One of Swarthmore’s many attributes is its strong science department, but now two Swarthmore scientists and alumni are using their skills to write children’s books. Physicist Robert Tinker and psychologist Barbara Tinker, are both Swarthmore alumni and married at the Quaker Meeting House at 1964. They have teamed up with Pendred Noyce to author “The Cryptic Case of the Coded Fair,” a children’s book in the “Galactic Academy of Science” series, published by Tumblehome Learning. Each book in the “G.A.S.” series details the struggles of middle school students who have to solve a present-day problem using scientific or historical knowledge. The kids travel through time to obtain advice from scientists or other historical figures in order to solve the current problems they face.
In “The Cryptic Case of the Coded Fair,” middle school students must work to decode a cipher in order to save the International Science Fair. In keeping with the historical education theme, the plot features figures including Julius Caesar, Arab scholar al-Kindi, Renaissance scholars Alberti and Cardano, Thomas Jefferson, Alan Turing and Whitfield Diffie. The book also includes links to a website that exposes readers to the secret ciphers in the novel, allowing them to break the code or create their own.
Barbara Tinker, who wrote the historical sections of the book, traces her passion for history all the way back to high school, when she would read historical source documents. When she first began to take history courses early at Swarthmore, the readings “put [her] to sleep.” However, a course on India kept her interested in other times and cultures. She then went on to study Japanese religion and culture, but eventually moved to psychology at Swarthmore.
Robert Tinker also began his collegiate academic career at Swarthmore. He loved the school, while also finding it challenging. His favorite part was the Honors Program because he could “learn a whole area with the help of fellow students and faculty.” After Swarthmore, he went to Stanford for a year with the goal of earning his PhD, but left in 1964 to join the Civil Rights Movement, teaching physics and math at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala. It was at this point that he decided to pursue a career in education.
“Learning how it was possible to bring out students’ talents,” he said, “I vowed to devote myself to education.”
Tinker then went on to earn a PhD in physics at MIT under John King. After this, he taught college and later began to teach in STEM full-time. After partly retiring in 2013, Tinker felt that “it was natural to continue educating through fantasy books,” leading him to become involved in “The Cryptic Case of the Coded Fair.”
Robert Tinker wrote most of the codes in the story, making the book mathematically precise. He hopes that the book will be able “to ignite some youngster’s imagination.” The Tinkers are currently working on another book by the same publisher, about discoveries in light.
The Tinkers’ past educational experiences and interests definitely motivated them to apply their talents to writing this children’s book. As Barbara Tinker states, “This book was a return to old loves, play for us, and great fun.”