Making the invisible visible

In my integrated science class this week we are thinking together about waves. As a physical science topic, waves are always a rich and rewarding area of exploration – we work with water waves, including surf and tsunamis, seismic waves, sound waves, and of course all the electromagnetic waves of light in its many various flavors and versions. Among the deeper inquiries I love in this endeavor is the overall concept of energy moving through matter. When ripples move across the pond, energy is carried across the surface of the water. While the individual water particles don’t really go anywhere with any meaningful velocity (they simply rise and fall) the unmistakable pattern of wave motion reveals one of the beautiful and essential physical properties of the universe – the simple transmission of energy. As we move into electromagnetic waves of color, the energy no longer needs a medium, it travels at light speed through a vacuum as a vibrational force field, electric fields producing magnetic fields in a continuous self-propagating transmission. Part of our work in this exploration together is making the invisible visible, bringing to light dimensions of our being that we cannot immediately perceive, and finding ways to make them both meaningful and inspiring as we appreciate the sacred nature of the seemingly mundane. For those who are most fully awake to the possibilities in these discussions, there is much to consider in the ways that energy moves through us as well, how we work with energy, how we reflect, absorb and refract the energy that moves to us or through us. Our explorations are also solidly quantitative, so we are able to take up relationships of velocity, wavelength and frequency, and make specific numerical calculations of wave energy for infrared light or x-rays. All of which allows us not only to remember to apply our sunscreen, but also to play, especially with sound. In the extraordinary vibrations of the air around us that provide us with aural perception, there exists an infinite range of possible frequencies of vibration, only some subset of which we can ourselves detect. One of our most enjoyed activities in the review of waves and energy is the day when we generate a full range of different tones, in the classroom, listening to notes and moving gradually up in frequency until we reach the limits of human perception. Of particular interest to many of my students is that frontier where individual students fall out of perceptive ability – at some point, when we play a tone and some students reveal an obvious and distinct expression of recognition and hearing, while others are still expectantly waiting to hear something, there is a realization of all those pieces that surround us of which we are not fully aware. We may be walking through music that is unhearable, and yet there it is, washing over us, in frequencies we are not equipped to detect. If we have met the moment, all of us will go forward from these reflections with a new understanding of what surrounds, especially that which we may not be seeing or hearing.

After our midweek snowstorm, when the temperature suddenly rose to springlike warmth, the birds began singing loudly in the morning light as the snow melted away and the green and brown tops of the grasses reappeared.


Comments are closed.