Sunday, December 19, 2010

Santa Claus, Physics, and More

So I did it this year, I came clean to Asa that there is no Santa Claus. You might think that at age 11, this would be a no-brainer, and of course she already knew. But I've always felt it's important to keep the magical thinking alive as long as the kid wants to. And as somebody who still anthropomorphizes my favorite plaid stuffed hippo, Horace, I'm a sucker for magical thinking. Of course, this means that Mackenzie has to give up his spot as Santa. He's stayed up the last few Christmases, stuffing stockings and having fun being the big brother. I don't know how this Christmas Eve will play out, it's an ever-evolving thing as the kids get older.

For those of you who still have younger kids, or kids interested in physics, or just like this kind of thing, here's a great physics-based proof that Santa Claus really exists.

In other physics news, our FIRST FTC robotics team went up to an event last weekend at Portland State University. In addition to working on their robotics stuff, the kids got to tour a whole bunch of the engineering labs there. We were very impressed! They got to help move a laser (over 800 pounds!), talked with a chemistry grad student about his work detecting nanoparticles in soil and water using an atomic mass spectrometer, saw a wind tunnel where they are testing wind turbine and wind energy farm designs, and best of all they got to spend a lot of time with someone from the robotics department discussing a robot called "Shrödinger's Cat" . Those of you that are physics buffs will understand why that's so funny. The cat lives in a box and is mobile, he runs around the building using two cameras, touch sensors, and other methods for object avoidance. He has a mental map of where he is, and can even go in the elevators and ask people to press the buttons to take him to another floor. He can interact with other robots in the lab, including a talking head of Nils Bohr.

I loved hearing all of the questions our kids came up with for the roboticist. Mackenzie was especially interested in the vision processing algorithms and how he could distinguish between objects and blank space (like a doorway). One of the things this tour really showed me was how much science being involved with FIRST has brought into his life. He already knew about Nanotechnology because back when he was on a FIRST FLL team, they did a research project on Nanoparticles and one of the things they discovered was all about the potential dangers of these particles when they end up in our water and soil. Another year, they did a project on alternative energy and it was his part of the project to research wind generators. So all of the things he was seeing in these science and engineering labs, he had already had a taste of through FIRST.

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