Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 11:54 pm | Fair 65º

 
 
 
 

Victor Dominocielo: The Scientific Creation Story

I asked my 13-year-old science students, “Where is everything?” They looked back, knowing that I hadn’t given them enough information. I said, “Not just the pencil sharpener, the stapler and the scissors in the room, but in the whole school. Wait. … How about showing me everything in Santa Barbara … and California … and the planet ... and in the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy and even the entire universe. Where is everything? You can point to something in this room and show me everything in the universe.”

After looking around a bit and calling out the first thing that came to mind, someone pointed to an inconspicuous chart on the wall and said, “The Periodic Table of Elements!”

It is a startling revelation for many of them. There is invariably some disbelief and questioning. “But that’s not everything.” I don’t have to say a word. I just nod my head that, “Yes, actually it is.” I can see the wheels clicking and turning. “But the other planets … the stars millions of light years away? Are you sure?”

I wait. The discovery is mind-boggling and beautiful. Some of the other students confirm that the elements and combinations of elements is, sure enough, everything: “Plants, animals, burgers and curly fries, the nose on your face and the color of your eyes.”

“But how do we know that the elements of the stars millions of light years away are the same elements here on Earth?”

Then I teach the students, very briefly and simply, about the science of spectrographic analysis and “Fraunhofer lines” and how this can tell us the composition of faraway stars. But we must move on. We are on a tremendous journey of 13.7 billion years, the Scientific Creation Story.

Every culture has their very own creation story. They are beautiful, poetic, awe inspiring and emotionally uplifting. The ancient Greeks and Christians had God’s son come down to Earth in the form of Hercules and Jesus. The Jewish Creation Story in the Old Testament tells of God’s work day by day and was also adopted by the Christians. The Islamic Creation Story incorporates many biblical accounts including Adam and Eve as the first parents who live in paradise until they eat the fruit from a forbidden tree. The Chumash have their “Rainbow Bridge” from their Earth Goddess, Hutash, which took them from Santa Cruz Island to the mainland. The stories go on and on and are as rich as the cultures that birthed them.

Science has its own creation story, and it is every bit as fantastic as all the other creation stories. At the beginning, about 13.7 billion years ago, there was an initial singularity in which all the matter and energy of the universe was collapsed in on itself. Then the Big Bang occurred, which was not an explosion at all, but a great inflation/expansion of all the matter and energy to create the universe as we know it today.

Stephen Hawking describes these first few seconds of the universe in his now famous book, A Brief History of Time. At first there was no light or gravity, but these basic forces soon “kicked in” and there was a great deal of heat, about 10 billion degrees Fahrenheit, which began the thermonuclear fusion to create the lighter elements in the Periodic Table. Bill Bryson, in A Short History of Nearly Everything (page 10), describes it like this: “In less than a minute the universe is a million billion miles across and growing fast. … In three minutes 98 percent of all the matter there is or will ever be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich.”

The universe was about 75 percent hydrogen and 25 percent helium at the beginning, and it is still close to that percentage today. Soon the four forces of nature began. There are only four: gravity, electromagnetism (the EM spectrum including radio, light, micro, infrared, ultraviolet, gamma and X ray waves), the weak nuclear force (radiation) and the strong nuclear force (which holds atomic nuclei together and which, if you split it, you get an atomic explosion). The universe is very simple: four forces of nature and 12 elementary sub-atomic particles (including electrons, quarks, leptons, muons, tau and the elusive but now observed, Higgs Boson, etc.).

There is a star life cycle, from birth to death, observable at its different stages out there in the wide universe. Over the last 13.7 billion years, there have been births and deaths of stars, and when a star goes supernova the lighter elements combine to form the heavier elements in the periodic table.

Brian Cox, a “rock star” physicist working on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, describes the Science Creation Story with wonderful enthusiasm during a TED conference available by clicking here.

The Scientific Creation Story is different from the other creation stories in that it was not created by any cultural expression of the hopes and fears, dreams and emotions of a great people. No one need believe it. This story stands on its own. It is as observable as the night sky and yet completely fantastic and magical. Carl Sagan explained the Scientific Creation Story in the most elegant and simple terms: “This is what hydrogen atoms do, given 13.7 billion years.” Indeed.

— Victor Dominocielo, M.A., a California-credentialed teacher for 37 years, is the human biology and health teacher at a local middle school. He earned his master of arts degree in education from UCSB. The opinions expressed are his own.

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