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The Power of Everyday Wonder: 5 Educators on the Hidden Phenomena That Fascinate Them

We all have plenty to be distracted by: unread texts, current events, childcare demands, overdue assignments—not to mention an overflowing email inbox.

When all that gets to be too much, it’s good for your mind, body and soul to take a moment and find some perspective in the amazing things we take for granted.

We spoke with five Harper College instructors about everyday phenomena from their fields that might be invisible or underappreciated to most people, yet humbling—potentially even awe-inspiring—to those who really pay attention.

Radiation

Deborah Damcott, PhD

Some people are afraid of the word radiation, but it’s naturally occurring. Did you know that you ingest radioactive material whenever you eat a banana? There’s a radioactive isotope called Potassium-40 in every banana you eat. So anytime you eat a banana, you get a little bit more radiation. The fact that you can’t see it or feel it or taste it but it’s always there is fascinating!

Blue Jeans

Karen Dailey, Professor of Chemistry

Chemists work with the molecular world to give us conveniences or perks that manifest macroscopically. An example would be blue jeans. Blue jeans come from the pigment indigo, and indigo comes from a plant. We can generate synthetic indigo easily, and it colors billions of pairs of jeans! So, generally speaking, if we understand the molecular level of things, we can control the macroscopic—and that’s pretty amazing.

Lightning

Kevin Cole, Assistant Professor of Earth Science and Astronomy

A bolt of lightning is as hot as the surface of the sun. It only lasts for a fraction of a second, yet it has enough energy that if it hits a tree, it boils the water inside that tree and makes it explode! I don’t know about you, but to me that’s pretty awe-inspiring.

Infinity

Karega Cooper, Associate Professor of Mathematics

One of the things that wows me about abstract math is that there are different sizes of infinity. When people think about infinity, they think about it being the biggest thing you can imagine. One example is with the counting numbers: one, two, three, four, five. There are an infinite number of those if you keep counting toward infinity. But it turns out there are an infinite number of numbers between zero and one. So that first size of infinity—we call it aleph-naught—is just counting numbers. But there’s another size of infinity that we call aleph-one, and that one is uncountably infinite. So much so that it’s not possible to count all the real numbers. Infinity is really big. Like it’s super, duper, duper big. Not even the fact that you can’t count it, but it’s just so beyond being that we can’t even make sense of it.

The Sun

Bhasker Moorthy, Professor of Astronomy

At midday, the sun is always in our southern sky. It’s high in the south during the summer and low in the south during the winter. Avante Center at Harper College was designed to take advantage of this. The horizontal metal plates outside the building allow the low winter sun to shine through while blocking the high summer sun. This makes the Avante concourse warm and bright during the winter and cool and shady during the summer. Even if you don’t live near Harper, there is so much you can discover by watching the sun’s changing path across the sky, including Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun.

We all have some version of a daily grind, which is necessary to take care of our needs and make the life we want. But don’t forget to take a little time to notice the small things and get curious about the hidden wonders around you.

Last Updated: 4/24/24