Force Field: Asking the big questions
Science allows you to learn things that go beyond your wildest dreams, to attempt to understand the fabric of the cosmos. According to Dr. Mahmud Khan, assistant professor at Miami University, “We all have our part to play, whether we do it ourselves in the lab, or we support science education, or we just value the importance of science.”
Khan received his Ph.D. in applied physics from Southern Illinois University in 2007; he has been teaching at Miami for five years now. This has been his third year instructing a Summer Scholars Program module. He says that he had always wanted to study physics while he was in school, so that’s just what he did. Now, he finds fulfillment in giving students the opportunity to discover their own fascination for the scientific world of matter and energy.
For eight days of the Session II 2018 Miami University Summer Scholars Program, Khan led eight ambitious high school students on a path of scientific exploration leading to a series of questions, many that even Einstein didn’t understand:
- In theory, because entangled particles can be linked across space, might entanglement someday make teleportation possible?
- Could all of the possibilities of quantum mechanical equations occur in alternate universes where every possibility gets played out?
- If everything is measured by time, what IS time?
The theme of the course was magnetism — how magnets can be applied in different applications, and how magnets and electricity are related. Khan devoted much time to how the magnetic field carries electricity and electricity carries the magnetic field, and how the two are coupled together to create so many of the things we use on a daily basis. Magnetic forces are all explained by quantum mechanics. Practically everything around us in this digital age functions because of quantum mechanics; without it, we’d be back in the 19th Century. Yet, we still argue over what quantum mechanics means; we do not understand the quantum theories upon which we build machines and computers. The goal of the course was less about teaching an array of information and more about bringing to light the everyday physics which we take for granted.
Because it was only a two-week module, Khan sought simply to introduce the students to the concepts and applications of magnetism. Aside from lecturing, each day, he showed students a video explaining an idea such as quantum mechanics, then discussed with them the meaning behind it. They also explored some of the history behind these concepts, starting 200 years back and working their way back to the present day, seeing how ideas were developed over time in different parts of the world, the sacrifices people made to understand them, and how we got where we are in this technological world today.
He also led students in some hands-on activities that allowed them to better understand the applications behind the things he taught in class. For one experiment, three groups melted two periodic element samples together in the lab to make an alloy; the next day, they saw what kind of properties the alloy they made had. So, the idea was that before those two elements formed an alloy, they didn’t have any magnetic properties; but, when fused together, they formed a magnetic alloy, which the students tested.
Most importantly, by the end of the course, Khan wanted his students to take some questions with them left unanswered; not only did he want them to know what we DO know, he wanted them to know what we DO NOT know, and why it’s so important to know what we don’t know. He wanted to encourage them in thinking, “OK, maybe we should do something about that which we do not know. Let’s explore the possibilities.” Through this approach, he hoped to inspire the next generation of physicists to seek the truth of reality. Khan, better than anyone, knows that, “We aren’t done yet; there are so many mysteries that have yet to be solved. We’ve got a long way to go.” That is exactly what he taught his students during their time in the Force Field: Applications and Science of Magnetism module.
Lexi Soltesz: A voice for the masses
This fall, Lexi Soltesz will be entering her third year at St. Joseph Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school located in Columbus, Ohio. She attends not because she’s Catholic, but because the school offers strong academics in close proximity to her house. There, she has excellent guidance for college, access to classes that probably wouldn’t be offered at other schools, and an amazing science teacher that has allowed her intellectual passion to bloom. However, problems do arise being part of the LGBTQ community in such a religiously affiliated educational setting.
She says that, “For the most part, it’s uneventful. In general, people are accepting.” There are obviously always those people who will just have radical internalized homophobia, but the problem lies more so in the theology class that is required for all students to take each year.
Her freshman year, the class was fine; it consisted of memorizing vocabulary, saints, and traditional practices. However, sophomore year wasn’t such a simple story. Soltesz reports her teacher to have been consistently blatant about saying homophobic and sexist statements. As a non-Catholic, Soltesz believes that there is nothing inherently bad about theology; for all intents and purposes, it’s peaceful and amicable. But, under the manipulation of certain people, it can become an emotionally abusive tool.
After a while, Soltesz could no longer just sit there and listen; she had to stand up and say something. As it turns out, the school is almost known for the number of queer girls who attend, and there were quite a few in that class who needed someone to say something for them. Soltesz would often ask questions to be left unanswered, or ask her to explain, and get very vague responses. Eventually, other classmates joined in to respectfully question the teacher’s reasoning, Soltesz having challenged their thinking. “You can believe what she says; it’s not my place to decide; but, it is my place to make sure you know that you have the right to decide.”
Keegan Moore: A man of his words
Keegan Moore, a rising senior at Pickerington Central High School in Columbus, Ohio, is a man of his words — that is, he thoroughly enjoys the simple pleasure of a pun, a joke manipulating a word with different possible meanings or playing with words that produce similar sounds.
After two years of listening to his physics teacher make corny jokes about cornfields, Moore picked up on the habit himself. To Moore, puns aren’t really about making people laugh, because at this point, the only reactions he gets are rolled eyes and annoyed sighs; they are more about making people think, about getting them to realize the beauty of everyday language.
As an avid reader, Moore believes that most people these days just don’t read enough, and that because the act of reading is dying, so many people do not value the power and endless potential of words. He has thus made it his mission to revive the appreciation of words one pun at a time. His philosophy is, “We have to use words anyways, so, why not have fun with them?”
Moore is in the engineering module at Miami University’s Summer Scholars Program, considering a career in computer science. On his path into adulthood, he looks to the example his dad set before him — a man who took on the debt of college to create a successful career that years later is allowing his children to go to college. Moore doesn’t want the opportunity his father made for him to go to waste and is eager to make something of himself through it.
Nikil Murail: A team player
On a Thursday night of the second Summer Scholars session, Nikhil Murail came to the center stage of a lecture hall during an admissions decision activity designed to show the students the difficulty of determining who a school should allow acceptance. He stood up as an advocate for the difficulty of being president of the robotics team in front of over 200 people. “It’s a pretty difficult thing. Basically, for six weeks, you have to work your ass off making sure that each member is being an active participant, while also making sure that your team progresses as a whole.” Speaking from experience, he fought for the consideration of the student with such experience under his belt in the model acceptance process; it wasn’t something to be overlooked.
Murail himself is a natural leader, and he will continue to demonstrate his abilities as he seeks to improve as president of his school’s robotics team the second time around this upcoming year; however, what he enjoys most about it is being part of the team.
Murail believes that the reason being part of a team works so well is that people are all so different; everyone has something different to bring to the table, so when everyone comes together, the outcome is far greater than what one person could achieve on their own. For example, the STEM subjects work with Murail’s mind best, while others excel more at predominately right-brained tasks such as creative thinking; both are necessary for a robotics team.
Murail applies the same thinking in discussing issues concerning foreign policy politics on his website, Pax Americana. He is deeply interested in foreign affairs because he is compelled to understand what happens on the global stage, to see how the world attempts to work as a team…. or, how it doesn’t.
Murail also runs cross country, and although he admits to not being the best runner, he keeps going because he enjoys being part of the team.
This August, Nikhil Murail will be a junior in a Cleveland, Ohio, high school. He dreams of someday being a part of the aerospace industry, working under auto entrepreneur Elon Musk, maybe even starting his own company, being part of the greater team of humanity working to explore the universe.
Media Matters: The truth must be pursued
As someone with a deep appreciation for storytelling and an enthusiasm for expressing myself through words, I have always been curious as to what journalism, real-world storytelling, truly entails. When I was younger, I would dig through stacks of old newspapers and magazines my grandparents kept, trying to get my hands on something interesting to devour. It bothered me how there was a whole world was out there turning, and I was just a little part of it; but, when I read news stories, I felt as if I was connected to the world at large. I would go to sleep at night drooling in adoration of the people who wrote and put those stories out there. Over the last two weeks with Professor Newberry, I have learned what it means to be one of those people.
I’ve learned how traditional media has been affected by the insurgence of the internet age, and how it, in many ways, has conformed itself to it. The internet has proven to be a good thing for journalism in that it allows more people to consume news at faster and easier rates, but, it comes with a huge strain on money and thus a huge strain on the things that come out of that money; with smaller staffs, the quality and variety of news has declined. Today, mainstream media has lost attention and been reduced as more and more people turn to social media for their news; this weakens the power of mainstream media and the influence of the best journalists. It is therefore extremely important to support the journalists and news organizations you trust.
From several guests such as Ben Garbarek and Brett Milam, I learned that the key to being a good journalist lies in listening, in letting people open up to you, then bringing the things they share with you to light. Some of the best advice I received was to let people hang by their own words, rather than nudging them into a good quote, then to tell the story through someone’s heart; the narrative builds the story, that’s what people are looking for in reading something — the humanity.
Journalism work is ever-changing and almost always requires a plan ahead of time, a notebook, a pen, ready ears and heart, and a recording device. Over eight days of class, I was presented with nearly every possible form of journalism out there, learning the functions and differences between news rooms — from broadcast, to print, to magazine. Although I’ve still much more room to discover where exactly I might fit in the journalistic world, I was able to get a strong sense of what area I am most passionate about: in videography. The idea of documenting truth through the screen is something incredibly compelling to me, and I can see it becoming of extreme importance in the increasingly technological world we live in.
More than anything else, through my time here, I learned the importance of consuming news and building necessary conversations concerning it with the people around me; after all, it is written only to be read. While visiting The Cincinnati Enquirer, Amy Wilson explained, “You don’t have to be interested in pursuing a career in journalism; you just have to appreciate what it does. And, to be interested in journalism, you just have to be interested in life — in the condition of human beings.”
About the author
Megan Salters, 17, will be a senior this fall at a small private high school in Lexington, Kentucky. Salters is a dedicated student, sister, daughter, and friend with big aspirations and her own vision for the world. She is a member of her school’s A Capella group, Unaccompanied Minors, Beta Club president, a three-year varsity soccer player, as well as a participant of the French club. Outside of school, Salters enjoys writing, video-editing, and playing guitar. A finalist for the Kentucky Governors School for the Arts under poetry, she recently attended a writing workshop held at Murray State University where her passions flourished as a writer. Over a year ago, Salters started creating short cinematic films out of footage she had caught from daily life, sometimes concerning her poetry, under the name Megan Maybee. She has since built a community of other small YouTube creators who encourage each other in their personal visual inventions, often times from half-way around the world. She has been taking guitar lessons on and off for a few years now and has recently started performing at a local restaurant called Willie’s, a popular scene for rising Lexington artists. Salters has a sincere interest in understanding the human condition and hopes to do sociological and psycho-analytical research, and dreams of someday becoming a published author.