I’ll likely be keeping this blog pretty straight Physics & Education with this exception, as the tweet pictured was my entrée into Twitter society.
For several years after high-school, I was working minimum-wage, hardscrabble jobs. Self-serve gas station, fence-painting, farm hand, embroidery machine operator, alterations. I eventually fell into sewing for a living, and wound up sewing out of my home, then outside of Nashville. Wedding gowns and country music recording artists. The drummer I’d married split. (I bought him tires for the truck; I know there’s a song in there.) One night, I was sitting in a bar at a showcase, where unsigned artists perform for music industry people, and I was hating the Whole Scene. I was such an outsider. This was not my dream. I turned my head away to hide the tears. Surely I have something more to give than making clothes to fuel industrial idolatry. Then a warm glow filled the room. Wait a minute! I don’t have a husband to support, I don’t have kids or a house payment… I could go to school!
My mother (who had passed much too early) told me I could be anything I wanted when I grew up, and now was the time to make it happen. I pored over course catalogs. (Anthropology! That sounds fun… Archeology! Cool!) I was thinking some flavor of Environmental Engineering would marry my passions and skills, when a friend passed along to me this issue of Scientific American. He thought the COBE data were pretty cool, in his Scientology sort of way. I confess: it didn’t hook me. (Please bear in mind that I hadn’t taken Physics in high school. I’m not even entirely sure that girls could!) However… there was this little article in the back that somehow caught my attention: “Quantum Philosophy” by John Horgan (@SciAm). I read it and reread it. And again. I’d never heard of wave-particle duality. Wait. You twiddle the beam over here, and it affects what happens over there? Wait, how was that set up? I’ve probably never worked so hard to understand a magazine article; I surely hadn’t before. (Physics journal articles I’ve read since don’t count! 😉
So this is Physics, I said to myself, and was delighted that it appealed to me in such a poetic way. We don’t know everything! This was my first exposure to Physics, and I loved it.
Meanwhile, I’d enrolled in the local community college to try and remember math (and learned that it was sooo much easier if you did your homework). I took a Chemistry course at Tennessee State University. I applied to “elite” colleges thinking it would be an honor to get in, but I would instead have to spend 10 or 15 years taking classes at a state college while working full time to get by. I’d already received a few acceptances, but when I opened the envelope from Dartmouth, I couldn’t breathe. I could barely breathe for three days, because of the Really Big Numbers in the financial aid package. (Teachers! Tell your students that it can cost needy students less out of pocket to go to a private college than it does to go to the local state university!) At age 32, I packed up my belongings and headed to the dorm.
College was wonderful. Truly life-changing.
I ended up sticking with Physics over Engineering, largely because of my physics Professor, Dee Mook. Thank you, Professor Mook, for all of your encouragement in all aspects of life. Come sophomore year, I was sure I wanted to teach. High school. The subject almost didn’t matter. Come senior year, John Horgan (@Stevens), the author of the above article, gave a talk at Dartmouth. I got to tell him that his article was the reason I fell in love with Physics, and now I’ve told you.