On August 9, 1945, just over 2 1/2 pounds of plutonium was converted to energy 1650 feet over Nagasaki.

Two and a half pounds–about the weight of a 28 week premature newborn baby.

Yosuke Yamahata, A Japanese army photographer, took this picture the day after the Fat Man fell over Nagasaki.

More of Mr. Yamahata’s photography can be seen here.


Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese army base. … It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. . . . What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history.

Harry S. Truman

It happened on this date, this “greatest achievement.”

New technology used to “solve” an old problem. We cannot help ourselves.

Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute, suggested “we ought to stay out of the nuclei.” Until we have a clue what we want, sounds like good advice.

You cannot separate tools from the critters who use them. Teaching science as some compartmentalized thought process without cultural context is a dangerous game.

What is our responsibility as teachers of science?
As citizens of the United States?
As human beings

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that one way or another.

-J. Robert Oppenheimer

And now I teach science to (very) young adults. I have a responsibility to them, to the state, to myself.

Harry S. Truman called the bombing of Hiroshima “the greatest achievement of organized science.” If that does not give you pause, you should not be teaching science.

You should not be teaching anything at all.

August, time to plan

Wheat grown on a classroom windowsill in northern New Jersey

I am a science teacher. I teach young humans when ridiculously high levels of testosterone and estrogen course through their veins, I teach young humans with developing frontal cortices, I teach young humans just beginning to realize that much (or maybe most) of what adults have shared with them is less than true.

I have a lot of fun teaching, and I am a reasonably happy adult too old to pretend that “everything will work out,” but comfortable enough with mortality not to freak the young’uns out.

I have a curriculum (as all public school teachers do), but not much of an agenda beyond helping my lambs learn how to put things together using their wits, their senses, and their humanness. (I am convinced that humans are reasonably comfortable and happy being humans when allowed to be just that.)

Horseshoe crabs on a Jersey beach at sunset.

Not sure what I’m doing (and no decent teacher ever is), but here are things I plan to put in the hands (or heads) of my students this year–wheatberries, fossil shark teeth, thoughts of mortality, magnifying glasses, pill bugs, human bones, daphnia, northern brown snakes, an abandoned bald-faced hornet nest, words from James Baldwin, pocket microscopes, and, if the pandemic allows a trip this year, live horseshoe crabs.

Anyone of those is enough to change one’s view of how this world works.