THE OPPENHEIMER STRAIN
What is the Oppenheimer Strain? The SuperScience for High School Physics Award Winning Program!
THE PROBLEM WITH SCIENCE...
For all the good the science and technology has done for Mankind and as valuable as it is for young people to learn and become involved in, the reality is that within the real scientific community at large there is often rampant conflict, intense debate and even intellectual warfare that goes on that would surprise most school age children. The reason that is important is that there becomes an entrenchment of opinion backed-up with power that can squelch ideas that need to be heard and the thinkers that produce them. Often, this resistance is not based on evidence or "good science" at all but strictly on personal bias or inability to perceive to see the solution. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb said once that "there are children playing in trhe street who could solve some of my top problems in physics because they have modes of perception that I lost long ago." This is a powerful statement that has been largely forgotten. It's also a threatening one because for those entrenched in their opinions and peer groups and power structures, it means that they can be shown to be the emperor with no clothes, literally by a "child" who may just happen to percieve something they can't. (Learn More)
Proof Through Experiment
In 2008, Marshall conducted the first experiment that would substantiate Oppenheimer's claim although Marshall was not aware of it yet. He had determined that young people with more flexible minds would be able to detect the errors that he was finding, which he was able to have verified, in the work of some famous physicists, including Stephen Hawking. This first experiment was done at Bexley High School in Bexley Ohio. 5 students out of about 25 were able to get the right answer and 3 of them were girls. However he was attacked online over the project on a blogging site by anonymous commenters who tried to say that the answer was wrong. Their counter answer, however, not only ignored the conditions of the thought model established by Kip Thorne, the author of the model that Stephen Hawking had made the mistake with, but it was also demonstrably mathematically wrong. The one clearly identifiable scientist in it all was a science reviewer who couldn't even attempt a counter answer because he didn't understand the physics enough, yet he chimed in with personal attacks anyway. In the end, after they realized that they couldn't prove that Marshall was wrong, the commentators tried to right off the students' success at what they themselves had failed to do by saying that problem wasn't hard enough. Disgusted by this display from the so-called "science community" Marshall set out with a harder problem and went to the Columbus Afrocentric Early College, an inner city college prep school and gave 12 physics students there a thought model dealing with the use of worm holes for time travel. This was the flip side of the same model the Bexley students worked on but this time they were told that there was a problem with the model that would keep it from working. The 4 of the students there got the right answer, a higher percentage than at Bexley and with a more difficult problem. In fact, what they did was find the correct objection that Stephen Hawking had missed. This proved both Marshall and Oppenheimer correct - students could see things that PhD scientists have failed to.
The benefits to the students were significant. Not only were they exposed to topics from physics that were far beyond their grade level, they got the benefit of proving to themselves and others that they could do something that scientists had failed to do. At the same time they were all recognized officially on both a city and state government level for their accomplishment which will serve them well as an addition to their college entrance applications. This is not the kind of thing that they would have been able to do without the opportunity presented by Marshall because he had already done the research which turned up the mistakes in the first place - research that is beyond what any typical high school teacher is engaged in.
Now Marshall will take his program of challenging students to think beyond some of the top minds in history in a project that he will launch nationally called The Oppenheimer Strain.
Below is a TV news report about what the students at Columbus Africentric did. It should be noted that the thought problem is misquoted. The spacecraft is going near the speed of light, not at the speed of light.
Marshall Barnes speaks on the Oppenheimer Strain with a still from the Bexley project for the 2010 National Lab Day kick-off event in Columbus. Below is a photo of the proclamation recognizing the accomplishments of the students from the Bexley project. Click on it to see a version you can enlarge and read.
Lee Smolin is a theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute in Canada. In 2007 he wrote the book, The Trouble with Physics which is a commentary on the state of the physics community and how it deals with solving problems, using string theory as an example. In the book, Smolin details many of the same issues that Marshall himself saw and had confronted, in fact Marshall is a perfect match for the type of scientist that Smolin calls a "seer" or visionary, the type that it takes to make the big discoveries that the entrenched establishment often misses.
Teacher Craig Kramer
and R&D Engineer
Marshall Barnes pose with
the book, The Trouble with Physics,
a book every science teacher should read.
Marshall Barnes and two of the winning students from Africentric Early College and State Rep. Tracey Maxwell Heard
The Oppenheimer Strain Campaign will be a national effort to give nearly every American child in middle or high school the opportunity to become an "Oppenheimer Wiz Kid" by finding the flaw in a thought model that is given to their class during the Marshall Barnes Presents the Oppenheimer Strain the online program that will be carried by FORA.TV one of the major online video sources for educational and cultural events and presentations. FORA.tv's slogan is "get smart" and the Oppenheimer Strain will be proving just how smart the nation's kids can really be. There will be some presentations for middle school students and others for high school. All will be based upon published, and in many cases, historical writings that are flawed and have not been revealed to be as such by any significant publication or scientist. Most will be focused on the works of famous physicists of the 20th century who are will known in the popular science audience.
By promoting each event in advance, the largest number of schools will be able to participate which will enable a wide diversity of students to show that they too are an Oppenheimer Wiz Kid and be eligible to be recognized as such by their local and state governments. The names of the cities, schools, students and teachers will be shown on this web site and sent out in press releases all across the country, making this a major distance learning project. Distance learning is already something that Marshall has done for a number of his National Lab Day projects and he himself was a distance learning student when he was a child and teen ager. As a younger adult he participated in the production of video taped college course lessons that could be viewed later or checked out of the library, so the concept of learning via TV, video or web, is not a novel idea but one that he has intimate knowledge of.
The subject of distance learning has taken on a whole new importance as school budgets are met with increasing challenges. Former governors Jeb Bush and Bill Wise have created the Digital Learning Council which plans promoting digital learning across America, more evidence that Marshall is on the cutting edge of STEM presentations and learning.