Free Will and Washington DC Both Disappearing, The Research Project, Week Forty Five, Vermont

On the shores of Lake Champlain sits Vermont’s flagship institution of higher learning, the University of Vermont, which was founded in 1791 in Burlington.

One would think the initials for the University of Vermont would be UV but instead the school goes by the initials UVM, which stands for Universitas Viridis Montis, Latin for “University of the Green Mountains”.

Researchers at UVM have discovered that Washington, DC is sinking, not in the sense that we normally think of, morally and ethically, but in the sense of…literally. Based on their measurements, our nation’s capitol could sink by as much as six inches or more in the next 100 years. This, in combination with rising sea levels, could add to the problems that our country’s seat of power has to deal with.

As we learn more and more about the human brain is the concept of free will going to disappear? That is a question being posed by a philosophy professor at UVM. If all the parts of our brains are mapped out to the extent that we know exactly how a person will act in any situation, what becomes of free will? When we had very little understanding of the human brain the actions we did not understand were attributed to the mysterious concept of free will. This kind of research is what makes philosophy so appealing to me.

Another research team at UVM has found a way to improve the way students learn geometry by incorporating physical movement into their lessons.  The team engaged third- and fourth-grade students in a series of tasks that involved moving their arms to form angles projected on a large Kinect screen.

Sometimes it’s just fun to study things without knowing if they will ever have any practical applications. That is the case with a physicist at UV who is studying liquid helium. Apparently liquid helium is a superfluid that has no friction; once it is set in motion it keeps moving for months. Who knows what such a substance could be used for?

The difference between winning a ski race and coming in second is often just hundredths of a second. Thus, skiers look for any way to gain an advantage over their competitors. A student researcher at UVM, who also happens to be a world-class skier, is developing a way to test the stiffness, bending, damping and vibration of skis so skiers can be confident they are using the best skis in any given race.

Some of the green mountains near UVM

University of Vermont

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