Friday, December 6, 2013

Come See the Earth Turn

We have one in our local Sciencenter. Next to the water play area. When my boy was younger I used to sit on a near by bench while he played, watching the pendulum swing back and forth. As my sleepy boredom increased, the moments of my son's childhood passed by, the earth spun silently beneath us. Now we take it for granted and walk by it every time we go to the Sciencenter. Of course the Earth is turning. What's the big deal? But it still enthralls me, Foucault's Pendulum.

Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Leon Foucault by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Raul Allen shows what a big deal Foucault's Pendulum really is. It tells the story of Foucault's youth in the early 1800's, as a boy who was a bit behind in the intelligence arena. Yet, he found his calling in working with his hands creating machinery. By the time he was an adult he was creating unique things.

The book is detailed, easy to read, with original illustrations. But the book itself is overshadowed by Foucault and his work, almost as if you forget you are reading a book but are instead inside the man's world. It goes on to show how Foucault's experiments, his playing around with mechanical things, gave him the chance to discover. And, as happens with science, one of those experiments allowed him to find a new reality for the world.

At the time, it had only been recently accepted that the Earth did indeed turn on an axis. A hundred years before it was believed that the Earth (and the men who inhabited it, who were after all were the most important beings in the universe) was the center of the galaxy and all the far reaches of space revolved around them. In Foucault's time many people were beginning to believe the Earth was the turning object, but it seemed an impossible thing to prove. Thus, many scientists and religious men held fast, like old men are oft to do, to the ideas that they "knew" to be truth.

Foucault's Pendulum was solid proof that the Earth does turn in space, a realization that altered the way people saw their world. Still today it makes me wonder whether we should not hold so fast to our beliefs, but rather let them go and keep the enquiring mind active.

Foucault answered questions for the people of his age, but he raises more for those of us living centuries later. The Earth has turned without fail since my child and I spent those sleepy days at the Sciencenter; the pendulum continues to swing, and I wonder, what do you think we "know" today that in five, fifty, a hundred years, will be proved by science to be wrong?

STEM Friday It's STEM Friday!  (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)

1 comment:

Sue Heavenrich said...

I love these huge pendulums. I remember going to the planetarium and watching the pendulum - waiting for it to knock down another block.