September 18th, 2005

krazy koati

I study nuclear science, I love my classes

The bad news is, I had to get up at 7 am. I know people with grownup jobs will be slapping me silly for that complaint, but it is early for me, and on a weekend, and I've been running on a sleep deficit since 1987. But it was in a good cause, to attend a presentation of research projects like the one I was mentoring students for last term. Alas, my students weren't asked to put on a talk, but I don't feel bad for them. Their Poster Presentation got a certificate of distinction and, better, their research won a cash prize meant to encourage their work in math and science. This reflects more on them than on me, but I will mention it in my next teaching portfolio.

The oral presentations showed the typical strengths and weaknesses of students' first big talk -- over-explaining unnecessary detail (one project used a remote-controlled model airplane, and tried to explain where lift comes from), or having no idea where they were going, despite the talk being on Powerpoint slides (one number theory talk I came away noticing only either a typo or just an error). I think the most characteristic new-presenter glitch, besides overdoing segues from one presenter to another (``I turn things over to Thomas to explain our research method'' ``Thank you, I'm Thomas, and I'll be explaining our research method'') or talk structure (yes, introduction, research method, experiments, analysis, conclusions is a good order), was not repeating the audience member's question before answering it. This lead one group to get the same question several times and to answer testily, ``As we already said --''.

My only question during the day was, I thought, a softball for a group in desperate trouble -- asking who was the person a process they used was named for -- but they hadn't thought to look him up, which is a shame, since the history of mathematics and science is filled with fascinating, by which I mean entertainingly insane, people. (They guessed he was a mathematician, doing mathematics; as it happens, he was a geologist who got named in the history of mathematics -- though, oddly, overlooked in the history of geology -- because he noticed an interesting sequence and sent a four-paragraph paper explaining it to a journal.)

Where things started to get a bit silly was in passing out tokens of appreciation, a major Singaporean pastime. They began with certificates to students for their work, then extra certificates for the judged-outsanding work, then lucite blocks for the Superior Mentors (I was not among them; I haven't been given a block of lucite since 1985), then plates for the people who ran the overall program, then tokens for the people who organized the presentations, culminating with a gift in a box for the person responsible for today's session, who was unable to attend.

Trivia: Jack Swigert was North American's designated test pilot for the Gemini Rogallo wing hang glider-landing mechanism. Source: We Have Capture, Thomas P Stafford and Michael Cassutt.

Currently Reading: Measuring the Universe: The Historical Quest to Quantify Space, Kitty Ferguson.