Frank Oppenheimer lab setup at CU Boulder

by Stephanie Chasteen on March 21, 2012

I blogged earlier about the wonderful must-read book, “Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens,” about Frank Oppenheimer’s philosophy of science education and exploration, and his eventual founding of the best place on earth, the Exploratorium.  You can see another review of the book on the blog Bioephemera, and read the first chapter of the book here.

Below is one of the iconic images inside the Exploratorium, with children exhibiting Brownian Motion.

Since I’m here at CU Boulder, where Frank first started developing some of the experiments that led to the Exploratorium, I started doing a little asking around.  Jerry Leigh, quoted in the book, was here at the same time as Frank, and brought down one of the original lab manuals that was co-written by Frank and other colleagues at CU.  The experiments seemed to be much more standard upper-division labs than I had expected (though I know they were intended for freshmen), but Jerry stressed that they were extraordinary clever, not just in the design of the equipment, but in making the workings transparent to students and — if I remember correctly — allowing students to explore cause-effect relationships.  I have PDF copies of the lab manuals, but can’t share them due to copyright restrictions.  🙁

I chatted with Ben Zwickl, a postdoc here working on the upper-division labs, and it turns out that he has a big shoebox full of old historic photos of the CU Boulder physics department.  I thought I’d share one of them here, which is apparently of one of the Oppenheimer lab setups.  If nothing else, it’s a lovely photo.

{ 1 comment }

Stephanie Chasteen March 28, 2012 at 8:04 pm

I wanted to share a comment from my mentor at the Exploratorium Paul Doherty (via the Facebook post of this blog entry):

Paul Doherty also commented on sciencegeekgirl enterprises’s post.
Paul wrote: “Thanks Steph, on an early trip to boulder Al Bartlett took me on a tour of some laboratory exhibits left by Frank, they really reminded me of Exploratorium exhibits today. In one of them white superballs were bounced over a piston and photographed with long exposure timelapse polaroid cameras. The students then made a histogram of the length of the ball streaks to discover the Maxwell Boltzman distribution.. What an awesome way to learn. We have that exhibit at the exploratorium today and it is a favorite of 4 year olds and physics professors.”

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