I learned about Stephen Wolfram’s Physics Project last week from a Steven Strogatz tweet:

“from tiny, structureless rules, out were coming space, time, relativity, gravity and hints of quantum mechanics.” Stephen Wolfram and colleagues have ideas on fundamental physics, emergent space-time, and the like. Here’s a taste. Experts: your opinions? https://t.co/0zltZEngin

It looked like something that would be really interesting for kids to see, so I spent a bit of time diving in. This morning I took a shot at introducing some of the basic ideas to them and they were fascinated by what they saw.

I started by talking about directed graphs – the introductory ideas are definitely accessible to kids (sorry this video is a bit out of focus – I forgot to check the focus before we started today):

Now (off camera) we constructed the next step in the sequence of graphs Wolfram is studying. My younger son explains our work below and my older son shows a slightly different way of thinking about it that he thought might be more illuminating.

Now we went to Mathematica to explore a bit. Wolfram has made his code available, so exploring his ideas at home is really easy as long as you have the latest (as of April 2020) version of Mathematica. Just to be clear, I’m using their code and don’t yet fully understand how it all works. I was able to understand it well enough to play around, though. It was fascinating to see how the graphs changed when the boys changed the rules a bit.

But the most important thing I think is in this video is just how interested the kids were in these amazing shapes.

Finally we looked at a selection of graphs made from random rules. Again the boys were fascinated by these shapes and seemed to really enjoy thinking about them.

This project was incredibly fun – hoping to find other ways to share these ideas with the boys.