Night of the Concave Earth
Our first full day, Monday, July 5, 1965, set the pattern for most days of the five weeks that followed, Monday through Saturday. After breakfast, we would start with a mathematics session lasting about an hour and a quarter, with pure mathematics (with Dr. Harry F. Davis of the University of Waterloo) as the focus in the first two weeks and applied mathematics (with engineering professor William H. Bowes of Carleton University) over the next three weeks. The second morning period was devoted to a different subject each week, starting with physics.
Classroom block and assembly hall.
Afternoons were spent on lab work and other activities, sometimes with guest lecturers. After dinner, we would gather in the assembly hall to view science films or hear an invited speaker.
But even before we had our first math session, we took a test to measure our knowledge of and attitude to science. We heard from on-site program director Dr. John Anderson that last year's group had achieved remarkably high scores; we found out later that, on average, we did even better. We were supposed to take the test again at the end of the program to see how our attitudes and knowledge had changed, but there really was very little room for improvement!
Much of the first week in physics was spent on the historical and philosophical underpinnings of modern science (with an emphasis on the development of the scientific method). Dr. George J. Thiessen, head of the acoustics section in the applied physics division of the National Research Council in Ottawa, presented much of the material and led the discussions.
Several of us were particularly intrigued by Dr. Thiessen's description of how Greek mathematician and astronomer Eratosthenes of Cyrene measured Earth's diameter more than 2,000 years ago. We were to replicate (roughly) his experiment on the next sunny afternoon, taking measurements of the sun's angle simultaneously at two different locations.
That afternoon, the six of us in my dorm came up with our own scheme, one that would, we hoped, provide a more precise estimate than a sun-based method. We proposed using light from the North Star (Polaris) as the reference. We persuaded Dr. Anderson (and his wife) to drive us and the equipment about 30 miles north of Lakefield that night to do the experiment.
My diagram of the setup for providing an estimate of Earth's diameter, as included in a letter home.
The adventure did not go smoothly. Traveling in the dark, we had trouble finding a suitable spot to make the observations, and when we finally did stop, it was hard to find a location that was level enough. Nonetheless, we persisted and made the necessary measurements, carefully noting the time at which they were done. Luckily, the clouds that had threatened to obscure the view stayed away at the crucial moments.
Intrepid adventurers Mike Waters, Gordon Brown, Ivars Peterson, Ian Graham, and Peter Kowalczyk with the apparatus for making night observations to measure Earth's diameter.
Then we returned to Lakefield to make the second set of observations. By then, it was after midnight. The results were startling. Our measurements showed that the world was concave, more like the inside of a bowl than the outside of a sphere!
When a sunny afternoon finally arrived, the whole group performed the experiment as originally conceived, with observations made simultaneously at two different locations. I was with the team that traveled about 30 miles northward.
Hugh Laurence helping level the apparatus, with Dorothy Miller (holding camera), Kim Cameron, Bunty Bains, Pat Cogan, and Diane Douglas looking on at the remote location.
Dr, George J. Thiessen checking to make sure everything is ready.
Hugh Laurence and Dorothy Miller making a measurement.
The results were less startling this time. The Earth proved to be round, but our observations suggested a diameter of 14,000 miles, nearly double the true value of 7,900 miles.
On Friday, Dr. Anderson passed on several Heathkit projects for us to work on in our spare time. One group quickly assembled a volt-ohm meter for lab use, and another built an intercom and set it up between two of the dorm rooms.
I joined the group interested in constructing a radio (Heathkit EK2-A). This particular kit came with a detailed manual, which also taught the basics of electricity, vacuum-tube electronics, and radio. I had always enjoyed the building kits (Meccano sets, in particular) that I had at home, and working on the radio was a nice extension.
Bill Falkner, Barb Heller, and Gordon Langford pondering the intricacies of assembling the first stage of a Heathkit radio.
We completed the first stage of the radio project in about a week. To our amazement, given the number of mistakes that we made along the way, the radio (a relatively simple crystal radio with earphones) actually worked. At one point, I even had to go into town to buy replacements for some parts that we had lost or destroyed. Dr. Anderson promised to order the kit for building the more advanced version of the radio (EK2-B).