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Posts Tagged ‘greek philosophy’

A 3D model of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, where Heraclitus lived. This image was modeled by Cameron Larson.

A 3D model of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, where Heraclitus lived. This image was modeled by Cameron Larson.

During the summer of 2009, I fulfilled a research fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. I’ve previously written about my experiences there in this blog. One of the major areas I researched was the history of Greek philosophies regarding matter, fundamental materials, and the nature of reality. I wrote a script and created various animations to use for a three-part video about the philosophers and their theories. Over the next year, in between working on other projects, I recorded narration and put together timeline sequences in my video software for the three segments. But there the project stalled out, because all I had was my own voice talking with B-roll footage over the top. It was too boring, even for me. I needed to interview an expert to provide primary footage, using my narration only to stitch it all together. But I was back in Utah by then with no available experts around that I knew of.

3D model of Aristotle created using Make Human for the head, Sculptris for the hair and beard, and Bryce for the final render.

3D model of Aristotle created using Make Human for the head, Sculptris for the hair and beard, and Bryce for the final render.

During the summer of 2014, I fulfilled a Research Experience for Teachers in astronomy at Brigham Young University, as I have described in my other blog (http://spacedoutclass.com). While talking with Dr. Eric Hintz, my research advisor, he mentioned a paper he had written with a BYU philosophy professor named Daniel Graham. It regarded a Greek philosopher named Aristarchus, who calculated the size of the Moon based on the extent of a solar eclipse. I realized that I had found my expert literally right in my back yard.

I e-mailed Dr. Graham and he consented to talk with me, and we spent a fascinating 90 minutes discussing the various Greek matter theories and philosophers. He agreed to allow my students and I to videotape him answering our questions, and even gave me a book he had edited on the philosophies of the pre-Socratics.

3D image of Empedocles. Of course, we have no idea what they really looked like.

3D image of Empedocles. Of course, we have no idea what they really looked like.

In my next post, I’ll describe this interview and provide a transcript. Before he came to our school, my students needed to prepare for his interview. I introduced the Greek matter theories as the first of the three threads that led to modern chemistry (I’ve written about these threads before at this post: https://elementsunearthed.com/2009/07/31/three-threads-to-chemistry/ ). Students were assigned individual philosophers and asked to become familiar with their lives and theories, then create a series of questions that they could ask of Dr. Graham. I looked over their questions, made suggestions, and had students revise them so that they wouldn’t be redundant. I sent the list to Dr. Graham to review before his interview.

3D image of Heraclitus. He is often shown as the Weeping Philosopher, saddened by the folly and impermanence of the world.

3D image of Heraclitus. He is often shown as the Weeping Philosopher, saddened by the folly and impermanence of the world.

Meanwhile, my 3D modeling students were learning how to use basic character design software such as Sculptris by Pixologic. I had them use illustrations and sculptures of the philosophers to create torsos in 3D. We also used a new program I found called Make Human, which allowed a basic human figure to be morphed into whatever shape we wanted. The students used Make Human to create the basic head, then imported it into Sculptris to form the hair and beard around it, then took the pieces into Daz3D Bryce for final assembly, texturing, and rendering. Our purpose was to create a series of images and animations to use as B-roll in the final videos. We also hoped to add morph targets and bones and animate the heads talking through quotes of the philosophers. This would require modeling the inside of the mouths, including tongue and teeth, and wound up being too much of a challenge for my beginning 3D students.

Aristotle with a quote attributed to him.

Aristotle with a quote attributed to him.

In addition to the animated torsos, I had students use Bryce to build recreations of temples and other buildings found in the cities where the philosophers lived, such as Miletus, Abdera, Acragas, Ephesus, Athens, and Elea. We had to find diagrams or illustrations of these temples. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Using only artists’ renditions and photos of a scale model found in Ephesus today, the students who did this temple had quite a challenge. Not all of the temples were completed, but many of them got at least the buildings done with excellent detail. It pushed our computers to the limit.

Empedocles with added Photoshop effects.

Empedocles with added Photoshop effects.

One of the many projects I’m trying to finish up this summer is to complete all these animations along with hand-drawn illustrations of the philosophers. I have a watercolor painting I did several years ago called The Elusive Atom that included many of these philosophers, and I’ve used Adobe Photoshop to isolate the philosophers from the background. I also have my pen-and-ink illustrations using homemade ink as well as homemade watercolors. I’ve gradually been building up these projects so that when I do the final editing of the video segments and include Dr. Graham’s interview footage, I will have enough materials.

I knew it would take some time to transcribe and edit the interviews, and that I would have to recreate my original animations (they were designed for SD video six years ago and I now want to do this video in HD) and revise and re-record the narrations. I wanted to start using all these materials now, so when my students created the large timeline banner on atomic theory, I made the banner cover all the history of chemistry and included many 3D images, illustrations, and photos of books from the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Another view of Heraclitus. I set the models into Bryce, added a marble texture and skies, and created a simple camera orbit animation so that renders could be easily created from different sides.

Another view of Heraclitus. I set the models into Bryce, added a marble texture and skies, and created a simple camera orbit animation so that renders could be easily created from different sides.

I have not given up on creating a series of videos, posters, a book, and other materials for this Elements Unearthed project. My need to earn a living as a science and technology teacher has kept me too busy to do much more than write a few blog posts now and then. But I keep filling in pieces, such as the tour of Adonis Bronze I reported on in my last post, and research of other ancient art forms. I took a group of students on a tour of Nevada mining towns last year. I’m only halfway through blogging about my trip of Colorado mining towns in 2012. What I need is two years of free time and about $100,000 in grants to focus on this project, travel to the places I still need to visit (there are many), and put everything together. Have boxes of tapes I need to capture, but not enough money to purchase the hard drives needed. So if you know a rich patron who’s got money to spend on such a project, please let me know!

More Aristotle quotes.

More Aristotle quotes.

In the meantime, I’m still trying to keep this blog going despite having so much happening in other areas of my professional life. It’s been a crazy year. Mostly I’ve been involved in aerospace and STEM education activities, and I’m writing about some of them in my other blog.

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Schrödinger's Undead Cat

Schrödinger’s Undead Cat

This post will be out of sequence compared with the subjects around it, but I need to post this today so my chemistry students can make use of the resources here during class.

As part of the STEM-Arts Alliance project I’ve implemented in my science classes over the last two years, I’ve tried out a number of different ways to help students learn STEM concepts through art and history. You’ve hopefully looked at some of the other projects we’ve done, such as making iron-gall ink and watercolor pigments, junk sculptures, element ornaments, stop motion animation, etc. For our recent project, my students and I have created a large banner, which is a timeline of the history of atomic theory.

Greek philosophers: Anaximander, Anaxemines, Heraclitus, and Parmenides. Illustrations by David Black.

Greek philosophers: Anaximander, Anaxemines, Heraclitus, and Parmenides. Illustrations by David Black.

I designed the banner to fit along one wall of my classroom. It is 15 feet long and four feet wide, except where a chunk had to be cut out to avoid the door. Each student selected an atomic theorist from a list and researched that person, writing up a long paragraph on who they were, what they did to advance our understanding of the atom, and why it was significant. In addition to this caption, the students also had to find a photo or illustration of the person and another of their theories or apparatus. Most of these were images found on the Internet, but a few were original drawings. One of my students, Katie, drew a picture of Erwin Schrödinger with a zombie cat emerging from his brain – well, the cat is both alive and dead, so it must be an undead cat . . .

Paracelsus, drawn by a student using homemade iron-gall ink.

Paracelsus, drawn by a student using homemade iron-gall ink.

My students then used my color printer to print their captions and illustrations out and glue them onto the banner paper at the approximately correct position for the timeline. We focused on the period from about 1700 through the present, and I included images from the Powerpoints I created to explain quantum numbers and atomic theory. I am posting those Powerpoints here as .pdf files so my students can download them:

Quantum_Numbers-small

Atomic Theory-s

The entire banner with students from my chemistry class.

The entire banner with students from my chemistry class.

In addition to the 1700-present section, I included images, photos, illustrations, and text from all of history as humanity has learned to work with materials, isolated the elements, and proposed theories to explain what they observed. I also included materials on alchemy in the Middle Ages, China, and Arabian countries. Some of these were photos I had taken of ancient texts while at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia during the summer of 2009; I’ve been meaning to put them in a format that students can use.

Students answering questions at the banner.

Students answering questions at the banner.

Once the banner was done, I wrote up a series of questions based on the students’ captions as well as my Powerpoints and the Periodic Table History video I made five years ago. Today my chemistry students are continuing to read the banner and write the answers to the questions as a take home test. Here are the questions:

Atomic Theory Banner Assignment

The Stone Age section of the banner

The Stone Age section of the banner

I am also posting photos of the major sections of the banner here as well so that they can access the banner online over the next several days.

Here are the sections of the banner:

The Bronze Age through Roman times

The Bronze Age through Roman times

Medieval and Renaissance sections of the banner.

Medieval and Renaissance sections of the banner.

The Scientific Revolution section of the banner

The Scientific Revolution section of the banner

Sub-Atomic particles

Sub-Atomic particles

Section on Rutherford and Einstein

Section on Rutherford and Einstein

Schrodinger section of the banner.

Schrodinger section of the banner.

The Standard Model section of the banner

The Standard Model section of the banner

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The Five Elements

The Five Elements

As I teach chemistry and astronomy again for the first time in several years, I’m having a lot of fun getting back into the physical sciences with all of the lab experiences I’d collected and developed over the years before I started teaching multimedia exclusively. I’ve also added a number of excellent activities that I picked up from my experiences with NASA and from various conferences and presentations. It’s also a lot of fun to start incorporating my expertise in media design and technology in ways I never could before, as well as the materials I collected at Chemical Heritage Foundation in 2009. For example, I just finished teaching a Keynote presentation on Greek matter theories that I put together myself using photos, drawings, illustrations, and 3D animations (mostly my own) and information collected at CHF. I have all the files stored on various hard drives that all hook into my Mac Powerbook (about four terabytes total). Some of the images I pulled off the Internet at school using our wireless router and Airport technology, and once the Keynote was finished, all I had to do was hook my laptop up to a projector and give the presentation (complete with animations and audio clips) using an infrared remote. Here’s the presentation, in Powerpoint format. If you want to use it, be my guest:

Greek_Matter_Theories

To me, all of this seems remarkable, even miraculous. And here I am writing about it on a Blog, publishing my experiences instantaneously where anyone in the world can read them, and even sharing the presentation itself. Yet I feel as if I’m only just scratching the surface of what these new technologies can do. That’s part of why I’ve been working on this Elements Unearthed project for the past several years; there are so many connections between science practitioners and students that can still be made and which I hope to develop, so many innovative methods of teaching that no one’s thought of yet. I’m a digital immigrant; my students are natives. I’m always playing catch up to what they’re already using daily.

Engraving of Democritus

Engraving of Democritus

So far this blog has been written entirely by me (David Black) since it debuted in Oct., 2008. Now that I’m teaching chemistry again I am turning over much of the posting to my students, who will be taking turns once per week adding information about the research project they are pursuing. They have chosen between an element (such as copper), a material (such as cement), a method of generating energy (such as solar power), or a time period from the history of chemistry (such as medieval European alchemy) and are compiling notes into an MS Word document with references.

With each post, they are to include about 500-800 words of writing in their own words culled from all of their research notes and include relevant images or diagrams. They are also producing a nicely laid out document such as a newsletter, poster, or brochure that will be converted to PDF format and linked to this blog for download. It may take a week or two for the first few student posts to contain these linked files, but they will come. My hope is that any chemistry teachers or students out there who are reading this blog will be able to download these linked files and use them in your own classrooms.

Plato and Aristotle

Plato and Aristotle, Detail from The School of Athens by Raphael

During second term, the students will be developing and practicing a hands-on demonstration that involves some property or aspect of their topic. We’ll present these demonstrations to the elementary classes at Walden (I’ve already met with the teachers to plan this out) and the students will also present them to each other for feedback. During third term, we’ll create a more extensive project from their topic: a detailed Powerpoint or Keynote presentation or a three-minute video or a computer game. They’ll present these in class again, then fourth term put all of this together for a back-to-school science night for the public and their parents and siblings. We’ll videotape these presentations and share them with you as well.

I’ve done all of these things before in various multimedia or chemistry classes, but this is the first time that technology and opportunity have combined to allow me to put it all together. I am still looking to build partnerships with local organizations (museums, mining associations, etc.) that will combine my students’ media skills with their content. I’ll still visit mining towns, take tours of museums, and continue to post about how technology can be used in the science classroom. I also plan on writing more grants and professional articles. I’ll continue to create longer format videos to go with the student short videos (the Tintic Mining District is up next after I make some changes to the beryllium videos).

This blog has certainly been successful in what I’ve intended it to be. Last month (September) was the best month so far with over 2700 visitors to the site. I’ve had over 23,500 visitors total, most of them this year. I would love to hear from any science teachers or students that have found this site useful.

I look forward to seeing what my students come up with as they post about their topics. I’m encouraging them to do more than just a list of properties, to dig deeper and talk about the unusual stories and histories of each element or material. And now, I am pleased to introduce my chemistry students’ blog posts . . . .

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    In this blog entry I’d like to discuss some of the ideas that I have been researching so far here at Chemical Heritage Foundation, report on a conference I attended last week, and give an overview of my plans for the next week.

Empedocles of Akragas

Empedocles of Akragas

    I’ve been conducting my research at CHF for about 2 1/2 weeks. So far I am on schedule for the topics I wish to cover while I’m here in Philadelphia. My goal for these first two weeks was to survey the theories of elements and atoms proposed by the ancient Greek philosophers, then use the third week to research how these theories were carried into the Middle Ages. I used to think that Greek scientific thought on the nature of matter could be divided into a neat dichotomy, with theories of elements (stoicheia) as proposed by Empedocles and Aristotle on one side, and theories of atoms as proposed by Democritus and Epicurus on the other. As I have dug deeper, however, I find that the issue isn’t nearly so simple. Not only did the Greeks theorize about the nature and structure of matter, they also looked at the nature of change, the origin and fate of the universe, and the underlying forces that drive it all. This creates whole sets of conceptual dichotomies. Attempting to sort through all of this while getting to know the personalities and lives of these philosophers has been a fun challenge. I can’t say I’m much of an expert yet, but I have enough to begin to put together a podcast episode on this topic, to be completed and uploaded by the end of August.

    At the risk of over-simplifying, here is what I’ve found: the Greeks were already thinking about where the universe came from and what it was made out of by the time of Thales of Miletus, around 585 B.C., who was considered one of the first philosophers (independent thinkers – “lovers of wisdom”). Thales proposed that everything was made of water, although his follower Anaximenes thought it was air. By about 500 B.C., Parmenides of Elea taught that change was an illusion, that the senses weren’t to be trusted, and that there could only be Being and Non-being. He denied the possibility of empty space (a void) saying it was a logical impossibility. His student Zeno, in a series of famous paradoxes, such as the one about Achilles and the Tortoise, showed that motion (and therefore change) was impossible.

Democritus of Abdera

Democritus of Abdera

     In contrast to the Eleatic School, Heraclitus of Ephesus taught that change was the only constant in the universe, that you can’t step in the same river twice because both you and the river have changed in between. He felt that fire, as a symbol of change, was the universal element. As a compromise between the extremes of Parmenides and Heraclitus, Empedocles of Akragas proposed that there were four elements (earth, water, air, and fire) and that although these elements were eternal and changeless, they could combine and break apart to form new materials. He felt that their were two opposing forces, what he called Love and Strife, which tried to bring the elements together or break them apart.

    Also in contrast to the Eleatic School, Leucippus of Abdera proposed that all things were made of small, indivisible, unchanging atoms which traveled in a void, combined by the forces of a primordial vortex into larger clumps of matter. His pupil, Democritus, took these ideas further and said that nothing existed except atoms and the void, and that atoms combine from necessity (he was a bit vague on what this meant). Unfortunately, most of his original works (some 70 books) are lost and we know of them only from the references of others.

Aristotle's Hylomorphism Theory

Aristotle's Hylomorphism Theory

    One of those others was Aristotle, the pupil of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. Aristotle tried to create a system of knowledge that tied everything together, including the material world and the heavens, and that explained the nature of change. Like his teacher Plato, he felt that there were ideal forms that created the patterns for all things, and that all things had purpose.  He taught that the primordial subtance (hyle) took on the forms (morphe) of the four pure elements, and that these elements had properties including hot and cold and wet and dry. All other materials were mixtures of these elements. By changing the properties of one material, it could be transmuted into another, such as base lead maturing into precious gold. He also felt that the elements were arranged in spherical shells with earth at the center, surrounded by water, then air, then fire. The heavy elements sank because of a force he called gravity and the lighter elements rose through a force called levity. Finally, he proposed that a fifth element (literally the “quintessence”) called ether surrounded fire and was the material from which the incorruptible heavens were made.

Aristotle and the Elemental Spheres

Aristotle and the Elemental Spheres

    Aristotle’s views were brought into harmony with the Catholic Church by the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. Democritus’ views on atoms were supported by Epicurus and therefore seen as too materialist and hedonistic by the church, and they fell out of favor (but never entirely died, as I’m finding out this week). It wasn’t until the Enlightenment that atomic theory began to revive.

    Now, of course, this is a very simplistic overview. I’m in the process of writing this all up in more detail, including some interesting though apocryphal stories of the philosophers, for a podcast episode of The Elements Unearthed. I’ll be presenting this information, and giving an overview of the project, at a Brown Bag Lunch next Tuesday, June 23, from 12:00 to 1:00 here at Chemical Heritage Foundation (315 Chestnut St., Philadelphia). The public is invited, so if you’re in the area, please stop by. It will be in the 6th floor conference room. I will have some samples of animations and images with narration for this new episode, as well as previous episodes created by my students at MATC and a presentation on the project as a whole.

Epicurus

Epicurus

    One final note from this last week. I had the opportunity to attend a conference entitled “Composition to Commerce: Chemistry, History, and the Wider World” held June 12-13 at CHF. It was set up as an opportunity to hear experts in the field of chemistry history present some of their current work and to discuss the historiography of chemistry; that is, how one goes about telling the history of chemistry. Although I felt myself to be a bit of an interloper, I was excited to find that some of the best experts in the field were there – people like Lawrence Principe, William Newman, Alan Rocke, Ursula Klein, and others. In my researches here I keep coming across their names. I didn’t get the chance to talk to all of them, but at least being there and seeing them lets me know who they are. I hope to enlist their aid in this project, perhaps as Subject Experts on alchemy and the history of atomic theory that I can interview later this summer. I also found the conference interesting in how various historic alchemists/early chemists were treated and how some names I’d never heard of are now surfacing as having had an important impact on the history of chemistry, such as Gassendi, Sennert, Starkey, and others. I’ll enjoy getting to know their stories as well as the those of the better known figures such as Boyle and Lavoisier.

    Anyway, wish me luck on my presentation next Tuesday. Stop in if you can. After that, I must dig into revising my application for the National Science Foundation which is due on Thursday. But more on that next week . . . .

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