Frost Formations

During my time at Pole, an upbeat literary-minded fellow named Bob recited a poem for me in the hallway. He knew it by heart. Quite impromptu, just as I was heading to the galley for my last dinner – now I’ve lost the details of his last name, and the poem’s title, but it was a science-themed poem (!), an amusing verse about the New Zealand scientist Ernest Rutherford. Bob also handed me a sheet of paper with this epigraph printed on it:

The parching air burnt frore (* Old English for “frosty”)
And cold performed the effect of fire …
-John Milton, Paradise Lost

Our fleeting exchange reminded me of Robert Frost – and his poetic reflection on the elusive nature of the atom (revealed by Bohr & Rutherford):

THE SECRET SITS
– Robert Frost, 1936

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

Checking the date of this poem, I stumbled across an excellent article from
The Science Teacher Magazine, concerning Frost’s interest in scientific method:

“The language of science is metaphorical in nature. Due to the nature of certain abstract concepts, metaphors are constantly used by scientists to help them understand and conceptualize knowledge. Scientists usually describe abstract concepts by creating models that visually represent an invisible reality, though all scientific models have limitations. The representation is made after having observed the behavior of real but invisible systems. Scientific models are essentially equivalent to the metaphorical language used in poetry. (-“Atomic Poetry: Using Poetry to Teach Rutherford’s Discovery of the Nucleus”)

pole_200.JPG

Image: Photomultiplier Orb

This sensor “eye” of the ICECUBE project will soon be frozen a mile and a half below the ice of the South Pole, searching for tiny blue flashes — neutrinos caught in the act of releasing a photon. Talk about invisible realities!

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