|Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988)|
I've been hanging out for the past week with Nobel-Prize wining physicist Richard Feynman, trying to get him to explain why clouds are white. I now have six of his books and have read around in five and am listening to another on CD. Luckily, Feynman is good company. He is very entertaining and has much to say about photons and electrons; much of what he has to say takes the form of diagrams featuring many squiggly little lines representing things I fear there are no words to explain.
|Some of Feynman's books and a partial reflection of light in/on glass ( topic of one of his lectures). |
On Sunday, I talked to my mother in law who, by some inexplicable crazy coincidence, has also been reading Feynman's books. We talked about space-time and rainbows and how exciting it is to discover physics and Feynman over fifty. Neither of us pretending to understand any of it.
On Tuesday morning, a box arrived in the mail (below). Two books from my mother in law! One is the lively autobiography of Feynman the funny guy, the other a graphic novel with Feynman and his ideas presented in helpful and colorful cartoons. I was beginning to understand some physics and QED theory. (But not enough so that I don't bother to tell you that QED stands for quantum electrodynamics.)
|Explaining clouds and light requires much thinking outside the box.|
Feynman doesn't write specifically about light and cloud interactions and what is happening inside the cloud droplet, water molecules, and atoms of hydrogen and oxygen. But he gets close! In The Feynman Lecture #32 on light scattering, he asks directly, "why do ever see the clouds
?" Unfortunately, I am not smart enough to understand the answer which is three long paragraphs long and ends with these squiggly lines that represent polarized light which may or may not have something to do with clouds. I just can't tell yet.
|This is from The Feynman Lectures and is as close as the physicist gets to clouds.|
On Tuesday night, I was pretty exhausted from my Feynman-a-Palooza, so I found my way on to the Internet (again) to try to understand the underpinnings of quantum electrodynamics as it relates to white clouds. I was zinging around reading about physical optics, polarized light, dipoles, 'n' such, and I found this:
From A Primer on Particle Sizing Static Laser Light Scattering,
by Paul A. Webb of the Micrometerics Instrument Corporation.
No wonder I am having a hard time! Just look at what is happening in and around just one particle in two dimensions. Light is scattering every which way by reflection and refraction and diffraction. But...what kind of particle does that circle represent? A cloud droplet or a water molecule? And what about those rays? How does a ray compare to a beam? Are they on the same scale as the round particle? Is this just a cartoon? Can something as small as a wavelength or a particle even be drawn? Or is this circle and these arrows symbols--like the number 4 not really being anything like 4. I wish I had taken more science classes so I wouldn't think so literally.
Oh, I am struggling because I want to see
the light and the cloud droplets interacting. I want to see the angles of reflection and refraction and diffraction inside the cloud. I want to see which electrons are excited by which wavelengths of white light in the white clouds. Someone draw me a photon dancing with an electron!
I know it's a lot to ask. Too much perhaps. And maybe it doesn't matter, the way learning about the earliest stone-scratched letters of our alphabet doesn't matter to understanding the meaning of a sentence made up of those letters.
But still...I am determined to offer something more than an equation, more than a diagram of squiggly lines moving along axes.
What made me think I could do this in two parts?