Friday Focus: Many hands make light work

head shot of a man
UAF photo by JR Ancheta
UAF Chancellor Dan White

— by Dan White, chancellor

I have always been a believer in the expression “Many hands make light work.” And to that end, I’m always happy to lend a hand. 

In order for many hands to actually make light work, though, we have to agree on what that work is, what the desired outcome is, and the best path to take. 

In physics, work is defined as force times distance. That is, the amount of force needed to move an object a given distance. In our gravitational field, an object with a larger mass will take more force to move. Of course in space, outside the reach of large objects and black holes, mass does not matter so much. But we’re not in space. 

The force needed to accomplish work can be one big force or many small forces. That, of course, assumes that the many small forces are pushing in the same direction. 

Many small forces pushing in equal and opposite directions produces no work at all because the distance traveled of the object being pushed will be exactly zero, whether you are in space or not. Many small forces pushing in one direction and a few big forces pushing in the opposite can have the same effect. Zero work done in spite of much force. Unfortunately, exerting a force is not free. In fact, force may be very expensive to generate in terms of time, money and mental well-being. 

In addition to the magnitude and direction of forces on an object, space, at least, is also full of “dark matter.” That is matter that exists in space even though we can’t “see” it (i.e., it does not emit electromagnetic radiation). We know it is there and we can even calculate how much might be there because the rate of expansion of the universe, star clusters and galaxies cannot be explained by “visible” objects alone. Dark matter is the difference. Without all the dark matter, the universe would be expanding at a greater rate. 

UAF is not in space but we are in a place of many forces pushing in many directions and in the presence of dark matter, a factor that is unknown, unpredictable and tugging at the expansion rate of our UAF universe.

Providing access to education has been our goal in the pandemic and before — online, in person and hybrid. Faculty, staff and students have aligned their forces to support research and education at UAF. The many hands at work have carried this important work for more than 100 years, through fiscal crises, two world wars and now in our second pandemic. That’s right, UAF began in 1917, right amidst the 1918 flu. As we adjust to the changing conditions of today, we keep our forces in support of our educational mission through teaching, research and service.

Maybe the expression should be “many hands make light work as we join forces, acknowledge and navigate the dark matter, keep  our universe expanding in a positive direction, and continue to provide education and research to the world.” 

Thank you for lending your hands to this important work. Thanks for choosing UAF.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.