Finding the Speed of Light with Peeps

Shout out to Mary Wever for digging this gem out from the NPR Skunk Bear archives! For those that aren’t familiar with the series, Skunk Bear is the Web 2.0 parallel of Science Friday. It mixes humor, education, playfulness, and a health dose of Youtube-esque tropes to help viewers understand complex science topics….like figuring out the speed of light.

For a lot of seasoned science nerds, they probably already know the science behind the demonstration; microwaves operate at a particular frequency, which allows anyone to “nuke” a plate of marshmallowy peeps, measure the locations of the “hot spots” and then do some simple math to figure out how quickly light travels inside your microwave….and everywhere else in the universe since it’s a constant.

What struck me as important with this video is the time and careful effort that Adam Cole, the show’s host, puts into breaking down some of the early experiments conducted by scientists to attempt to discover the speed of light. Long before humans were capable of creating light beyond fire (electricity wasn’t even a thing), Galileo attempted an ill-fated investigation to determine how quickly light traveled. While he was ultimately unsuccessful (he was using lamps about a mile apart), the background of that story and a French scientist who came very close to determining the actual speed of light using mirrors and a rotating cog speak to the care with which those attempting to educate must take.

As Mark Zuckerburg prepares to give testimony to the U.S. Congress regarding potentially harmful uses of personal data that was scraped from millions of Facebook users and then used to fuel potentially “fake news” or “alternative news” stories to people on both side of the political spectrum, it’s heartening to see that there are sources of information seeking to educate viewers more completely on topics. Or at the very least, modeling the kind of learning we want our students to have; self-discovery rooted in the knowledge and understandings of previous discoveries and understandings. The use of social media and video has been abused for several years now, turning many social media watering holes into poisonous places to consume information; I have friends recently that have deleted their Facebook accounts to help combat the anxiety and disinformation that such platforms engender. But I see work like this peep video, and I see a bright spot that deserves to be spread, shared, and emulated. Thanks for sharing Mary!

And sure, adding in some peeps helps the “stickiness” of the reporting (sorry, couldn’t help the pun).