“Imagine the Universe: Probing the Structure & Evolution of the Cosmos”, http://imagine.gsfe.nasa.gov/
What a great site! They do an especially wonderful job of explaining how stars use their fantastic energy t0 assemble all of the atomic building-blocks larger than helium and lithium. Check out “Imagine the Universe”. You will be glad you did! The authors and participating teachers in the program are truly imaginative and inspirational. I sooo respect what they are doing!
However, I do think they have missed something important. And this is not to be taken as a criticism but rather as further evidence that I have not been alone in failing to recognize the obvious truth. To whit, just as I have done, until recently, they have been failing to recognize the amazing, clever, mind-boggling inventiveness of the star-factory, and they have been failing to recognize the responsible party. That is, they haven’t recognized the-truly-not-credible-and-yet-it’s-true fact that our universe is assembling itself and that the universe has made it possible for each of us to witness the fact of our own assembly by the approximately seven-octillion atoms that work together each day to put us together.
It’s true that our universe works at such extremes of atomic dimensions, time and space that the processes involved in assembly are hard to grasp and easily discounted. And yet the processes are not unlike the processes of hypothesis-testing that scientists use in their own work. It’s just that atoms are so extremely skilled, patient and tiny. We humans work in hours. The atoms work in billions of years. We work in things that we can handle and see on a workbench. They are tiny beyond imagination and yet their workbench is so gigantic that it can span millions and even billions of light-years. Our experiments are easy to figure out. Their experiments verge on the impossible.
For me, thoughts such as these bring new excitement, value and perspective to cosmology and atomic chemistry. All of which makes me want to get my hands on the assembly process to the degree that I can. My ping-pong ball models are helping me do just that, and my hope is that they can do the same for others.
Ping-pong balls are objects everyone can use to assemble their own models of atomic nuclei. For me, doing so makes the universe more real. For example, holding an orange, 1.5-inch diameter model proton in my hands makes the proton more real. I can see it. I can hold it. I can feel it. Of course it’s not actually the real thing, but my imagination and the tactile sensation makes it feel real. It also gives me a way to appreciate the incredible dimensions involved in the assembly processes. I can do this by imagining that I am putting my orange ping-pong ball model of a proton in the center of Qualcom Stadium, and by seeing myself sitting in the upper-most row of the stadium as I squint in order to see my ping-pong ball on the fifty-yard line, and by visualizing the transformation of my ping pong ball into the hydrogen atom with the appearance of an imaginary electron force-field that surrounds the stadium and extends beyond it another half-mile!