It’s About Time

I. Course description

Time permeates our very existence. See how long you can go without thinking about time. Scholars will have the opportunity to explore various aspects of time including the measurement of time, a scientific and philosophical view of time, and ideas about time as presented in science fiction. The measurement of time will focus on mechanical, astronomical, electronic, chemical, geological, biological, radioactive, and atomic clocks. The scientific and philosophical views of time will be based on thermodynamics, special and general relativity, and modern physics. Scholars will investigate the relationship between science and fiction in the concept of time travel as viewed in selected short stories, and films. Leaning experiences will include laboratory and field activities, readings, writings, and discussion of various topics.

II. Instructor’s educational preparation and current employment

Dennis Nickelson is returning to the Academy for his third year. He was with the faculty in 1991 and 1992. Dennis received a BSE in chemistry and physics from Central Missouri State University, earning a varsity letter in football and named the outstanding graduating physics student, a M.Ed. from Lincoln University, and an Ed.S and a Ph.D. in Science Education from the University of Missouri. Dennis has taught science in Missouri for twenty-five years, the last twenty-three at Jefferson City High School. At Jefferson City High School he has taught physics, AP physics, astrophysics, modern physics, chemistry I and II, earth science, geology, and astronomy, and science research. Dennis has coached football, wrestling, baseball, girl’s basketball and softball on the high school level. He has received several recognitions for teaching, including “The Teacher of the Year” – Jefferson City Public Schools, the Sigma Xi – Central Missouri State University award for the teaching of science, the Monsanto Science Teaching Award, and the Outstanding Science Teacher Award from the Missouri Academy of Sciences. He is a Physics Teaching Resource Agent with the American Association of Physics Teachers. Dennis currently holds an Adjunct Professor appointment at The University of Missouri-Columbia, (Curriculum and Instruction) and Adjunct Instructor appointments at Lincoln University and Linn Technical State College.

Dr. Dennis Nickelson, Jefferson City High School, 609 Union, Jefferson City, MO  65101. e-mail:

III. Rationale for inclusion in a program for gifted students

The course is a physics course with a theme of time and time measurement. This allows students to look at time in a different manner than they normally would. Students will also learn physics concepts and the interrelationship of physics with the other sciences.

IV. Major topics covered
  • Linear Motion
  • Simple Harmonic Motion
  • Mechanical Clocks
  • Celestial Time Keeping
  • Chemical Clocks
  • Biological Clocks
  • Thermodynamics and Entropy
  • Geologic Time
  • Physiological Time
  • Radioactive Decay
  • Electronic Clocks
  • Special Relativity
  • General Relativity
  • Cosmology
  • Quantum Mechanics
  • Science and Science Fiction of Time Travel
V. Pre-requisite knowledge

No specific knowledge required

VI. Learning objectives
  • Students will develop the laws of kinematics
  • Students will develop the relationship among the variables involved in a pendulum clock
  • Students will develop the relationship among the variables involved in a vibrating spring
  • Students will explain the development of the calendar based on the motion of heavenly bodies
  • Students will explain the factors affecting rates of chemical reactions
  • Students will explain the concept of entropy and how it identifies the direction of the arrow of time
  • Students will explain the formation of certain rock formations and how geologists use rock strata to develop historical time.
  • Student will measure the half-life of a radioactive sample and explain how a measurement of radioactivity is used in determining the ageof a sample of matter
  • Students will explain the relationship of biological clocks to their everyday life
  • Students will explain the relationship of psychological clocks to their every day life
  • Students will develop simple D.C. circuits, A.C. Circuits and a simple 555 chip circuit to measure time
  • Students will explain the development of the theory of special relativity and how it has affected our view of time
  • Students will explain the concepts of time dilation, length contraction and the increase of mass for objects moving very fast in another frame of reference
  • Students will explain the development of the theory of general relativity and how it has affected our view of time
  • Students measure the age of the universe using the data of Hubble and current data of the motion of galaxies
  • Students will be able to analyze science fiction works to determine ideas that are based on science concepts and those which are fantasy
VII. Primary source material
  • Bartusiak, Marcia (1989). Einstein’s Unfinished Symphony. Discover. (10)09, 62-69.
  • Bradbury, Ray (1980). A Sound of Thunder. The Stories of Ray Bradbury. New York: Knopf.
  • Bradbury, Ray (1971). A Scent of Sasparilla. A Medicine for Melancholy and Other Stories. New York: Bantum.
  • Boslough, John (1990). The Enigma of Time. National Geographic. (177)03, 109-132.
  • Caldwell, Mark. (1999). Mind Over Time. Discover. (20)07, 53-59.
  • Duncan, David. E. (1998). Calendar, Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year. New York: Avon.
  • Freedman, David H. (1989) Cosmic Time Travel. Discover. (10)06, 58-64.
  • Heinlein, Robert. (1942). All You Zombies. From. The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag. New York: Gnome Press.
  • Klinkenborg, Verlyn. (2000). The Best Clock in the World. Discover. (21)06, 50-57.
  • Paul, Richard. (1993). A Handbook to the Universe, Explorations of Matter, Energy, Space and Time for Beginning Scientific Thinkers. Chicago: Chicago Review Press
  • Sagan, Carl (1980). Cosmos. New York: Random House.
  • Smoot, George, and Davidson, K. (1993). Wrinkles in Time. New York: Avon Books.
  • Weiss, Jeffery (1996). A Clock More Perfect Than Time. Discover. (17)12, 69-76.
  • Vogel, Shawna (1990). Clock Watching. Discover. (11)05, 38-41.
VIII. Supplementary source material
  • Barnett, Jo Ellen. (1998). Time’s Pendulum, From Sundials to Atomic Clocks, the Fascinating History of Timekeeping and How Our Discoveries Changed the World. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.
  • Brancazio, Peter J. (1991). Just a Second. Discover. (12)03, 37-40.
  • Bolles, Edmund B., Editor (1997). Galileo’s Commandment, An Anthology of Great Science Writing. New York: Freeman.
  • Calder, Nigel (1979). Einstein’s Universe. Dallas: Penguin Books.
  • Cohen, I. Bernard. (1985). The Birth of a New Physics. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Coveney, Peter and Highfield, P. (1990). The Arrow of Time, A Voyage Through Science to Solve Time’s Greatest Mystery. New York: Fawcett Columbine.
  • Davies, Paul (1995). About Time, Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Davies, Paul (1992). The Mind of God, The Scientific Basis For a Rational World. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Einstein, Albert (1966). Relativity, The Special and the General Theory, a Clear Explanation That Anyone Can Understand. New York: Crown.
  • Einstein, Albert and Infield, L. (1966). The Evolution of Physics From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta. New York: Simeon and Schuster.
  • Folger, Tim. (2000). From Here To Eternity. Discover. (21)12, 54-81.
  • Freedman, David H. (1999). Faster Than a Speeding Photon. Discover. (19)08, 70-79.
  • Freedman, David H. (1989). Fission in the Fusion Camp. Discover. (10)12, 32-42.
  • Gamow, George. (1966). Thirty Years That Shook Physics, The Story of Quantum Theory. New York: Dover.
  • Goudsmit, Samuel A., and Claiborne, R. (1966). Time. New York: Time.
  • Halpern, Paul. (1990). Time Journeys. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Hewitt, Paul G. (1998). Conceptual Physics, 8th Edition. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Hawking, Stephen W. (1988). A Brief History of Time, From the Big Bang to Black Holes. Toronto: Bantam Books.
  • Hellman, Hal. (1998). Great Feuds in Science, Ten of the Liveliest Disputes Ever. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
  • Herbert, Nick. (1988). Faster Than Light, Superluminal Loopholes in Physics, A journey Beyond the Einstein Limit. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Krauss, Lawrence M. (1997). Beyond Star Trek, Physics from Alien Invasions to the End of Time. New York:Basic Books.
  • Krauss, Lawrence M. (1993). Fear of Physics, A Guide for the Perplexed. New York Basic Books.
  • Krauss, Lawrence M. (1995). The Physics of Star Trek. New York: Basic Books.
  • Lederman, Leon. (1993). The God Particle. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Lightman, Alan. (1993). Einstein’s Dreams. New York: Warner Books.
  • McDermott, Timothy. (1993). Thomas Aquinas, Selected Philosophical Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • McEvoy, J.P. and Zarate, O. (1995). Introducing Steven Hawking. Cambridge: Icon Books.
  • McEvoy, J.P. and Zarate, O. (1996). Introducing Quantum Theory. Cambridge: Icon Books.
  • Motz, Lloyd and Weaver, J.H. (1989). The Story of Physics. New York: Avon Books.
  • Nahin, Paul J. (1999). Time Machines, Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics and Science Fiction. New York: Springer-Verlag.
  • Rotham, Tony (1987). Time. Discover.  (9)02 , 62-77.
  • Ross, Hugh (1994). Creation and Time, A Biblical and Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy. Colorado Springs, CO.: Navpress.
  • Ross, Hugh (1994). The Creator and the Cosmos, How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God. Colorado Springs, CO.: Navpress.
  • Sagan, Carl (1974). Broca’s Brain. New York: Ballentine Books.
  • Schroeder, Gerald L. (1997). The Science of God. New York: The Free Press,
  • Sobel, Dava. (1995). Longitude, The True Story of a Lone Genus Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Taubes, Gary (1997). Echo of the Big Bang. Discover. (19)11, 111-119.
  • Taubes, Gary (1990). Ultrafast Physics. Discover. (11)03, 76-84.
  • Thorne, Kip S. (1994). Black Holes and Time Warps, Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy.  New York: W. W. Norton
  • Twain, Mark (1981). A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. New York: Bantam Books.
  • Weinberg, Steven, (1992). Dreams of a Final Theory. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Weinberg, Steven, (1988). The First Three Minutes, A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. New York: Basic Books
IX. Computing and the Internet (if applicable)