Inertia For the New Year
The weather turned. The temperature dropped rapidly. It was a cold and misty day but the precipitation began to freeze in the late afternoon causing black ice. Typical Kansas weather where the temperature went from the mid-40s to -8 within a 36-hour period.
No problem. Hunker down, stay warm, and finish the STEM Tuesday New Year’s Post. Easy.
Not so fast.
I also had to walk my daughter’s dogs who were staying with us. Dog #1 went fairly easily as the dog and human performed seamlessly transversing the ice rink of a sidewalk. Dog #2, however, had other things in mind. Just a few steps past the thawing effects of the ice melt on the sidewalk, a squirrel ran down a tree trunk and sprinted across the ice-crusted lawn. Dog #2, by all measure a champion squirrel chaser, tipping the scales at ~80 lbs., launched with great enthusiasm after the squirrel.
Time and perception snapped to slow motion. I watched the retractable leash unroll with great speed. Just when it crossed my mind I should probably let go or get my arm jerked off, the line ran out. My arm jerked forward but, fortunately, not off. My feet shot out from under me and I found myself sliding rapidly down the sidewalk incline toward an oak tree trunk located in my path at the bottom of the walk. Just when the inevitable crash was mere seconds away, I had a STEM Tuesday New Year’s Post revelation and screamed, “INERTIA!”
After a few minutes of nursing the scratches and bruises while the rest of the family directed all their attention to the health and well-being of Dog #2, I limped to my desk to capture the moment inertia changed everything.
(Note: No animals or humans were hurt during this highly dramatized, perhaps over-dramatized, story.)
Inertia. A brilliant and inspirational word! In fact, a perfect word to use as the 2023 STEM Tuesday Word-of-the-Year.
Throughout our educational journey, we’ve probably been exposed to Newton’s First Law of Motion, a.k.a. Newton’s Law of Inertia, so many times it became rote and not the alive physical law it is. An object at rest or in motion tends to stay at rest or in motion unless a force acts upon it. That’s Newton’s Law of Inertia.
Inertia is one powerful property and one powerful word to guide us in the coming year.
The year was 1851. It’s deep into a cold January 6th night a few hours after midnight. A young man knelt over his latest experiment in the cellar of the house he shared with his mother at the corner of rue de Vaugirard and rue d’Assas in Paris. He is not considered a great scholar by his peers. Although he has already made several significant advances in science, he is not accepted in the inner circles of the great Parisian mathematical or astronomical minds of the era. Yet, when Leon Foucault released the 5-kg brass bob connected by a wire to an anchor on the ceiling, he made history.
Foucault watched the oscillations as the pendulum swung slowly and gracefully in front of him. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Then he saw it. The plane of oscillation had moved ever so slightly away from its initial position. He knew immediately he had done something nobody in history, not even Galileo, Newton, or any of the great scientific human minds, had done. Leon Foucault had proven with his simple, but elegant, pendulum experiment that the earth rotates.
The next month, Focault demonstrated to the scientific community his pendulum experiment in the Meridian at the Paris Observatory. Much debate was raised, especially about how an “amateur” could have made this discovery, but nobody could refute Foucault’s conclusions. The experiment was repeated on a grander scale a few weeks later with a 28-kg bob hanging from a 67-meter wire from the dome of the Pantheon in Paris. The public was invited and people flocked to see the exhibition. Scientists all over the world repeated the experiment and all confirmed Foucault’s findings. Even today, the Foucault Pendulum is a popular experiment to recreate by both science museums and home enthusiasts. In a sense, the inertia of Foucault’s experiment continues in motion to this day.
The STEM Tuesday 2023 Word-of-the-Year “inertia” is submitted for consideration to all creative people in the spirit of Foucault and his pendulum. The whole experiment worked because of inertia and the motion described by Newton’s First Law in the plane of oscillation. When the pendulum moved back and forth, the earth below moved.
In order to create, we need to be like Foucault’s Pendulum and use the force of inertia to make our creative world turn. What if on that dark February night alone in his cellar, Leon Foucault wouldn’t have let go of the brass fob? No motion. Which would have meant no discovery. In order for him to prove the earth turned, he had to put the pendulum in motion and tap the power of inertia.
Inertia for 2023 means putting creativity in motion by…creating. Creative inertia!
What fuels creative inertia? Curiosity. A creator is driven by curiosity much like a scientist is.
- Curiosity about what happens next drives the fiction writer.
- Curiosity about what actually happened or what actually is drives the nonfiction writer.
- Curiosity about the image and what it represents drive the illustrator.
Creative inertia grows out of curiosity. Like Foucault, creators need to release the bob and put creative inertia to work. It all starts with a single word or a single mark, followed by one after the other.
Even if it sometimes (or often) feels like your creative life is static and going nowhere but back and forth, remember the world below is turning. Creative inertia means you are improving. It means you are in motion.
A creator at rest tends to stay at rest. A creator in motion tends to stay in motion.
“The phenomenon develops calmly, but it is inevitable, unstoppable. One feels, one sees it born and grow steadily; and it is not in one’s power to either hasten it or slow it down. Any person, brought into the presence of this fact, stops for a few moments and remains pensive and silent; and then generally leaves, carrying with him forever a sharper, keener sense of our incessant motion through space.”
-Leon Foucault, describing his pendulum experiment, 1851
Happy New Year from all of us at STEM Tuesday and From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors. May you find your creative inertia and keep your creative world turning!
Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal-opportunity sports enthusiast, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training-related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.com. Two of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64 and on Instagram at @mikehays64.