F803 Summer 2020 The Search for the Smallest Thing, Part 1
Thursdays, 11:50–1:15, June 25–July 16
Instructor: Mark Dodge
For thousands of years, people have wondered what the universe is made of, and have wondered if there is a “smallest thing” from which everything else is made. They have also asked, if there is a smallest thing, what is it made of? Knowing the answer might lead to the ability to do things heretofore impossible, magical, and fantastic. This course will explore the history of the search for the smallest thing, beginning with the ideas of the Greek philosophers. The fundamentals of electricity and magnetism will also be examined, because these phenomena offer tantalizing clues in the search for answers. In ancient and medieval times the search became entangled in the realm of magic as scholars attempted to find the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of life, and to transmute lead into gold. These were hopeless tasks, but on the way the alchemists made major discoveries which would slowly lead to order out of chaos. In the 17th and 18th centuries scientists began to search for the truths about matter. Lavoisier, Priestley, Cavendish, Avogadro, and others established the fundamental principles of matter, leading to a great unifying triumph—Mendeleev’s development of the periodic table, which gave a firm structure to the classical search for the smallest thing. However, in the 19th century this structure went into upheaval with new discoveries—and this will be the basis of “The Search for the Smallest Thing, Part 2.”
Mark Dodge grew up as a Navy brat, as his father was an officer in the US Navy, and he lived in many places all over the world as a child. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a master’s degree in engineering physics from the University of Virginia.