Sunday, September 2, 2007

Was Mr. Sokol A Nice Guy

Dear Classmates,

I have often wondered if Mr. Sokol was a nice guy or not. I never felt comfortable that I understook his sense of humor. He taught a laboratory course in Chemistry in high school.

There is something that I don't remember correctly because I also remember Mrs. Dunbar teaching some classes of Chemistry. It is a very vague memory I seem to remember Mr. Dunbar talking about hydrogen as an automobile fuel and what the by products of combustion were.

Back to Mr. Sokol. An article which my wife was recounting to me was about useful illusions. The article as my wife described it reminded me of this dispute which I had with Mr. Sokol. I was talking to him in class. I seem to remember that we were all standing in the back of the room near the left hand row of soapstone topped lab stations.

For some reason, I happened to mention that electrons were arranged in "shells" around the nucleus. I think we were talking about covalent bonds and how the electron affinity was due to the number of electrons populating the outermost "shell."

Mr. Sokol feigned disbelief at my mention of the term "shell" and said something like, "what do you mean, 'shells', I've never heard of this." I defended my terminology and tried to explain that shells was an accepted description of nuclear structure. The more I argued the more Mr. Sokol ridiculed the idea of electrons being arranged in "shells."

To try to substantiate my use of the term shells, I remember making several trips to the University of Delaware Morris library to Xerox pages of books on chemistry and physics where the word shell appeared. I think I brought these articles into Mr. Sokol on two subsequent occasions but he would never concede the point that it seemed to be a ridiculous idea.

So here's the question. Was Mr. Sokol teasing me, knowing somehow that this would cause me to spend several hours researching this point to my own ultimate intellectual advantage. Was he teasing me in public simply because he was a bit of a bully or was he arguing for some more modern construct where electrons were only loosely associated with a single nucleus but rather wondered through a molecular mass, just keeping some sort of statistical relationship or did Mr. Solol want me to discover the idea of quarks with component named charm, beauty, top, truth etc. . . or did he hold that a theory of vibrating strings was closer to the truth.

I suspect that either he was teasing me in front of others because he was immature and a bit mean, or that he was challenging me to gain a deeper understanding but I just don't know. I wonder if he is still alive and even if he doesn't recall the incident would he be honest enough to speculate upon his own motives.


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