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AUTHORS: Amanda Russell-Bolio
COUNTRY: United States
GENRE: Historical Fiction

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CHARACTERS

  • SLEEPING BOY
  • STUDENT #1
  • STUDENT #2
  • STUDENT #3
  • CLASS CLOWN
  • PROFESSOR
  • NARRATOR
  • NIELS BOHR
  • EAGER BOY
  • HEADMASTER
  • JANITOR

 

Scene 1 – Classroom

[Stage Set: Desks are placed in rows. Students dressed in uniforms sit quietly, hands folded on their desks. Most struggle to pay attention. SLEEPING BOY is slumped back in his chair, mouth open, snoring. Another, CLASS CLOWN sits in the corner with a silly cap on his head. Two desks remain empty. At front is a large PROFESSOR’S desk. Behind this is a chalkboard with the words, Pythagorean tuning, pure perfect fifth, 3:2, tetrachord, 16th century, 6th century, along with a few musical notes. A formidable PROFESSOR points at the chalkboard with a long pointer.]

[CLASS CLOWN stops snoring so the audience can hear the speakers.]

NARRATOR:
Hello, everyone. This story comes from a tale told about Niels Bohr (pronounce: neels-BOAR), the famous physicist. Ever heard of Albert Einstein, the really smart fellow? Well, the two of them were good friends, always debating about the universe. What is it? What is it made of? Where did it come from?

PROFESSOR:
Class! Faces front. (sighs) Let’s try to pay attention for once, will you?

[All students other than SLEEPING BOY sit up in attention.]

[NARRATOR paces stage addressing all sides of audience.]

NARRATOR:
This story takes place when Niels was still a high school student in Denmark. The play is called “Niels Bohr and the Barometer.” It’s a true story brought to you by Stories to Grow by.

PROFESSOR:
(exasperated) Do you think you can all look at me and pay attention? (points to blackboard) As you can plainly see here, the Pythagoras (pronounce: pie-THAH-gor-us) theorem is a fundamental relation in geometry–

[The door opens quietly. NIELS BOHR creeps across the room to his desk.]

PROFESSOR:
Pythagoras showed us that musical notes could be translated into mathematical equations by–

[PROFESSOR catches sight of NIELS BOHR just as he reaches his desk. He slams the pointer down on his own desk with a thunderous WAP. All students jump a mile. SLEEPING BOY wakes with a start.]

SLEEPING BOY:
(wakes from dream) Penguins!!!

PROFESSOR:
What?!

SLEEPING BOY:
(wipes at drool on his face) Nothing, Sir.

[Class snickers.]

PROFESSOR:
(turns to Niels Bohr) Niels Bohr.

[NIELS BOHR reluctantly gets to his feet.]

PROFESSOR:
Late again, are we?

[NIELS BOHR lowers his head and stuffs his hands in his pockets, as STUDENTS stifle laughter and whisper.]

PROFESSOR:
Don’t tell me. You were collecting seashells again?

NIELS BOHR:
But you can see Fibonacci’s (pronounce fib-oh-NAH-cheeze) sequence in the shells. You know, where you find a number by adding the two numbers before it. It’s one of my favorites.

[PROFESSOR shoves a pile of papers at him.]

PROFESSOR:
I’m well aware of Fibonacci’s sequence. That’s not the topic today. Here, make yourself useful. Pass these out.

[NIELS BOHR walks down the aisles passing out the graded homework. STUDENTS show various signs of disappointment, shoulders droop, slump in chair, heads hang, groans, etc., as they each receive their papers.]

PROFESSOR:
As you can see by your grades, your understanding of physics is abysmal (pronounce: a-BIZ-mahl)!

[CLASS is confused by the word “abysmal.”]

STUDENT #1:
What?

STUDENT #2:
What did he say?

STUDENT #3:
Did you hear?

EAGER BOY:
Something about Pepto-Bismol?

CLASS CLOWN:
That doesn’t make sense.

PROFESSOR:
Come on, class. SOMEONE must be able to tell us what the word “abysmal” means.

STUDENT #1:
(raises hand) Not so good?

PROFESSOR:
First correct answer today.

[NIELS BOHR takes his seat. He is the only one without a paper.]

PROFESSOR:
(spins around and points accusingly to Niels Bohr) No paper at your desk? Perhaps you WOULD have had your paper returned IF your name had been on the paper. One would think that a boy who talks about the Fibonacci sequence would have the presence of mind to put his own name on his own paper! (glares at Niels Bohr)

[NIELS BOHR shrinks in his seat.]

NIELS BOHR:
Yes, sir.

PROFESSOR:
(to class) Let us review yesterday’s homework assignment, shall we? You (to Eager Boy). Read the assignment.

[EAGER BOY happily stands.]

EAGER BOY:
(reads aloud) “Using a barometer, how do you determine the height of a building?” Professor, I probably should have asked this BEFORE I did the assignment but, uh, what’s a barometer?

PROFESSOR:
(sighs & holds up barometer) This! Doesn’t ANYONE listen? A barometer is a scientific instrument used to measure the pressure of the atmosphere. In order to forecast the weather or calculate altitude. Or to do other things, such as find the height of a building. Which is our topic today. (holds up a paper) Neils, read your paper to the class. I daresay the class will appreciate its entertainment value.

[NIELS BOHR reads to himself. The audience can see his lips move as he mumbles.]

PROFESSOR:
(exasperated) ALOUD, please!

NIELS BOHR:
(reads) “Examples of how to determine the height of a building using a barometer.” (clears throat) You climb to the rooftop. You tie a string to the barometer. You lower the barometer until it touches the ground. Then you just pull up the barometer and measure the length of the string.

[CLASS CLOWN applauds. The classroom erupts in guffaws.]

PROFESSOR:
Settle down now! Class, settle down!

STUDENT #1:
But that would definitely work.

STUDENT #3:
Why didn’t I think of it?

STUDENT #2:
Here I was doing all this MATH.

STUDENT #3:
I know, right? What’s the point?

[PROFESSOR snatches the paper from NIELS BOHR, rolls it up and uses it to point at the class.]

PROFESSOR:
Math IS the point! You were asked how to measure the height of a building using a barometer. I certainly hope it is clear the answer I am looking for does NOT involve going to the rooftop and dangling a barometer from a string down to the ground.

STUDENT #2:
(in a low voice) Uh, why not?

STUDENT #1:
(another low voice) Yeah, it seems like it would work.

PROFESSOR:
(to Student # 2 and Student #3) Because it’s not scientific! (to Niels Bohr) Niels, use that brain of yours. Surely you can think of the REAL way to measure the height of a building using a barometer.

NIELS BOHR:
No problem. I can think of LOTS of ways.

PROFESSOR:
Do share.

NIELS BOHR:
It’s simple, really. You set the barometer on the ground just outside the first floor of the building.

PROFESSOR:
(mutters) Why do I have a bad feeling about this?

[NIELS BOHR is getting more excited as he talks.]

NIELS BOHR:
You mark the top of the barometer on the wall. In pencil. Then you turn the barometer upside down and make a new mark. You keep turning it and marking the new top until the barometer gets to the very top of the building. You count up all the marks. You know how long a barometer is, so that’s how you can figure the height of the building.

[CLASS applauds.]

STUDENT #3:
That would work, too!

STUDENT #1:
Brilliant!

STUDENT #2:
Who knew a barometer could be so useful?

STUDENT #3:
I didn’t!

EAGER BOY:
Uh, what’s a barometer again?

PROFESSOR:
(to the class) Everyone, zip it! (to Niels Bohr) Niels, you know very well that is NOT what I was looking for–

NIELS BOHR:
Oh, wait! Here’s another one.

PROFESSOR:
(under breath) Here we go…

NIELS BOHR:
You drop the barometer from the rooftop and count how much time it takes to hit the ground. And voila! (pronounce: vwah-LAH) that’s how you can figure the height of the building. (to audience) Though it may not be so great for the barometer.

[CLASS laughs again.]

PROFESSOR:
Okay, that’s IT!

[PROFESSOR grabs NIELS BOHR by the collar and *gently* pushes him toward the door. Remember, this is pretend!]

PROFESSOR:
Let’s go! We’re going to the principal’s office. (calls over his shoulder) I don’t want to hear a word out of this classroom!

[PROFESSOR and NIELS BOHR exit.]

[CLASS CLOWN grabs PROFESSOR’S pointer. He mimics the PROFESSOR’s style.]

CLASS CLOWN:
Ladies and Penguins, step right up! We are now going to discuss how to find the height of a building using a penguin!

[CLASS laughs.]

Scene 2 – Headmaster’s Office

[Scene set: A large desk. Two chairs in front of desk. Scattered and against the wall are sorts of contents in a utility closet—stepladder, mops, brooms, and buckets, etc. HEADMASTER carries a small paper bag as he gingerly makes his way through the mess and trips over various obstacles in his way to his desk nearly dropping his bag. He clutches it close.]

HEADMASTER:
Confound it! Just because the janitor is fixing the leak in the ceiling doesn’t mean he can just leave all his tools around wherever he drops them. Why doesn’t he just store all this nonsense in a closet like other janitors do?

[HEADMASTER makes it to the desk and opens his bag taking out a very large pastry. He’s about to take a bite when there’s a knock at the door. He looks at the door, tries to take a quick bite of the pastry. Another knock and he reluctantly puts the pastry down.]

HEADMASTER:
Come in.

[PROFESSOR pushes NIELS BOHR through the door. They avoid the mess.]

HEADMASTER:
(stands) Professor? What’s the problem?

[PROFESSOR thrusts NIELS BOHR’s paper into his hand. HEADMASTER reads it and hands it back to PROFESSOR who rolls it up again.]

PROFESSOR:
He is! Niels Bohr is recalcitrant (pronounce: ree-KAL-se-trint)!

HEADMASTER:
I see, of course. (rubs chin because does not know what “recalcitrant” means) And we all know what “recalcitrant” means. Why don’t you tell us, Niels?

NIELS BOHR:
Yes, sir. Pig-headed. Stubborn.

HEADMASTER:
Right, I knew that! So– (turns to Professor) What exactly is this student recalcitrant about?

PROFESSOR:
He refuses to answer a simple scientific question.

NIELS BOHR:
I answered the question. THREE times!

[PROFESSOR bops him on the head with the rolled-up paper.]

PROFESSOR:
You see what I have to deal with? (to Niels Bohr) You know very well you never answered the question the way you were SUPPOSED to answer the question.

HEADMASTER:
Well then let’s try this again, shall we? Uh, what was the question?

PROFESSOR:
How to determine the height of a building using a barometer.

HEADMASTER:
Right! (under the breath) Easy‒peasy.

PROFESSOR:
(to Niels Bohr) I will NOT accept answers like dangling a barometer from a string, or throwing expensive barometers off the rooftop, or wiggle-waggling a barometer up the side of a building.

HEADMASTER:
Absolutely not! Niels, no doubt you can provide your Professor with the real answer to the question.

NIELS BOHR:
Those were real answers. And I have more.

[NIELS BOHR signs. There’s a knock at the door. JANITOR sticks his head in.]

JANITOR:
Janitor here. Just come for the mop is all.

[JANITOR picks the mop and nods to HEADMASTER.]

HEADMASTER:
Be on your way, then.

[JANITOR exits.]

NIELS BOHR:
(looks at where Janitor had exited, then shows a thinking process by putting one hand under the chin and saying “Hmm”) Here’s another idea. You go to the basement. You knock on the janitor’s door. And you say: “If you can tell me how tall this building is, I will give you this barometer!”

[NIELS BOHR spins around to face audience and stretches out both arms wide in a victory sign. HEADMASTER puts both hands on his head in despair. PROFESSOR cries “AUGHH!” and falls (carefully!) flat on the stage floor.]

NARRATOR:
This is Niels Bohr as a teenager. When he grew up, he became a famous atomic scientist. He will win many awards, including the Nobel Prize in Physics.

[NIELS BOHR makes victory signs to the audience, first to one section of the audience, then to the other.]

PROFESSOR:
(lifts head up) What, the Nobel Prize? (stands and brushes off his pants) I find that hard to believe.

NIELS BOHR:
(to Narrator) Really?

[HEADMASTER shrugs and goes back to eating his pastry.]

NARRATOR:
It’s true. And you will once say to another scientist: “We all agree that your theory is crazy. The question is if it’s crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough.”

NIELS BOHR:
Yeah. I can see me saying that.

[NIELS BOHR returns to making victory signs.]

NARRATOR:
(to Niels Bohr) Time to bow. (Niels Bohr is still making victory signs.) BOW! (Niels Bohr bows) That’s better.

[NARRATOR turns to audience.]

NARRATOR:
And that is the end of this real-life story of the famous scientist, “Niels Bohr and the Barometer.”

[If you have a curtain, close it now. If you do not, fade the lights. If you have no stage lights, all actors come on stage and bow to the audience.]

end

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