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Guide Index

Fixing the Leaning Tower of Pisa

All in the Family

Long-Distance Doc

Eruption!

Where's the Matter?

Renaissance Machines
in the classroom
TEACHING GUIDES


SCIENCE ITALIAN STYLE: Where's the Matter?


Ninety percent of the universe is missing, according to the Big Bang theory. If that's the case, then where's the missing matter? In a lab one mile below the earth's surface, beneath the Gran Sasso mountain, physicists try to answer that question. Here, in the world's largest particle detector, the search is on for the magnetic monopole, which may be the key to missing matter. Frontiers talks with California Institute of Technology physicist Doug Michael about the elusive, as yet to be detected, particle.

Curriculum Links
Activity: Funding Science: Role-playing Activity



CURRICULUM LINKS

CHEMISTRY

fusion,
nuclear reactions
EARTH SCIENCE

energy, magnetic poles,
solar system, sun
MATH

distance, light years,
measurement


PHYSICAL SCIENCE


electromagnetic spectrum,
radiation
PHYSICS

electric fields, Gauss's Law,
magnetism, particle physics,
speed of light,
theory of relativity
TECHNOLOGY


engineering



ACTIVITY: FUNDING SCIENCE: ROLE-PLAYING ACTIVITY

Is it really worth the expense to search for magnetic monopoles or map the human genome? "Big Science" research projects usually cost big bucks -- and sometimes the results are not known for years, even decades. Yet if scientific research did not take place, we might not enjoy the life-saving medical advances and high-tech breakthroughs we do today. Congressional funding decisions often determine the fate of large-scale science projects such as the Superconducting Super Collider. Opinions vary widely on how much we should pay for science and what projects we should fund.

This role-playing activity focuses on some of the hard questions and issues related to scientific research and project funding, as you debate the wisdom of a new venture. You can modify the rules and roles to suit your classes. Add more roles if you wish.

Note: This is a totally hypothetical activity. Magnetic monopoles (one-poled magnets) exist in theory but even if found, may not be of practical use. The game is set up on the assumption that magnetic monopoles have been discovered and have been found to be of some technological value; for example, as a way to build faster trains.

PROCEDURE
  1. Set up a mock Congressional hearing to discuss this question:
    Should Magnetron Corporation be given a government grant of $1,000,000 for research into the production of monopoles?

  2. Identify each role described below on an index card. Assign students to play different roles. Roles may be shared or alternated. Create additional roles for the activity as appropriate. Students should wear name tags with their character's title.


QUESTIONS
  1. Should the public support scientific research that is highly theoretical, intellectual or philosophical in nature, but uncertain to be of much practical value now or in the future?

  2. Who should own rights/patents to discoveries made with public funding?

  3. Should non-scientists have the authority to make funding decisions for highly sophisticated science projects?


ROLES

PRESIDENT, MAGNETRON CORPORATION:
Your small company is growing quickly; stock in your corporation is "hot" and your family owns many shares. You pride yourself on hiring the finest researchers and making high-quality products. You can see the possibilities for using magnetic monopoles to develop a high-speed transportation system, but more research needs to be done into practical applications. You need more funding for your research and development department.

GOVERNOR OF YOUR STATE:
Magnetron Corp. is located in your state, and you received a generous campaign contribution from the Magnetron president in your last election.

PHYSICIST, UNIVERSITY OF HIGHER TECHNOLOGY:
You are a distinguished researcher and a private consultant to Magnetron Corp. You discovered several tiny magnetic monopoles and used them to build a small working model of a frictionless train and rail system. You want to continue working in private industry, but only if you can be guaranteed sufficient time and money for research.

RESEARCHER, INSTITUTE OF ADVANCED COSMOLOGY:
You would like to do more research into the possibility of creating magnetic monopoles. After all, only a few monopoles exist, and once they are used up, no others can be created. You do not believe the monopoles should be used for public transportation until further research has been completed. You would like government funding for your projects.

CONGRESSIONAL PANEL:
You will role play various members of a Congressional committee to decide if government funding should be allocated for this project. Your job is to question the scientific experts and company representatives called as witnesses.








 

Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.