Physics is about matter

Perspectives for 14-16 TEACHER COMMUNITY

I’m seven and a half. We’ve just watched Jurassic Park for the first time — the scary cushion alternately clutched to my chest and shielding me from the velociraptors. I am far too excited to go to bed. “But how big is that?” I demand to understand.

My Dad’s face screws up. His eyes dart around, and his gaze suddenly settles on the window of our third-floor flat. He springs up with a hint of a smile and rushes to the balcony. “Come here!” he calls out. I gingerly approach. There could be a velociraptor out there for all I know.

Opening the door, letting in the fresh evening air, he raises a hand up to his head height with his arm held out over the edge of the balcony. “Up to here. I reckon that T. rex would reach from the ground up to here.”

I stand well back and shudder. With my seven-year old imagination, it’s all a bit too real. I shuffle back indoors and rest my hands on the table. Its solidity feels reassuring. I squeeze the hard surface and get struck by a new question.

“Hey Dad, what’s the table made of? I mean the wood, deep inside?”

He’s a little surprised. But only a little. He grabs some paper and a pencil, tells me about atoms, draws a sketch. I nod (wisely, I like to think).

“And what are atoms made of?” He raises an eyebrow. “Well, inside the nucleus there’s… umm… Protons and neutrons!” He adds to his sketch. “And electrons… well, I think they’re just made of electrons?”

Without missing a beat, my next question, “What are protons and neutrons made of?”

Dad pauses.

This is unusual. My eyes widen, I wait intently.

“I think… they’re made of even smaller particles called quarks. But there are different types and I don’t know much about them.” He frowns, the quarks are added to his sketch.

I gaze in wonder at the little circles with ‘q’ scribbled on them.

This is the first time Dad, a scientist — a palaeontologist, not a physicist — isn’t able to answer one of my questions. In the space of a couple of seconds, everything feels different. The nature of my reality has subtly shifted.

And I cannot wait to find out more about quarks.

Submitted by Carole Kenrick

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