Protons for Breakfast

Spectrograph of a Star

Spectrograph of a Star

Protons for Breakfast is taking up a lot of my spare time at the moment. We have just finished week 3 in which many of the simple connections between electricity, light, heat and atoms get reinforced. People seemed relaxed and very ready to discuss Global Warming next week. It is understanding the connections between these ideas that seems to profoundly move people. Anyway…

I saw the picture above on the BBC website, (Herschel telescope ‘fingerprints’ colossal star) and I realised that the Protons for Breakfast Students would understand this picture.

  • They would understand that molecules can be identified by the light they emit. They would understand that because they saw that we could identify the sodium light that was emitted by our electric gherkin.
  • They would understand that because molecules are heavier than electrons, they vibrate at a much lower frequency and the light they emit has a lower frequency – in the infra red part of the spectrum. They have seen the infra red light being emitted by the walls of the room in which we gathered.
  • They would understand the frequency units on the graph (GHz) and  that the graph has two scales because light has both a wavelength and a frequency. The might even remember that Red light has a frequency of 400 THz which is 400,000 GHz

And I thought: great. This stuff can be made accessible to non scientists. But not instantly. People have to be interested and pay a little attention. But it really, really can be done. And people enjoy the process in a profound and satisfying manner.


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