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Beauty,Spring 2005
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How a Scientist Sees Beauty

Megan Monahan

Megan Monahan
CSEM 2 The Chemistry of Beauty
Dalke/ Burgmayer
February 24, 2005

How a Scientist Sees Beauty and
My Experience of Viewing Beauty as a Scientist

Though beauty comes in many different forms and seems to be different for each person who sees it, I think I have found that this might not be the case. People's ideas of beauty are typically based on their personalities, interests, and largely on personal experiences; yet, everyone finds beauty in relationships. When everyone first wrote about their own ideas of beauty nearly all papers included some mention of a beautiful relationship. While mostly these were interpersonal relationships it is not that different from the relationships that make science beautiful. Connections are exciting and beautiful no matter what their context and by realizing this I have found that I have been opened up to so many more beautiful experiences than I was previously.

When Peter Beckmann spoke of how the true beauty of science could be shown with just a piece of chalk and a blackboard, I was skeptical. I have had a hard time seeing science as beautiful because my own idea of beauty is such an instant gut reaction that I don't find the explanations for science as beautiful. However, the lecture opened my eyes to the awareness that my visceral reactions are simply the result of relationships just as the scientist's notion of beauty is.

Scientists also find beauty in the simple. Equations and connects distilled down to their most straightforward form brings great joy and satisfaction. The beauty of that which is not muddled seems quite universal to me and I believe everyone, scientist or not, can appreciate the beauty of that which is pure and clear. The beauty of the knowledge is also the most easily attained once this non complex form is discovered. Since knowledge is beautiful, a method which makes this beauty more easily grasped is also intrinsically beautiful.

I would never have thought that I would find the force of gravity to be very fascinating, let alone beautiful; however, during the in class experiments on Thursday the demonstrations that I found the most beauty in related in some way to gravity. My initial reaction would be that gravity is a rather ugly force since it inhibits us and everything around us. It causes things to fall and break, the mudslides in California would not be happening right now without gravity, and gravity causes wrinkles and other unpleasant signs of aging that would not usually be thought of as the most beautiful. But despite the destruction that gravity can cause, or maybe because of it, the beauty of this overwhelming force caught my attention. As a result of it being such an invincible and all encompassing power the small ways in which we cheat it become all the more beautiful.

The experiment pertaining to how the center of mass works on an object was really simple yet also astoundingly beautiful. There were no formulas or chemicals to make this experiment work. It was merely common household items that we see on a daily basis but suddenly they had become a demonstration of the forces at work on our earth at all times. Mundane objects had attained a new beauty through science though I had never believed that this would be possible for me to see. The way the forks were intertwined created a fascinating pattern but the most amazing aspect was how they seemed to float for no apparent reason. They glided back and forth on the thin toothpick placed ever so precariously on the edge of the cup and yet they did not fall. The movement was so fluid and I couldn't believe that it was holding itself up in that strange manner. Though I was not thinking about the physics of this demonstration at first and was just marveling at its beauty, I see now that it is all because of gravity. The point on the end on that toothpick, where the mass of the forks was distributed completely evenly, created a way for gravity to act on the forks in an unexpected way. The force did not have any place on the forks to pull them down and they were perfectly balanced. The unexpected nature of this experiment for me resulted from the notion that gravity is inescapable and to see otherwise was somewhat shocking at first but also magical.

The other demonstration that deceived gravity was the one about centrifugal force and it too possessed at certain beauty in the unexpected. It does not seem logical that a glass could be held on a platter even while it was upside-down and yet that is exactly what occurred. Usually the force of gravity is directed down toward the earth but here the force was directed away from the axis of the spinning. This explanation made the demonstration beautiful because the clarity that resulted made me feel as if I was more connected with the experiment and understood it on more than a superficial level. This knowledge made the experiment more intimate and personal which is where I find the most beauty so I was able to find beauty the same way I always do my making connections and building relationships it was just here the relationship was between me and my understanding.

I was also completely mesmerized by the demonstration with the extremely long chain inside the beaker. Seeing it lying on the table it looked rather unremarkable and I wondered what could possible be done with nothing more than a chain. It then proved to be my favorite thing to watch. The way the chain jumped out of the beaker was so beautiful to watch. I loved how the ball links danced and moved around on their way out of the glass. It was amazing how they flew out so fast and yet so continuously, it seemed to go on forever and during this time it was as if I was hypnotized by the chain and its journey from the beaker onto the floor.

This was also as a result of gravitational force and how it affects objects. In this case gravity was not being beaten on any level but, in fact, what was beautiful was gravity doing just what it always does- pulling things down to earth. This whole demonstration showed how gravity works on objects with distinct segments. The experiment would not have looked quite the same if it had been done with rope or some other object of that type. It would not have pulled out in the same way so the science would not have worked, but even if it had I doubt it would have looked quite as beautiful since the discrete sections are what caused it to move in the way that I found so fascinating. Scientists see the beauty in the explanation for why the chain moved as it did. The pull of each little ball on the one next to it continued the motion and brought the chain crashing down to the floor but it could not have happened without gravity.

Even the experiment with the liquefied dry ice making the magnets spin on top of the other magnet had a beautiful side effect that related to gravity a little bit. When the fluid was poured over the magnet and it spilled out I loved what it looked like as it fell off the table. Gravity pulled it from the table and upon hitting the ground it made a wonderful sound and it evaporate into a cloud of what looked like steam. Though the movement of the liquid off the table was not the point of the experiment it was the part I liked best and lo and behold it too had to do with the all-powerful gravity. I also noticed that movement seemed to play a large role in what I found beautiful and gravity usually had a part in that motion. The influence of gravity pulled and pushed things in all different directions and made the most beautiful movements. It never dawned on me before that things like that were the result of a scientific entity.

All these experiments looked extremely different yet I was able to find beauty in each of them, but, perhaps, what is the most beautiful of all is the fact that they are all related to one another. Each dealt with gravity, though in different ways. By explaining the way in which these are all demonstrations of the same power the connection become clearer and it was astounding that one property could be behind so many seemingly disparate events. My concept of beauty was never really that different from that of a scientist, I just saw the connections and relationships in another way.

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