Atomic Bomb class participates in Twitter play

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advent of the atomic bombFrom building a bomb to acting as historical figures involved in the Manhattan Project through a “Twitter play,” students in the Advent of the Atomic Bomb class have been embracing science and technology — and connecting with alumni along the way.

Professor Karen Harpp, an associate professor of geology, has taught different iterations of this course since coming to Colgate in 1998. In the first half of the scientific-perspectives course, students learn the science behind the atomic bomb; they then discuss the technical challenges, the politics, the various global perspectives, and the ethics.

Given the complexity of the topic, Harpp incorporated an online component to allow for additional discussion time. That feature has also made it possible to include alumni in the discussion; for more than a decade now, students have benefited from a wide range of alumni perspectives.

This semester, alumni were also able to audit the course (for free) through the edX open-source platform. More than 300 alumni, from the classes of 1952 through 2013, signed up. Some participated in the online discussion board, added to a collaborative timeline, took part in videoconferences, and contributed to the Twitter project.

Harpp partnered with Information Technology Services, the Office of Alumni Relations, and others to develop the program. “Without their tireless efforts, this project could not have been possible,” she said.

The Twitter play is recreating the story of the bomb, from the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor to the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, through the eyes of the people involved.

Students have taken on the roles of key figures like Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Alumni and Colgate staff are playing the parts of Harry Truman, Admiral Isoroku Yamomoto, and President Franklin Roosevelt.

Requiring extensive research, the role-playing exercise is intended to help class members grasp the interconnectedness of those involved and the complexity of the Manhattan Project, as well as examine the moral and ethical issues.

“It’s invigorating for us,” said Art Steneri ’56, who is tweeting as Truman. He and his wife are Hamilton residents who are attending the class in person as well as participating online. “Passing thoughts back and forth with the students makes it challenging and exciting,” he added. “[And] here I am, 79 years old, and I can say, ‘I was alive when Pearl Harbor was bombed.’”

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