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Telling the Story of the Universe: A virtual workshop on thematic interpretation and cosmic evolution for future teachers, informal science educators, and others
The National Academy of Sciences says that the role of science is to provide plausible natural explanations of natural phenomena. Astrophysicist Eric Chaisson asks how islands of complexity can persist in a sea of chaos. The mission of the cosmic and global evolution project is to provide inspiration, training, and educational resources to help current and future teachers, informal science educators, and others explore and explain the composition, structure and evolutionary history of the universe and the Earth from the Big Bang to big brains and AI.
What does thematic interpretation do?
provides strategic tools to engage non-captive audiences
A captive audience is typically in a workplace or educational setting. They cannot leave because they are pursuing educational or professional goals. They will accept a formal academic approach and will try to pay attention even if they are bored. In reality, a student or worker may be physically present, but you cannot force them to pay attention and think.
A non-captive audience is typically interested in fun or entertainment and possibly self-enrichment. The setting may be a park or museum, television, or a website. A voluntary audience has no time commitment, expects an informal atmosphere and a non-academic approach, and will switch attention if bored.
helps teachers and informal educators explore and explain big ideas
tells more memorable stories than an encyclopedia, textbook, or traditional lecture
It’s easy to write a boring theme. Writing a strong theme takes time and practice. A strong theme results in an interesting and engaging interpretation. The most important decision you make in designing any type of interpretive activity is selecting the theme. The theme is the moral of the story, the take-home message that people remember.
It takes time to write a strong theme. After you have the first draft, you have to edit it and “play” with it until you’ve got a statement that is inherently interesting and provocative (and factually correct) for your target audience. It is important to understand your audience before you start.
In sequential communication, the leader controls the order in which the audience receives information. In non-sequential communication, the audience controls the order in which the information is received. In either case, you need a strong theme. Face-to-face and media-based interpretation reach different audiences.
“Success” means that the audience pays attention and gets the point (theme).
provides thematic, organized, relevant, and enjoyable experiences
Dark matter is a topic. Dark matter is our friend is a theme. The theme can be followed up by subthemes. The early universe was isotropic and homogeneous. That means it had no structure. So where did structures like the cosmic web, galaxies, stars, planets, and us come from?
Neutrinos is a topic. Neutrinos remove energy from massive stars and are critical to supernovas is a theme. Is the energy loss due to neutrinos good or bad? Why are exploding supernovas important?
Neutrons is a topic. Neutronization is how neutron stars form is a theme. Why is neutronization important in the lives of massive stars? Why is it important to later generations of stars?
Jupiter is a topic. Why did it take millions of years for Jupiter to start capturing hydrogen and helium gas and how did it acquire 300 Earth masses in 25,000 years? is a theme. Why is Jupiter radiating more energy than it is absorbing from the Sun? How bright was Jupiter when it was forming?
Virus, bacteria, and fires are topics. Are viruses good or bad?, Are bacteria good or bad?, and Are fires good or bad? are provocative themes.
What does the cosmic and global evolution project do?
provides inspiration by organizing and hosting consulting guest speakers and experts
The focus here is on live free in-person public events in a campus theater setting, but the events may be live-streamed to other campuses and recorded for worldwide distribution through the website.
The National Academy of Sciences says that the role of science is to provide plausible natural explanations of natural phenomena. Astrophysicist Eric Chaisson asks how islands of complexity can exist for long periods of time in an otherwise sea of chaos. The short answer is that when energy flows, complexity grows. Cosmic evolution studies the emergence of complex systems from simple building blocks when natural processes dissipate energy and entropy.
Cosmic evolution is a scientific narrative told from astrophysical, biological, and biogeochemical perspectives with emphasis on what nature does, not what scientists do. Cosmic evolution projects explore how cosmic webs, galaxies, black holes, stars, planets, life, brains, and artificial intelligence emerged from primordial quantum fluctuations.
trains students and teachers to organize, prepare, and present special events
The focus here is on live free in-person public events in a campus lecture hall or outdoor venue, but the events may be live-streamed for specific audiences and/or recorded for worldwide distribution through the website.
Students may earn academic credit for projects that help advance cosmic evolution project goals. Typical projects will analyze and document the composition, structure, formation, and evolution of the universe from cosmic webs to galaxies, stars, and planets.
Students will develop and present well-organized, entertaining, and educational thematic interpretations of cosmic evolution that provide plausible natural explanations of what nature does. Students with participate in quarterly events and develop educational resources for the evolution website, poster displays, indoor and outdoor signs, public talks, and courses in astronomy, Earth sciences, biology, and/or other natural sciences.
trains mentors and their summer interns to do thematic original secondary research
A workshop or course can train mentors to supervise interns to apply the principles of thematic interpretation to explore and explain advanced topics in cosmic and global evolution. These tools can prepare students for the real world challenges faced by informal science educators, classroom and lab teachers, and research scientists in universities, government, and industry.
With billions of hours of research over the past century or so providing a wealth of insight into the rarely told evolutionary history of the Earth and universe, it is imperative to synthesize what is already known rather than limiting the narrative to the latest modest advance made by current research.
Students will study cosmic evolution and Dr. Sam Ham’s principles of thematic interpretation. Students will participate in cosmic evolution events and presentations, and evaluate related YouTube and other online educational videos. Students will generate questions and plausible explanations for the cosmic evolution website using Wikipedia and other educational resources and by contacting experts as needed. Students will practice the lessons discussed in David Epstein’s book Range: Why generalists triumph in a specialized world and will gain experience in cross training and interdisciplinary scholarly efforts.
Students will study visualization, animation, recording, and sharing tools like PowerPoint, NetLogo, and website video embedding from our YouTube channel. The guiding principle is that, as statistician George Box said, “All models are wrong but some are useful.”
Typical projects will analyze and document the composition, structure, formation, and evolution of the universe from cosmic webs to galaxies, stars, and planets. Students may help create timelines of big historical events from the Big Bang to bigger better brains and artificial intelligence for a reference book. Students may use mathematical and modeling software for simulation or animation of interactions of energy and matter in complex natural systems.
The guiding principle of system analysis is that, as statistician George Box said, “All models are wrong but some are useful.” Students may help develop educational resources in book form and on the website. Educators may teach a course on the composition, structure, origin, and evolution of the universe that explores space, particles, cosmic webs, galaxies, stars, giant planets, planets and moons with solid and liquid surfaces, prebiotic building blocks of life, geobiospheres, microbial ecosystems, complex life, and/or biological and artificial intelligence.
provides thematic educational resources on the website and in live events
The benefit of a website lies in the ability to update the content quickly, to provide links to other curated content, to include multimedia content, and to embed live-streaming special events in a central location.
The website https://evolution.calpoly.edu currently organizes cosmic evolution projects into four domains: universe, solar system, Earth and geobiosphere, and brains and tools. Each domain represents increasing complexity and concentration of energy flow.
The content should be thematic rather than encyclopedic. Among other things, the project should provide timelines showing the sequence of key events in the evolutionary history of each domain. Projects may explore the origin, evolution, diversity, abundance, and distribution of materials and processes in each cosmic evolution domain.
Interdisciplinary studies may involve cosmology, astrophysics, Earth and planetary sciences, geophysics, oceanography, atmospheric physics, biogeochemistry, microbial ecology, cell biology, biochemistry, neurobiology, astrobiology, artificial intelligence, and philosophy of mind. The project includes more technical and mathematically rigorous content than most informal science programs for the general public or most Big History studies, but its mission does not include support for peer reviewed primary research.
How did structure form in the early universe?
the early universe was hot, dense, isotropic, homogeneous, and expanding rapidly
primordial quantum density fluctuations were preserved by dark matter
The expanding universe and its particles evolve due to the gravitational influence of matter and energy. After the Big Bang, the universe evolved through the inflationary era, radiation-dominated era, matter-dominated era, and dark-energy-dominated era. Particles evolve due to nuclear and electromagnetic interactions. Milestones include massive particle decay, antimatter annihilation, proton and neutron reactions, Big Bang nucleosynthesis, and energy loss by photons and neutrinos.
The cosmic web forms a large scale structure due to gravitational influences. Tiny quantum fluctuations in density and temperature grow. Dark matter dominates, but cannot radiate energy away, whereas ordinary matter radiates energy away. Lower density regions of space expand more rapidly than high density regions, so lower density regions get less dense and higher density regions get denser. Later dark energy drives expansion.
dark matter's gravity attracted baryonic matter after the universe cooled
the cosmic web formed and evolved into galaxies, stars, planets, and us
Our galaxy has a dark matter halo, interstellar medium where stars are born and their remains go when they die, a stellar halo, thick and a thin stellar disks, a central bulge, and a supermassive black hole. Gravitational, electromagnetic, and strong and weak nuclear forces influence galaxy formation and evolution.
Stars and stardust form and evolve due to gravitational, electromagnetic, and nuclear processes. Galactic matter facilitates star formation by gravitationally confining gas and dust.
Self-gravitating gas clouds radiate energy to form bound self-gravitating stars. Stellar opacity traps heat enabling thermonuclear fusion to synthesize elements and generate photons that stabilize star structure.
Core collapse supernovas, neutron star mergers, dying low mass stars, and exploding dwarf stars enrich the interstellar medium with massive elements through nuclear processes like alpha and proton capture, carbon, oxygen, and silicon burning, and rapid and slow neutron capture.
How did the first stars form?
The Big Bang produced hydrogen, helium, and a few other trace elements
the first stars were massive but did not appear for 100 million years
the short-lived first stars created and dispersed so called metals into our galaxy
less massive population I and II stars formed in the enriched interstellar medium
How do stars enrich the interstellar medium?
exploding massive stars live short lives and produce many elements
merging neutron stars produce heavier elements
dying low mass stars produce carbon, nitrogen, and many heavy elements
exploding white dwarfs produce many elements up to zinc
How do planets form and evolve?
icy rocky planets formed from dust and gas
Stars and gas giant planets form and evolve due to gravitational and electromagnetic processes. The interstellar medium in our galaxy that was enriched by supernova explosions enabled our Sun and its planets to form.
planets with massive icy rocky cores quickly capture hydrogen and helium
Before Jupiter could become a gas giant, it slowly accreted a massive core of rock and ice aided by its orbit beyond the Sun’s frost line. Once formed, the core rapidly captured a massive hydrogen and helium gas envelope which has been cooling for billions of years.
planets radiate heat as they form and evolve
some planets and moons form atmospheres, oceans, and biospheres
The solid Earth and its Moon co-evolved following a giant planet impact that turned Earth into a donut shaped synestia which condensed into the Earth and its exceptional Moon. The Moon receded over time due to tidal interactions, but its tidal influence on Earth may have been critical to the origin of life on Earth.
The extremely high surface temperature of Venus is the same from its Equator to its poles and throughout its 1400 hour night. Earth’s atmosphere and climate evolved due to sunlight, the influence of oceans, biological and biogeochemical processes, and interior outgassing. The tilt of the Earth’s axis of rotation is critical to providing a stable habitat for life on Earth.
Molecules and metabolism are the building blocks of life. Organic molecules that form in space are transported to planets by meteorites. Sunlight, thermal energy sources, and water cycles enable building blocks to evolve. Prebiotic building blocks of life form and evolve into proto-cells due to biogeochemical processes. Single celled organisms diversify and evolve due to genetic variations and natural selections. Molecules, metabolisms, and membranes diversify and evolve. Complex cells form and evolve into complex organisms due to endosymbiosis and other relationships.
The geobiosphere evolves due to biological and biogeochemical processes. Earth and life evolve due to extraterrestrial impacts, interior outflows of energy and matter that cause volcanoes and earthquakes, sunlight, weathering by atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biogeochemical processes. Microbial ecosystems co-evolve with Earth’s oceans and atmospheres.
Biological and artificial intelligence evolve, possibly along with consciousness and free will. Cells respond to chemical stimuli and then to the flow of charged particles leading to neurons and biological neural networks, sensory inputs, big brains, tool use, and artificial intelligence.
animations and illustrations
simulations and models