Friday, January 14, 2011

Supermarket Science

The science-minded parent looks for opportunities to pique the curiosity and stimulate appreciation for science in his children. This goal may not be as difficult to achieve as some would imagine, but thought and effort are needed. Age-appropriate discoveries in everyday activities could become a science object lesson for reinforcing knowledge of God and how He set up the rules of operation for the physical processes governing our daily lives.

A visit to the supermarket could be an enjoyable introduction to Isaac Newton’s laws of motion. Shopping carts are usually a source of delight for children if not for their parents. Of course the parent should exercise firm control of this activity. The upside is that all three of Newton’s laws of motion may be taught with a shopping cart.

As the cart fills to the brim with a heavy load of groceries, the child may notice that it becomes more difficult to get it rolling from a dead stop. More force must be applied. In the first aisle the child, with only a few items in the basket, was able to set the cart in motion with only a gentle push. Newton’s formula for the shopping cart phenomenon, a = F/m, is a turnoff, but pushing the full or empty cart may be fun. The child has begun to understand Newton’s second law of motion.

Once the loaded shopping cart is rolling down the aisle, it wants to keep rolling without any further pushing. In addition, it wants to keep going straight even after we release the handle--not right, not left. And we must apply a force to stop it. When it comes to a halt by the candy shelves, it wants to stay there. It needs a substantial push to get it going again. Welcome to Newton’s first law of motion, sometimes called the law of inertia.

When the shoppers arrive at their car in the parking lot, the child is asked to return the cart to the cart return station after the groceries are emptied. The child rolls the basket into the row of carts and pushes it forward one last time after it has been lodged. The child pushes forward, but that action results in his own body being “pushed” backward. “When one object exerts a force upon a second object, the second object exerts an equal and opposite force upon the first object.” The child could be challenged to identify Newton’s third law of motion as it operates dozens of times each day.

The Laws of Motion of Isaac Newton (1643-1727) are elegant examples of regularity, balance, order, and symmetry in nature. These laws, and hundreds of others, speak of the predictability and changelessness of our God who created the laws of the universe in which we live, and the universe itself. The Apostle Paul reasoned with the Athenians, who had an inscription among their objects of worship: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Paul proclaimed their UNKNOWN GOD was “the God who made the world and everything in it.” He further stated “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 18:28 NIV).

For the Christian, living, moving, and having our being in God is true not only in a spiritual sense, but in a physical sense as well.