A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

Do you like equations? During my short teaching stint, I encountered many people who find equations intimidating. Personally, I find it amazing that a few symbols on a piece of paper capture the behavior of remarkably complex phenomena. These equations help explain the most beautiful sights in creation. Here are some of the ones I am most thankful for.

Rayleigh Scattering:  I ∝ Io / λ4

When light passes through a gas, the molecules scatter the light in a way that is dependent on wavelength. Shorter wavelengths (bluer light) are scattered much more than longer wavelengths (redder light). Rayleigh scattering often causes the Moon to appear red during a lunar eclipse because the atmosphere bends the Sun’s light towards the Moon. However, it also scatters the light, effectively removing all but the redder wavelengths. The main reason I give thanks for Rayleigh scattering is that without it, I would never see sunsets like the below image! It also provides the answer to the age-old question: Why is the sky blue?


Image 1: Sunset on November 19, 2016 as seen from my street. I love the way it looks like the sky caught fire! 

Snell’s Law: n1 x sin (θ1) = n2 x sin (θ2

According to Snell’s law, when light passes from one medium into another, it will change direction. Greater differences in the index of refraction (n) lead to larger changes in direction. On certain occasions ice crystals form high in the atmosphere. As light enters these ice crystals the different wavelengths of light will bend at a specified angle. As light exits, it will bend even more. All of this ultimately forms a halo around the Sun (and even the Moon). I find these unusual optical phenomena fascinating, especially the more I learn about how Earth’s habitability depends on the critical interaction between the Sun and Earth’s atmosphere.


Image 2: I witnessed this 22° halo around the Sun during a trip to Washington back in June 2013.

Buoyant Force: Fbuoyant = ρ x g x Vf 

Oil sinks in water, as do rocks, lead weights, and bricks. To figure out whether an object will sink in another material, just figure out the weight of the material displaced by the object in question. If the weight of the object is greater than the weight of the displaced material, it will sink. This formula for buoyant force embodies this principle (originally developed by Archimedes). As remarkable as it sounds, applying this principle to Earth’s crust shows why continents rise above the surface of the ocean. Continental rocks float on top of the more dense ocean crust below. Basically, this equation describes a key component of why continents and mountains exist.


Image 3: Mount Fairweather in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. 

Newton’s Second Law: F = m x a

Sir Isaac Newton, known as the father of modern physics, delineated three important laws of motion (as well as did a lot of work with optics and theology). When dealing with motion, the second law provides a tremendous tool to understand how things move from their current positions to their locations in the future. Accounting for gravitational force and air resistance on the water, one can calculate how water travels over the beautiful waterfalls throughout creation! Slightly more complex calculations of the forces on water reveal why Earth still has an abundant water cycle, while Mars lost oceans of water.


Image 4: Water drops more than 80 feet as it travels from the top to the bottom of Wailua Falls (featured in the opening credits of Fantasy Island).

I vividly remember taking each of these four pictures, largely because they are not common occurrences (although the laws of physics describe them well). Sunsets and halos require special conditions in the atmosphere. Mountains and waterfalls require special configurations of the land and water on Earth. On many occasions, the busyness of the day distracts me from seeing the sunsets and mountains or causes me to drive right past the waterfalls. But when I stop to notice these remarkable views, they always induce a sense of awe and wonder, as well as draw me to worship the One who created them.

Subjects: Holiday, Lists, Laws of Physics

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About The Author

Jeff Zweerink

Since my earliest memories, science and the Christian faith have featured prominently in my life - but I struggled when my scientific studies seemed to collide with my early biblical training. My first contact with RTB came when I heard Hugh Ross speak at Iowa State University. It was the first time I realized it was possible to do professional work incorporating both my love of science and my desire to serve God. I knew RTB's ministry was something I was called to be a part of. While many Christians and non-Christians see the two as in perpetual conflict, I find they integrate well. They operate by the same principles and are committed to discovering foundational truths. My passion at RTB is helping Christians see how powerful a tool science is to declare God's glory and helping scientists understand how the established scientific discoveries demonstrate the legitimacy and rationality of the Christian faith. While many Christians and non-Christians see the two as in perpetual conflict, I find they integrate well. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Jeff Zweerink thought he would follow in his father's footsteps as a chemistry professor until a high school teacher piqued his interest in physics. Jeff pursued a BS in physics and a PhD in astrophysics at Iowa State University (ISU), where he focused his study on gamma rays - messengers from distant black holes and neutron stars. Upon completing his education, Jeff taught at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Postdoctoral research took him to the West Coast, to the University of California, Riverside, and eventually to a research faculty position at UCLA. He has conducted research using STACEE and VERITAS gamma-ray telescopes, and currently works on GAPS, a balloon experiment seeking to detect dark matter. A Christian from childhood, Jeff desired to understand how the worlds of science and Scripture integrate. He struggled when his scientific studies seemed to collide with his early biblical training. While an undergrad at ISU, Jeff heard Hugh Ross speak and learned of Reasons to Believe (RTB) and its ministry of reconciliation - tearing down the presumed barriers between science and faith and introducing people to their personal Creator. Jeff knew this was something he was called to be a part of. Today, as a research scholar at RTB, Jeff speaks at churches, youth groups, universities, and professional groups around the country, encouraging people to consider the truth of Scripture and how it connects with the evidence of science. His involvement with RTB grows from an enthusiasm for helping others bridge the perceived science-faith gap. He seeks to assist others in avoiding the difficulties he experienced. Jeff is author of Who's Afraid of the Multiverse? and coauthor of more than 30 journal articles, as well as numerous conference proceedings. He still serves part-time on the physics and astronomy research faculty at UCLA. He directs RTB's online learning programs, Reasons Institute and Reasons Academy, and also contributes to the ministry's podcasts and daily blog, Today's New Reason to Believe. When he isn’t participating in science-faith apologetics Jeff enjoys fishing, camping, and working on home improvement projects. An enthusiastic sports fan, he coaches his children's teams and challenges his RTB colleagues in fantasy football. He roots for the Kansas City Chiefs and for NASCAR's Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon. Jeff and his wife, Lisa, live in Southern California with their five children.

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