostly interested in the deep connectivity in the world. I don’t mean some mystical, non-physical connection. I mean the connections revealed by science. I believe that the universe is an amazing, remarkable, surprising, deeply mysterious mess, and it is our lucky pleasure in our brief time of consciousness to learn all we can about this universe. That’s what I mean by “a sense of wonder” in my blog title. I hope to write about some of those wondrous things here.
Here’s just one example. Hold a tree limb in one hand. Hold an acorn in the other. We all know that acorns grow into trees. But when they start, acorns are tiny, much smaller than the trees they will become. Where does all the “tree stuff” come from?
The surprising answer is, trees are built mostly of air. A tree takes carbon dioxide out of the air, adds in hydrogen from water, a trace amount of other chemicals, and binds it all together with the energy of sunlight to build all the stuff that makes it a tree. A tree is a machine that turns air into tree!
This is the sort of grand idea that is so often missed by test-based science education. Students might learn about the carbon cycle, about photosynthesis, about all the details of the process, but at the end they can’t recognize this simple and profound fact. They literally miss the forest for the trees. But it is these grand, connecting ideas that are at the heart of science, the reason we do science. They are what give us that sense of wonder that makes the heart leap and the imagination soar.
Think about it the next time you’re in a forest. You’re literally surrounded by solid air, by air that’s been condensed and solidified over tens, hundreds, or even thousands of years into wood. Life changes the universe, molds it into unique, amazing, highly-ordered structures like trees.
The universe is an amazing place, and it is our priviledge to learn about it.