Saturday, April 11, 2015

Math and Science in "My Novel"

So my post earlier today was just helping me think through my most recent novel that I won't finish. In my plan so far, the main character studies math and science primary in the area of Cambridge, although he will do some at the other locations as well. How should the novel approach it?

1. Some of the learning will have a historical flavor. I think Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) will feature as one key historical figure in the novel, so there is a good deal that the main character can learn about basic chemistry and physics by simply visiting sites relating to him in London. Scotland offers James Clerk Maxwell.

In Bologna, there is the legacy of Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), and we might mention other compatriots like Alessandro Volta and Benjamin Franklin on electricity. In Göttingen, there is the rich heritage of Bernhard Reimann, Max Born, David Hilbert and Carl Friedrich Gauss. In Paris there was Lavoisier.

2. Following a pedagogical theme, I anticipate that some scientific and math learning in the novel would be integrated and problem based. So, early in the novel, I anticipate a group parachuting from an airplane in order to verify that the acceleration of gravity near the earth's surface is 9.8 m/s2.

I have a physics textbook from the 80s that I always admired because it had these grey calculus pages interspersed as needed. In other words, you learned calculus in order to solve physics problems, rather than on its own. Given the way my mind works, I think it would be spectacular to have an honors physics and math block where the learning of both was integrated with each other. And while we're at it, chemistry could be integrated a little as well.

In short, I could see the entire introductory physics, calculus, and chemistry curriculum of relevant students reformulated into three integrated semesters or a summer/semester combination. It's just that the academy doesn't think that way. It thinks in silos. (I'd love to design the curriculum for IWU's approaching engineering program, but of course I'm not qualified. ;-)

3. Another approach that I would love to write in a book in my spare time ;-) would start with atoms and build up. So you would start with the intersection of chemistry and physics in the atom. Electricity and gravity are not far from there. Molecules then turn the focus to chemistry again. The physics of motion might come next. Eventually, you build up to biology.

4. In my novel world, there is ultimately a list of math and science competencies the protagonist will need to master in the first novel, a mixture of calculus, finite math, physics, and chemistry. The order is only important when things build. Perhaps surprisingly, however, many concepts in physics and chemistry could equally serve as an entry point. It's just tradition to start with motion because we do it every day.

Some nerdy thoughts for a Saturday morning.

No comments: