Book Notes & Thoughts: Where Good Ideas Come From


I’m not sure what is more geeky: my favorite chemistry graph itself or the fact that I have one. But seriously, the phase diagram is so elegant! In one picture, it explains how temperature and pressure relate to the states of matter. The lines are phase transitions (like condensation, sublimation, and solidification), interesting edges for investigation to understand how the particles behave.

What does this have to do with my reading? Steven Johnson, in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, draws from many examples of innovation across history and across disciplines, many of which are from science, but in particular he uses the analogy of “liquid networks.” In a liquid, there is enough structure for particles to mix and combine but enough energy for them to move around and slide past each other whereas in a solid they would just be stuck in place and in a gas they would collide and fly away. In his analogy, the particles in a liquid social network are ideas and people.

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Beginning Teaching in Outdoor Education (or, How I was Inspired to Teach)

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When I graduated from college, I wanted as far away from academia as possible. I was tired, very tired, of memorization and tests that had sapped the joy out of learning. Now, I’m beginning my eighth year as a teacher, enthusiastic about learning, and am applying to graduate school.

College was an emotional and geographic roller coaster: I graduated from high school from the American School of Paris in June, split with dear friends, spent the summer working three jobs (including cleaning hotels rooms) in Door County, Wisconsin. In September, I plopped down at Washington University in St. Louis, and though I did well there, rowing crew and acing organic chemistry, I wasn’t happy. I spent the summer as a Girl Scout Camp Counselor near Minneapolis, the fall at the Biosphere 2 in Tucson, Arizona, studying astronomy, and the spring back in Paris at the Sorbonne. It was healing and grounding to have chosen to go back to Paris, a place I’d always felt conflicted about. At some point, I decided I didn’t want to return to St. Louis and applied to transfer to the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I spent the next two years there, starting in analytical chemistry, switching to biochemistry, and finally graduating in biology with a double major in French. While all my friends applied to medical schools, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I moved out to Montana to work on a dude ranch.

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