Science kids bust Hawking mistake

Those worried about the future of science advancements in the United States should feel rest assured thanks to five Bexley students.

As part of a physics project presented to the students last year by Marshall Barnes, director of the SuperScience for High School Physics program, the students detected a mistake that famed physicist Stephen Hawking made that no other scientists had detected.

The students recently were honored by the Bexley City Council for their achievement – a feat that was accomplished as part of an experiment conducted by Barnes, who did catch the mistake but was puzzled when physicists were unable to notice it.

Barnes caught the mistake in 2003 and later presented it at a number of conferences, but was surprised when he found that although everyone agreed it was in fact a mistake on the part of Hawking, it had to be specifically pointed out to them that way first.

"The reasoning behind this," Barnes said, "was that older physicists are locked in their old patterns of analysis and aren’t mentally flexible enough to catch the error."

Younger minds, he said, might look at the problem from a different perspective. As an experiment to test this theory, he presented a class of about 30 students at Bexley High School last year with his theory.

Five of the 30 students were able to detect the mistake, which involved objections over the theoretical model of using wormholes as time machines, a famous model devised by Cal Tech professor Kip Thorne, and cited in books and on such programs as PBS’s "NOVA."

"We all felt pretty clever," said Margaret McIntosh, who has since graduated and lives in Bexley. "We thought, if we can do it, why hasn’t it been figured out?"

The findings support concerns about the future of academic science in the United States, unless more students are introduced and motivated to learn about the field.

"At this time, when CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) is about to reveal new information about the beginnings of the universe, this experiment at Bexley High School is but the first step in a revolution toward a greater understanding of the nature of time and how it may be manipulated in the very, near future," Barnes said. "This is what will put Central Ohio on the world physics map."

A video of the experiment can be viewed at www.physicsintrouble.iwarp.com/hawkingsmistake.html. The project received partial funding from the Columbus Jewish Foundation.

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