Noodling on Nuclear Physics

When I was in sixth grade, I talked about my friends. I talked about the latest episode of Little House in the Prairie and wondered why Nellie was so mean. I worried that Joe was never going to get over Laurie falling for Amy in Little Women.

I did not talk about changing less valuable elements into really valuable ones, so I could make billions of dollars.

My sixth grader, on the other hand, has spent his Thanksgiving break ruminating on how to achieve just that. Apparently, he proposed an initial idea in Science class on Tuesday, but the teacher explained that it would not work. Like charges repel, so you can’t “merge” them.

Our seventh grader chuckled. “Everybody tries that in sixth grade. Can’t be done.”

Not everybody.

“So I’ve been thinking,” the sixth grader said, ignoring his elder naysayer. “What if you put one kind of element in a rubber container and put it in the middle of a room with the other….”

I guess rubber has some sort of power over positive and negative charges?

“… then remove the rubber? There’s nowhere for them to go! They have to bang into each other!”

Was I still playing dress-up in sixth grade, or had we moved on to Charlie’s Angels and dance contests by then?

The conversation continued the next evening at dinner. “It can’t be done,” explained my husband.

“Just because it hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. What if I…”

Later, once the kids had gone to bed, my husband sighed. “It’s not fair. The way they explain nuclear physics in middle school is simplified to the extent that…”

Apparently, I do know someone who thought about nuclear physics in sixth grade.

“He doesn’t see that the electrons are like a cloud….”

His father’s son.







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