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Kyle Cranmer | USLHC | USA

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Visiting my high school in Arkansas

This week I will be going to visit my high school in Arkansas.  It was 20 years ago that the school first opened its doors and I was part of that Charter class.  The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science & the Arts is a bit unusual, it is “one of only fifteen public, residential high schools in the country specializing in the education of gifted and talented students who have an interest and aptitude for mathematics and science.”  And this was a state-wide school, so it was a lot like leaving for college two years early.

Arkansas is not particularly well known for its educational system — as a kid we would joke “thank god for Mississippi” when Arkansas would come in 49/50th in some educational ranking.  My brother attended Little Rock’s Central High, which is famous for its history in the civil rights movement and the desegregation of the school system).  I’m happy to see that Arkansas is doing better in the educational rankings, but there is still a long way to go.  For those of you not from the US, I’ve included a map showing this rural state in the southern part of the US.


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Kyle Cranmer with Bill Clinton in Arkansas Governor's office in 1991.

Kyle Cranmer with Bill Clinton in Arkansas Governor’s office in 1991.

 

The school has an interesting history, it was created in 1991 by an act of the Arkansas Legislature.  Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas at the time, and I happened to get a photo with him that year in his office (wearing my friend’s hideous sweater, since my clothes were all dirty while playing at his house).

 While the school is more closely modeled after the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, one of the other early schools of this type was the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.  Here’s a tidbit from Wikipedia:

“Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, director emeritus of nearby Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, was among the first to propose the Illinois school in 1982, and together with Governor Jim Thompson led the effort for its creation. Thompson has noted with pride that he chose to build IMSA instead of competing for the ill-fated supercollider project.”

 

This school changed my life.  I learned calculus and calculus-based physics from Dr. Irina Lyublinskaya, a Russian-educated Ph.D. physicist that had left Russia due to religious persecution.  I took an organic chemistry in high school with awesome labs where we extracted DNA from plants and ran gel electrophoresis.  I was frustrated by the lack of activities, so I got involved in school politics. But probably the most important aspect of my time there was learning from my friends and taking on all sorts of projects.  I learned some basic electronics from my electronics guru friends Colin and  Stephen (who made a TV from a scrap oscilloscope), my friend Thomas made a pretty nice Tesla Coil, we used to get in trouble making potato guns and I almost lost an eye with a rail gun trial.  I remember making a binary half adder out of some huge old telphone relay switches, and when I connected the current the you could hear the simple computation proceed knock-knock-knock until the lights at the end of the big piece of plywood I was using lit up to confirm 1+2=3.  My friend Sean taught me about programming, my friend Colin taught me about Neural Networks and Fast Fourier Transforms.  I spent weeks soldering together an EEG for my science fair project to identify different classes of thought by using brain waves and identifying them by analyzing their characteristic frequency spectrum with a neural network — an idea I got while watching a documentary of Stephen Hawking.  And we were all on-line and exposed to the world wide web in its formative years (93-95).

Tomorrow I leave to go visit the school 20 years later.  We will meet with legislators, parents, alumni, students, and supporters.  I look forward to telling the students about the tremendously exciting career I’ve had in particle physics, culminating in the discovery of the Higgs boson.

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3 Responses to “Visiting my high school in Arkansas”

  1. Brad Flemmons says:

    Congratulations on your successful career. As I joined the Navy right after high school, I have been unable to attend any of our alumni events. On the rare occasion, I run into former students that may or may not have graduated. Three of them had attended Nuclear Field training as I did. Each time there has been an actual reunion, I have either been at sea on a submarine, or on a ship where I couldn’t get away. Hopefully for the next one, I will be able to get away. The school also changed my life. I was with people whom I more closely related. We made lifelong friends. I was exposed to an education that wasn’t available to me at my hometown school. I had to work at it, and still it wrecked my overall GPA. Now, my job entails ensuring that our submariners operate their nuclear reactors safely, providing guidance to them, and technical guidance to our parent commands in an effort to ensure they can make informed decisions about how adjudicate any problems we may find. Next time I’m in the States, I’ll have to look some of you guys up.

  2. Kevin says:

    As a graduate of the North Carolina version of your school, which you cite above, who is now working on the ATLAS experiment, I wanted to tell you that I feel just the same way about my experience there – the quality of the faculty and staff, and the opportunities and experiences which would not have existed in my hometown were numerous, and made a huge impression on me. I’m glad that people from these high schools are returning to really show what an impact they have, and I hope to do the same myself.

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