An Explainer Legend

by ryan

As I wrote in my last post, I have been reading some books about physics including one biography of Micheal Faraday. For those of you who love to hit the snooze button he’s the guy who got a job at the Royal Science Society after the previous lab assistant got in a fist fight. After that break he basically discovered everything that we know about the forces of electricity and magnetism and the connection between them. As if this wasn’t enough, he also was a proto-explainer delivering a Christmas lecture to the children of London each year starting in 1821, even after he became the head of the society. There are some great quotes in the book about his philosophy and style of the lectures. Alan Hirschfield talks about how, “Faraday made sure his young listeners were entertained while they learned: He wrote on paper using an electric pen; burst iron bottles with freezing water; burned gunpowder in water and pieces of iron in alcohol; exploded a hydrogen balloon with an electric spark; created an arch of iron filings above a concealed horseshoe magnet; [and my favorite] made his hair stand on end from accumulated electric charge”

Faraday wrote, “I will return to second childhood, and become as it were, young again among the young.”

His lectures were, “laced with adjectives like wonderful and beautiful. ‘Look at those colors,’ he told an audience while projecting light refracted from a crystal. ‘Are they not most beautiful for you and for me (for I enjoy these things as much as you do.’ He tried to awaken the rational inquirer in every child…”

It’s something very nice for me to realize that even for the greatest scientists, the spirit of discovery and curiosity of children provides so much value. It reminds me of what we were talking about earlier today where it’s so much easier for kids to accept that there are not necessarily right answers and that there’s value in the process of experimenting and playing.