Holding Things Together

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Sunday, July 12, 2020


Paul McKinley

This week has been something of a mixed bag. First for the highlights:

As an update on my little psychological experiment from last week’s post, I committed to being a morning person this past week. I can’t confirm that I was physically out of the bed before 7 am, but I got up and worked out before the workday started. Take that conflicted prefrontal cortex. I’m going to try to keep that pattern up for this week even though it’s not supposed to be as hot. 

I also just finished my SPS intern physics demo. We’re all submitting 30-second videos demonstrating various physics phenomena for the AAPT virtual conference. Mine consisted of building a “tensegrity” toy, commonly known as a levitating strings toy. It turns out there are a lot of variations of tensegrity (tension + integrity) structures and architecture, but I think it’s a pretty useful way to think about balancing of forces and tension in general. Here’s a link explaining the physics a little more in-depth for those interested.

Work in the committee office was a bit quieter this week. I’ll be able to give a bit more detail about some of my longer-term work once it’s available to the public, but in the short term, I attended two really cool virtual events, one on the Artemis Accords (aka “space law”) and one on applications of quantum photonics (considered cool by physics nerds everywhere). Most of these events are open to the public, so for anyone who has some extra time and is interested in science policy, they’re a great resource. Hill Happenings has a free weekly newsletter that posts a lot of these events and panels. 

Casting a little bit of a cloud on the week was Pomona College’s decision to hold only remote classes this fall term. It seems to be the right call based on the current status of COVID-19 in L.A. County (with cases still going through the roof), but I think the situation is disappointing for everyone in the college community nonetheless. My guess is that many people this year around the country will be in a similar situation of evaluating the costs and benefits of doing a full semester online depending on their school’s policy.

In an effort not to end this on a downer note, I've attached a picture of my tensegrity structures. I have to say the hardest part by far was tying tiny knots with sewing thread to hold everything together. They’re both still intact, though...for now. Anyway, until next week, stay cool (especially if you're in a region experiencing this nasty current heat wave) and hey, do those little things to relieve the tension we’re all feeling. (badum tss)


Tensegrity "levitating strings" structures

Paul McKinley