Sunday, January 31, 2010

Blackbody Radiation and other Science Super-Heros

Over a year ago, on a whim, we got a really cool book from the library about physics. I say on a whim because I got it just because I thought it looked so cool, even though we weren't really looking for physics books and it's not really something we were focusing on at the moment. But it turned out that Hunter loved it.

The book was a book in the Simeon Basher series and I am just amazed at this guy at what a great idea this science series was! It started off with his first book, The Periodic Table: Elements with Style, which set out to give each element of the periodic table "character" and "personality" in a fun, memorable way.

He then went and took the same idea at applying personalities to concepts of physics, astronomy, biology and more. And Hunter, of course, thinks the books are all about super-heros.

Take, for example, the super hero "Blackbody Radiation" from the physics book. He is part of the "Hot Stuff" gang and described in this way:
  • A ninjalike shadow who swallows and slays the Light Crew
  • Dark and mysterious, a heat monitor for the universe
  • Produces radiation that depends only on his heat
I am a master of the dark arts. When an object is pure black like me, it absorbs all of the light that hits it and radiates it back as heat. My special heat "signature" makes me easy to spot and has helped scientists learn about energy's strange ways. I am the reason why black things heat up and shiny white objects stay cool.
It hot countries, it's a good idea to wear light colors - black clothes may look hip, but they certainly won't keep you cool! I'm not just about gobbling up energy, though - blackbodies also give off heat much more easily than nonabsorbing white or silvery bodies. This is why hot things, such as car radiators, get painted black.
Date of discovery: 1862
Discoverer: Gustav Kirchhoff
Most unusual blackbodies (BB): hot stars
"Best" BB: carbon (absorbs 97% of light)

The categories in the Physics book are Old School (mass, weight, density, speed, acceleration, force, inertia, friction, and gravity), Hot Stuff (energy, potential energy, kinetic energy, entropy, vacuum, and blackbody radiation), the Wave Gang (water wave, sound, earthquake, frequency, amplitude, laser, analogue, and digital), the Light Crew (radio wave, mirowave, infrared, light, ultraviolet, x-ray, and gamma ray), the Atom Family (atom, electron, proton, neutron, quark, neutrino, Higgs Boson, strong force, and anitmatter) and Nuclear Heavies (radioactivity, alpha particle, beta particle, photon, Schrodinger's Cat, and weak force)

It is funny how a little imagination and a touch of creativity can make certain concepts so fun, memorable, and easy to understand. Hunter, especially when we first got the book from the library, would squeal with excitement and shout, "Physics!" when he saw the cover of the book. I even remember one time where he had mistaken a cartoon on a book for his beloved physics book, got excited and yelled "physics" and people looked at him in confusion wondering what on earth it was that this little kid was talking about.

We just recently bought some of the books with a gift card we got for Christmas. The ones we got this time around were the ones about Physics, Rocks and Minerals, and Biology. I hope to get all the books in the series and am especially excited about their one about Math (but it doesn't come out until July!) and Earth Science (which comes out in the end up March). I think they're neat, not only because Hunter loves them, but also because, while learning about all the characters in the Physics book and Chemistry book will not exactly leave him with a complete and thorough understanding of those subjects, it will leave him with memorable knowledge of a great deal of vocabulary and concepts and a love of the subject that will make these topics easy and interesting when he is studying them more thoroughly in fifth grade, or college, or whatever (or kindergarten for that matter).

After all, how hard can beta particles and neutrinos be when you have been familiar with them since you were still using training wheels? Or when they are in your mind a quirky little character with all sorts of neat abilities? It is what I like to call "productive playtime" and I am so excited about all the amazing books and tools they have nowadays that make such play so easy and accessible.

"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." 
2 Peter 3:10

Hunter is 4 years, 10 months old

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