A Peek into the Secret City

Four of us stood in the lobby of the La Fonda Hotel. The beautiful space sits just off the main square in Santa Fe. You could almost feel the ghosts of the Manhattan Project walk past as people now sat, perhaps unaware, reading papers, waiting for friends, eating in the restaurant, or drinking in the bar. Here, in this lobby, Dorothy McKibben first spotted J. Robert Oppenheimer at the bar; within moments, he would walk over and hire her on-the-spot for the position of head administrator of the Manhattan Project Office in Santa Fe. Not a 3 minutes walk from this lobby was 109 East Palace, the nondescript and unassuming home of that office. Somewhere in this space, but in the distant past, was the voice of Robert Serber joined with other Los Alamos scientists trying to talk loudly and spread the rumor, unsuccessfully, of “electric rockets” in the near-empty hotel bar.

The modern lobby and bar area of the La Fonda Hotel, with its restaurant set off to the right. The bones of this structure remain unchanged since the 1940s, even while its undergone modernizing renovations.

We were here in anticipation of the start the next day of our short course, “The Secret City: Los Alamos and the Atomic Age”. Our students would be people who had elected to participate in the SMU-in-Taos Cultural Institute, a marvelous program that unites alumni, faculty, staff, SMU administration, and others in one place to take short courses in fascinating subjects. These range from golf and wine tasting to presidential history and physics. Here, I recollect some of the three days in which I had the privilege to participate and interact with an incredibly engaged audience.

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Spring 2019 Introductory Mechanics (PHYS 1303)

A “Marvel Studios”-style pre-roll I made for class. This is the excitement I feel when I think about teaching or researching in physics, and when I think about some of this people and history of our department.

Tomorrow, my spring teaching begins. Again, I am teaching “Introductory Mechanics” (PHYS 1303), our 1st-semester introductory physics course. Inspired by the Marvel Studios movies, the theme this semester is “ASSEMBLE!”

Enjoy my little fan art below. Many thanks to my undergraduate teaching assistants, and course veterans: Chase, Lauren, and Andrew!

Dog Whistles: Phrasing that Encodes Anti-Science

A “dog whistle” in a political sense is a code phrase that stands for an idea other than the one used in the phrase. Let’s look at a dog whistle in the discussion about science education, one intended to weaken science in the classroom.

President Trump’s candidate for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was approved today by the Senate committee that conducted her hearing. During her hearing, a question was asked of Mrs. DeVos by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) about whether or not she would work to keep “junk science” (such as “Intelligent Design” or efforts to erode climate science) out of the public school classroom. Rather than a simple “Yes,” she replied that she would support “especially science that is, uh, that allows student to exercise critical thinking…” [1]

This sounds innocuous, and even supportive, but in the long fight to keep anti-science forces from degrading US science education efforts, “critical thinking” has been appropriated by anti-science forces in public education conversations to mean “promote non-scientific views in the science classroom about established scientific frameworks.” Let’s explore this a little to understand it better.

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Acts of Discovery Require Failure

All of the speakers at the TEDxSMU-sponsored "Loyd on the Lawn" event. Rain drove us into a breezeway but the power of Loyd Commons drew a crowd for a fun night of ideas!
All of the speakers at the TEDxSMU-sponsored “Loyd on the Lawn” event. Rain drove us into a breezeway but the power of Loyd Commons drew a crowd for a fun night of ideas! Photo by TEDxSMU.

The following is the underlying text I wrote as the basis for a talk at the TEDxSMU-sponsored event, “Loyd on the Lawn.” It was held at Loyd Residential Commons at SMU, where I was invited to give a short (~10-minute) talk last Sunday night. Enjoy!

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