Dumb questions

In the pantheon of teachers who make a difference, one trait stands out. There are no dumb questions in their classrooms. Math and science teachers especially need to create a playing field for geek and nongeek alike. When they do, learning takes place.

Today's section has two articles that we hope play to the curious. Each covers subjects begging dumb questions. (I'll ask some.)

Robert Cowen (Page 18) reports on excitement in the physics and astronomy communities. Data from NASA's Rossi X-ray observing satellite suggest that fast-spinning objects, like neutron stars, stir as well as bend space by dragging gravity. (My hand up: "What do you use to grasp space so that you can bend it?")

Einstein's general relativity theory says that "material mass bends space and distorts time." (Hand up again: "Where is gravity in the first place, before it gets bent?")

Fascinating stuff.

Eric Niiler (Page 16) writes about the nascent field of bioinformatics - or computer science marries biology at the altar of powerful new supercomputers. The object of bioinformatics - honing in on the human genome.

The genetic data being sorted is staggering. The National Library of Medicine records 9.5 billion base pairs of genetic code from various genomes. ("Two questions, please, who counted them, and how?")

But rather than bigger, faster supercomputers, some scientists say that to extract useful information from genome data (genetic information doubles every 12 to 14 months) what is needed is the development of more precise algorithms to better search for specifics.

Bring on the questions. None are dumb.

*E-mail Ideas@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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