Friday Sprog Blogging: Kids Day at SLAC 2010 and the saga of Mr. Marshmallow Man.

The younger Free-Ride offspring reports on one of the workshops at Kids Day @ SLAC 2010:

Dr. Free-Ride: Tell me the story with Mr. Marshmallow Man.

Mr. Marshmallow Man

Younger offspring: Mr. Marshmallow Man got put into a vacuum chamber, and it was also kind of like a time machine, 'cause when they put him in, he was, like, porking out on all these marshmallows. Except, he wasn't eating himself. And then, the time flew fast and he turned eighty. Then he porked out some more. And then, time flew more fast, and then he turned a hundred, and then his head fell off and I came to his funeral. (In a dramatically sad voice) I'll never forget you, Mr. Marshmallow Man!

Dr. Free-Ride: OK, but can you tell me what was happening in terms of the balloon in the vacuum? What actually happened?

Younger offspring: In the balloon , they took away the gases in that chamber.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK, they created a vacuum in that chamber?

Younger offspring: Yeah, they evacuated the gases, and then the balloon started to blow, to get bigger and bigger, because the air wanted to get out.

Dr. Free-Ride: I see.

Younger offspring: To fill the chamber. So it got out, and then it popped.

Dr. Free-Ride: I see, so the latex of the balloon could no longer hold the gas inside the balloon because of the vacuum around it.

Younger offspring: Yeah.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK. Do you think gases actually want to do stuff, or is that just a way of describing their behavior that helps us understand what they're going to do?

Younger offspring: Gases actually ... sometimes they want to do stuff and sometimes they don't. Depends.

Dr. Free-Ride: I see.

Younger offspring: I think.

Dr. Free-Ride: 'cause I always thought that wanting required something like a brain.

Younger offspring: I don't.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK, so "wants" is more basic than a brain. Is "wants" a description of sort of a basic tendency in the universe?

Younger offspring: What? Can you speak English?

Dr. Free-Ride: I - I thought I was, but I think I was speaking college-course English, you're right. Um, does "want" describe things doing what they're going to do unless there's some force that opposes it?

Younger offspring: I still didn't get that.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK. I'm just having a hard time understanding how a gas wants to do anything if a gas is just a molecule sort of bopping around out there without a brain.

Younger offspring: Well, you know, I will tell you something. There are solid atoms -- um, the solid particles. They are cramped up together, those particles are cramped up together. So, if it were a chair, it wouldn't be able to move by itself. If it was a rocking chair and you sat on it and rocked, it would be able to move. But once the particles are are cramped up together, they can't move. Liquid particles, they have a little space to move, so they take the shape of what container it's in. And gas particles, they're not many in this balloon that I'm bopping around. Because they get to, like, fly around. And once you evacuate the air from a space, it will get bigger and bigger, 'cause it wants to get out and go back into where there was air. So they, like, move around. They have enough space to move around.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK.

Younger offspring: Remember my diagram?*

Dr. Free-Ride: You know what, I actually know all about the phases of matter. And you know what, the particles in a solid, if you heated it up enough, would melt to become particles in a liquid. So it's really not the atoms --

Younger offspring: That's ice.

Dr. Free-Ride: -- it's really not the molecules themselves that are solids, liquids, or gases, it's how they're arranged with other molecules. But here's something -- did you know that even the molecules in a chair, even though the chair is standing still, those molecules are still sort of jiggling?

Younger offspring: But they're not moving like gas or liquid particles will.

Dr. Free-Ride: That's right. They're constrained in their jiggling, but they're still jiggling a little bit, a little bit. And the warmer the temperature is, the more the molecules jiggle. And the cooler the temperature is, the less the molecules jiggle. But here's a question. Did they talk about how hard it was to evacuate the chamber to make a good vacuum? Or was that not something that was part of your discussion?

Younger offspring: No, they had a machine.

Dr. Free-Ride: Oh, they had a machine, so they already had a good evacuating chamber ready?

Younger offspring: Yeah.

Dr. Free-Ride: So you guys didn't have to toil to make a good vacuum yourselves?

Younger offspring: No, but we had to make stuff to hold the air in. If you evacuate the air and you have a leaking valve or whatever it is, then the air would come in. Because the air wants to come in.

Dr. Free-Ride: I see.

Younger offspring: And I can say "wants" if I want, 'cause they can move around --

Dr. Free-Ride: I understand.

Younger offspring: -- like this! (dances around vigorously with fists clenched)

Dr. Free-Ride: And you know what, scientists do too. It's just one of those ways of speaking that interests me, because it's -- we're speaking in metaphors.

Younger offspring: (taking in a big breath and blowing it out through pursed lips, like a storm cloud in a cartoon)

Dr. Free-Ride: Even in science, they speak in metaphors. Isn't that interesting?

Younger offspring: (more loud blowing) See, the air wants to go to your face.

Dr. Free-Ride: I think you want to blow the air in my face in this particular instance.

*The younger Free-Ride offspring earlier offered a related drawing here.

One response so far

  • Dario Ringach says:

    Deep stuff younger offspring....

    Quantum physics if filled of physicists "asking" particles questions... and particles "not making up their mind" until after the question is asked (measurement of spin)... you might enjoy reading about the 'Free Will theorem':

    (Oh, and aren't there at least 10 phases of matter or more?....)