Category Archives: Math/Science

When the moon is in the seventh sun…

The “star balls” at the University of Michigan Planetarium (technical term, according to Nathan Crockett) courtesy of Arnab Nandi

One of my housemates, Nate, is an astronomy PhD student and the GSI (i.e. TA) for Astronomy 101. As such, he has been trained to run the planetarium in Angell Hall, which quite frankly I didn’t know existed until he told us about it. Last night he treated a bunch of us to a free show after hours.

It’s a small planetarium (seats 32), but that doesn’t mean it’s not awesome. For starters, before Nate got the appropriate software loaded, we were all highly entertained by the LED light arrays that lit up the screen with varying colors. Being that a high concentration of us were EECS nerds, we of course inspected the arrays and discovered that they were made by Color Kinetics! (Okay, I was the only one in the room who was excited by that, but I did call Johnston to let him know that we were using his company’s lights.)
Once things were up and running, Nate very professionally led us through the constellations as seen from various locations and time — I learned quite a bit. And he had to put up with a lot of backseat planetarium navigation: “Nate, move us up 10 degrees,” “Nate, show us an eclipse!” “Nate, can we see what it’s like in Alaska,” “Nate, show us an eclipse!” “Nate, we want to see the planets,” “Nate, show us an eclipse!” “Nate, back up a few days — no, no, other way!” (For what it’s worth, despite the fact that he insisted it couldn’t be done, he sort of managed a solar eclipse.) My personal favorites were seeing the planets in retrograde and making sound effects when the moon would zip around us.
Oh, and because I said I’d blog this… “This one time, I was trying to impress a girl with my three-inch refractive telescope…”

Winnie Cooper


Danica McKeller, who is the only person to have been in both of my two all time favorite TV shows*, has just written a book about math aimed at pre-teen girls. It’s disguised to look like a magazine, complete with quizzes like “Do you hide your smarts (especially around boys)?” Honestly, I doubt I would have picked it up as a 12 year old… I was beyond pre-algebra at that point and I wasn’t really into the teen magazines anyway, but I’m glad it exists. I’ve already e-mailed my uncle and suggested that he look into it for his middle school aged daughter.
For those more mathematically advanced, here’s her paper on “Percolation and Gibbs states multiplicity for ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller models on Z².” If you ever doubted that Winnie Cooper was out of Kevin Arnold’s league, this pretty much seals the deal. Also, according to her website, she’s done The Vagina Monologues, which just makes her that much more awesome.

* Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years and Elsie Snuffin on The West Wing… I half expect someone to correct me on the “only” caveat and tell me that Bradley Whitford once had a guest spot on The Wonder Years as one of Karen’s boyfriends or something.