Saturday, July 30, 2011

Good-bye Philly, Hello Pinole

Today was the first day in a month that I did not wake up in dorm room 302 in the NY Alumni building in the Penn quad. I awoke to the sun coming through the blinds in our hotel room and it hit me that it had all ended last night. Although we said our goodbyes to the quad and our friends the night before, waking up somewhere other than the dorm was strange. I really got into a daily rhythm. After the shock of waking up somewhere else, Brian and I got ready to meet Mr. Miranda and Julia in the lobby for breakfast. We ate a quick meal in the restaurant in the hotel lobby. Once we were finished, we headed back upstairs to grab our luggage and then made our way back down to check out. It was time to leave campus.

We headed to the Philadelphia airport and, although it was early, began to make our way through the sea of people. Once we were through security, we grabbed some Peet’s and walked to the gate. Luckily we were in the first couple of groups to board because we were basically able to walk right onto the plane when we got to our gate. Our first flight was quite small. The plane was actually so small that Brian’s head scraped the ceiling. I actually slept for the majority of this flight, but when I was awake the flight was relatively smooth. After only an hour and a half, we had landed in Chicago.

Our layover in Chicago lasted several hours and we really did not have that much to do to fill the time. We ate lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant (the last meal our cohort would eat together!) and then browsed the magazines and souvenirs that O’Hare International had to offer. Somehow, we made this last almost the entire layover. However, there were complications when we began to board the plane: Brian’s reservation was switched at the last minute to another flight! We thought that Mr. Miranda would have to give Brian his ticket and the three of us would have to fly back without our chaperone. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case and all four of us were able to board the same plane. This flight was a little bit rockier, but it was still ok, even though it was a three and a half hour flight.

We landed safely and headed to baggage claim, where our families were waiting for us. I walked up to my parents and greeted them for the first time after a month. I was finally home. While we waited for our bags to come out of the luggage carousel, our families spoke to each other and Mario. However, once my bags arrived, it was time for me to depart. I bid farewell to my cohort and left the airport with my parents. Dinner with my parents seemed to be non-stop questions, and I can’t blame them. There were a lot of things that they did not yet know about my journey, even though we spoke constantly. I’m certainly glad to see my real family again.

Now, I sit in my room, just as I left it exactly one month ago. My adventure is over and it is time for me to return to my life here in good old Pinole, California. No longer can I head down the hall to say hi to Fred and Abheek, walk down the street to Wawa, or take a trolley to get to a bustling city center within minutes. Life is different here and I will have to adjust again. Although I will miss all of those things about life in Philly, I am also glad to be back in my own home, in familiar territory. Even though I left Pennsylvania today, I hope to return at some point in the future, maybe to attend Penn. But for now, I’m resuming life here. I’m home Pinole.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The End of Days

I write today’s blog with a mixture of emotions. On one hand, I’m happy to be returning home to my family and friends. On the other hand, I’m leaving the “family” and friends that I have grown to know so well over the past four weeks. Tonight, the three of us departed from the quad, departed from our lives at Penn, and watched our Clique wave goodbye to us. The events of today were truly a great way to end the month.

We began class with our final presentations, our reports of the exponential physics experiments. These were, by far, the best presentations so far. All of the slideshows and presenters were entertaining, informative, and concise. Our presentation on Newton’s Law of Cooling, I felt, went exceptionally well. We had good background information, sufficient data, we came to the correct conclusion, and presented it in such a way that Bill and the TAs wholeheartedly agreed with our analysis and description. Ryan even told us that our analysis was exactly the way he would have taught the topic. This was comforting to hear since we did not have a lot of guidance with this experiment. The research, experiments, and presentation were largely left up to our decisions. To learn that we had come to the correct conclusion and that we taught the class the same way one of our instructors would was a great feeling.

Following the presentations, we had a long discussion on what could be improved in the program and what should be kept on for the next year. It was interesting to hear about what everyone thought about different aspects of the class. For example, I enjoyed hearing the opinions of people that had never taken physics before coming to the program. Most of them felt that the program was a great way to get involved in physics and that it was still a very educational experience, despite the pace. Even the students that have been taking physics for years said that the program benefited them immensely, and I could not agree with them more. I do not have any regrets or negative feedback for this program whatsoever. Everything was run excellently, Bill and the TAs were great, and the overall experience was one that I will never forget. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in pursuing science, and even to some who aren’t necessarily interested in taking that path.

After lunch, we all gathered in the small lecture hall on the ground floor of the DRL. This was the greatest part of today. We were told that this was Bill’s time to show off all of his best demonstrations. This was absolutely true. We were given quite the show this afternoon as Bill took us through the most entertaining demonstrations of physics he had to offer. He displayed the properties of elastic potential energy by sitting on a gigantic coil that was attached to the ceiling, blew up a small house using the flow of electrons through an unstable environment, and even shattered a wine glass using sound. Bill really pulled out all the stops today, and I couldn’t think of a better way to complete the course. After the demonstrations were over, we were given USB drives with everything that we could possibly want from the program. We received the slideshows from every lecture (guest and regular), well-known physics papers that were written by some of our guest lecturers, and even every single document and presentation that Mary uploaded to Dropbox. We were also given certificates of completion for the program and wooden stars that had C’s on them, as a testament to our ability to accurately measure the speed of light. Once Bill and Mary said all that they wanted to say, goodbyes, thank you’s and even some sorrowful hugs were exchanged between both classmate and staff. I made sure to say thank you and goodbye to Bill and all of the TAs before I left, except Adam, but he left early. It all felt complete after that.

I finally got my picture with Bill

Ryan was always a huge help and a pretty cool guy. Couldn't pass up a photo-op.

It was sad to say good-bye to Mary. We have grown close.

Coolest. TA. EVER.

Bill in serious clothing??

Once we returned to the dorms, I had to finish my packing. Somehow I managed to cram all of the things I brought and all of the souvenirs and gifts I purchased into my suitcase and suit bag. I couldn’t find a scale though, so I am really hoping that my luggage isn’t overweight. If it is though, I can always transfer some items from my suitcase to the suit bag, because that is definitely under-weight. I couldn’t wait to finish packing because I wanted to get as much time with everyone else as possible. Unfortunately, it took everyone quite a while to get everything packed, so we weren’t all finished until about 6:00. We decided to just get sandwiches from the convenience store near the quad and eat light, since we would be dancing later.

The dance began around 7:30 out in the lower quad. It was actually pretty funny because after about fifteen minutes of music, it began to rain. That was actually one of the hardest rains that I had experienced during my time at Penn. This put the party on hold for about fifteen minutes, but after that, it did not stop for another three hours. The music was loud, everyone was having a great time, and for a while we all let go of the fact that we would be leaving each other very, very soon.

At 10:10, Mr. Miranda arrived to sign us out. We didn’t actually leave the quad until at least half an hour later. It wasn’t that sign out took a long time, but our good-byes took a very long time. This would be the last time for a long time, if ever again, that the seven of us would be together, so it was all very emotional. I realized at that moment how attached I had become to my friends here. I knew that I would miss them, but I did not imagine that I would be so moved just by having to say goodbye. It truly is like ripping off a bandaid, you just have to do it quickly. Sometimes, that just isn’t possible. We were so unwilling to let go of each other. Several hugs were exchanged between each of us, touching parting words were said, and there was a universal need for tissues by the time we exited the front gates. Ed bid us adieu and we were officially out of Penn’s Summer Discovery experience.

This past month has been filled with fantastic events that I will always treasure. Whether it was meeting new friends or exploring the college that I may one day call my home, I never regretted coming to Penn, not for one second. I have never been more thankful to the Ivy League Connection, and everyone who supports it, than I felt today. Although I am sad to leave Penn and my new family behind, I am overjoyed to know that I have made life-long connections, and it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for this amazing program. I am forever indebted to the ILC for all that they have done for me. For my last time in Philadelphia, I’m signing off. Good night, and good-bye Philly.

Out With a Bang

The final day here at U Penn was both incredible and heartbreaking. During class, Bill showed us four hours worth of creative, informative, exciting and occasionally hilarious demos that he himself had designed. Our evening activity, a camp-wide outdoors dance, was especially fun as well (despite the rain). By the end of the night, when I realized the month was really over and I was going to have to part with the group of friends and classmates that I met, I came close to shedding tears.

The day started off in a typical manner. Wake up, shower, dress, and say goodbye to my roommate Noor before leaving for breakfast. Our goodbye today however was much more significant because it would be the last time we saw each other before the program ended (her flight was this afternoon). We exchanged e-mails and plan to keep in touch, but it is going to be difficult waking up in the morning without her motivational music. Not seeing her every day is going to be hard to get used to.

Class began normally as well. We started off giving out presentations about the exponential relationship between variables that we studied. Alex, Brian, Onor, and I gave our presentation about Newton's law of cooling based on the data we collected with our temperature probes in hot water last week. It was interesting giving a presentation about thermodynamics to fellow high school students because not long ago, for my final project in my physics class at ECHS, I taught a similar lesson to a sixth grade class. Needless to say, my presentation today required much less background information and repetition, but I still tried to present the ideas in a similar way - on a conceptual level rather than a repetition of textbook definitions, a technique that Bill has stressed the importance of throughout the course, and is very important to me as well.

After our presentations and a short lunch break, the really fun stuff began. We moved into a larger lecture room to watch Bill perform the number of demonstrations he had set up for us. Each one displayed a different concept that we had experience with either from earlier in the course or earlier years of science in an exciting way that often exposed new ways of looking at the laws they proved. It was awesome.Above is a photo of the first demonstration. It dealt with how objects float in environments with higher densities and sink when the density of the object is greater. If you look closely, You can see a bubble floating in the tank. He accomplished this by mixing vinegar and baking soda to create carbon dioxide that stayed in the tank because it was heavier than the surrounding air. When he blew bubble into the tank, the increased density resulted in a tank full of floating bubbles. It was really cool to watch. This demonstration was designed to show the effects of angular momentum. Because the wheel he is holding is spinning, the stool he is sitting on has the ability to spin, and together they are a closed system. Bill could make himself spin on the stool by changing the angle at which he held the spinning disk. The demo was especially interesting because he informed us that this is exactly how scientists steer the Hubble telescope.Next, he brought out a vandagraph generator and used it to show us the principles of static electricity. The example of his hair strands repelling each other as they picked up a charge was particularly amusing, but my favorite was the example of the stack of pie pans that flew off, one after the other, as soon as the machine was turned on.

Bill clearly is willing to go to great lengths to provide us visual, palpable examples when he hung himself from the celling on a spring to show us what oscillations look like. He even used a motion sensor hooked up to logger pro to show us the beautiful sine wave that results from harmonic motion in position, velocity, and acceleration. I addition to being highly entertaining, seeing Bill bounce up and down like that was actually helpful in understanding the system.
Some of my other favorite demonstrations included the one that described projectile motion. He posed the dilemma of wanting to shoot a monkey that lets go of the branch he is swinging from as soon as he sees that he is being shot at. Rather than aim below the monkey as one might initially think to do, parabolic motion says that it is best to shoot directly at the monkey because as the monkey falls, the bullet falls at the same rate. Bill created a rather ingenious contraption in order to demonstrate and prove this theory. He set up a blow gun with a metal piece fitted into the end. When he blows the bullet out of the tube, the metal piece is force out, breaking an electrical circuit that was magnetically suspending a toy monkey in front of the gun. With this setup, the monkey falls at exactly the same time the bullet leaves the tube. Bill aimed his gun directly at his target and hit the monkey every time.

The most exciting part was when he exploded a toy wooden house using an electrical current and a chemical mixture that created a reactive gas within the house. He showed us that when the house was electrically grounded with a lighting rod, nothing happened, but when that protection wasn't there, a boom loud enough to make my heart skip a beat and the entire class to jump about a foot in the air. It was quite a memorable demo.
When Bill ran out of demonstrations to show, or more likely, time with which to show them, we received our certificates of completion and a thumbdrive with all the links, slideshows, articles and contact information related to what we learned and who we met during the course. It is a huge amount of valuable information that will keep my busy for the remainder of the summer, and possibly year. We said our goodbyes and our "thankyouthankyouthankyou"s to all the teachers and staff that helped us learn the amazing things we learned this week and then went back to our dorms to pack.

Once our rooms were depressingly bare, we went out to the quad for the dance party. At first, people we a little shy. I got the feeling that many of them were more comfortable with equations that dance moves, but by the end of the night, we were dancing like crazy, screaming along to the music and enjoying ourselves as much as possible in order to squeeze every last drop out of our final night. By the end, I was exhausted and fulfilled. I knew that I had made the most not only of the evening, but of the entire month.

During the past four weeks, I have learned some of the most interesting concepts and met some of the most dynamic people I have ever learned or met before. It has changes the way I look about science and learning and given my some incredible tools that will allow me to continue to discover more throughout my life. I am incredibly grateful that the Ivy League Connection informed me of the program and enabled me to experience the fascinating world of experimental science.

Going out With a Bang

Today was really an interesting and emotional day. From the start, things felt a little bit different, but Alex and I did our usual routine and went to the bakery Au Bon Pain to get our breakfast. In class, we started off by doing our presentations on research that we did a week or so ago. In general, our assignment was to test different phenomena and to determine if they were exponential relationships or not. That sounds a little bit vague, so I’ll give examples of a few of the phenomena that groups tested. My group tested Newton’s Law of Cooling to see if it was an exponential relationship. Newton’s Law of Cooling basically describes how quickly a hot object will cool down in a cold surrounding medium and how a cold object warms up in a hot surrounding medium.

To test this relationship, we got several cups of water and heated about half of it. The first test that we did tested how a cold temperature probe warmed up in the hot water. We started our data collection, placed the probe in the water and waited for a couple minutes. As soon as we saw the graph of the temperature increasing, it seemed pretty clear that Newton’s Law of Cooling is an exponential relationship. To be sure, we tested our hypothesis out by using the software, Logger Pro, to do a curve fit of our data. The data fit very well with an inverse exponential function and we concluded that the relationship is exponential.

Several of the other groups had interesting presentations such as the group that tested a car that supposedly accelerated exponentially. Exponential relationships are very important in nature, so I was glad to get some exposure to a few of these phenomena. At lunch, I ordered some pizza and then realized that I had about $30 left on my Dining Dollars card. Luckily, Mary had mentioned that people could bring snacks for the afternoon lecture if they had dining dollars left so I bought a bunch of chips and soda to share. When I got back to class, we discovered that Mary had also made all of us cookies to enjoy while we watched Bill’s demonstration show.

Bill struck me from the start as a hands on kind of guy. I was definitely right, because Bill is in charge of making physics demonstrations at UPenn. Bill started off his demonstration by showing us examples of the buoyant force by showing us how regular soda sinks but diet soda floats because it’s less dense. Things quickly got better as Bill blew some bubbles in the air and pointed out that they always sink to the ground. Just as I was about to award him the Mr. Obvious award, Bill mixed up some baking soda and vinegar in an aquarium and then blew bubbles into it. Because the baking soda and vinegar react to make carbon dioxide, which is denser than air, the bubbles floated and bounced around in midair which was pretty cool.

Bill’s demonstrations got wilder and wilder as he began to well, blow stuff up. To demonstrate how well lighting rods work, Bill brought in a scale model of a typical home and filed it with a chemical that quickly converts into acetylene gas. With the lighting rod on the house, Bill shocked the house with an electric bolt but nothing happened because of the lighting rod. When he took the rod off and repeated the process, the house exploded into pieces and made a bang so loud I’m sure every person reading this blog heard it.

I loved Bill’s demonstrations, but the several hour show flew by in moments, and soon it was time to say goodbye. Mary showed us a final slideshow of everything we did and then gave us flash drives full of everything we’ve done in the last 4 weeks. Each of our teachers spoke for a little bit and I could once again see how dedicated each of them is to the program. I cannot express how thankful I am for Bill, Mary, Ryan, Craig, Adam, Brian, and everyone in the program for making the last 4 weeks so amazing and educational.

In the evening, we got to celebrate a little bit. Summer Discovery provided a D.J. for us and we had a fun, informal dance. The dance was really fun, but for me it was overshadowed by the fact that we had to leave at 10 o’clock. Finally, it was time to say goodbye to all of my friends that have made the last 4 weeks the best time of my life. I couldn’t stop myself from crying when I said goodbye to Fred, Abheek, Onur and Alison each of whom have been fantastic friends over the last 4 weeks. While I did cry a bit, I am reminded by one of my favorite people ever, Dr. Seuss, about how to deal with something like this.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” ~Dr. Seuss

With modern technology, there’s no excuse not to stay in touch, so I know we will continue to be great friends even as Onur heads back to Turkey, Abheek back to London, Alison back to Florida, and Fred back to Alabama.

Thank you to everyone in this program for making it such a great experience.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Guided Tour of the World of Experiments

Time has gone by so quickly! I am still in shock that tomorrow is my last day of class. Even thought we are so close to the end, we continue to learn more about the way experimental physics works in the real world. One thing that has changed in the final couple days is that we are beginning to learn about it from many different sources. In addition to the guest lecture today I heard from my fellow classmates (and got to teach them a thing or two myself) as well as some of the grad students that populate the basement of our building, working on some groundbreaking studies with radio telescopes, carbon nano-tubes, and soft matter.

The day started off with a very interesting guest lecture about the construction of SNO (Subdury Neutrino Observatory), a huge neutrino detector placed at the bottom of a nickel mine to shield it from unwanted background information. By studying these subatomic particles that can travel the distance between us and the sun in just over eight minutes, we can learn a lot about the nuclear reactions occurring at the suns core currently. It turns out the data also proves the Standard Sun Model, which had previously been questioned because previous experiments did not account for oscillations that can change the "flavor" of neutrinos. The most interesting part of the lecture for me was seeing the journey from the first detector that failed to collect conformational data and the confusion that insued, to the construction of SNO and the steps that led scientists there. That is truly what experiments are all about: dealing with confusion.

Another great part of the day was listening to the experiences and findings of the classmates who worked on different interest groups than me. Groups gave presentations on cloud chambers, measuring cosmic rays, using radio telescopes, and a number of other really fascinating things. Something really exceptional about the presentations was not the data they got (although sometimes, when they came really close to the accepted value that was also neat) but the experimental process that each group preformed, and in some cases designed.

To be completely honest, my favorite part of the presentations was the part where my group got to share our experience with quantum mechanics and electron/photon diffraction. It was a really cool feeling being able to tell a group of people about the data that we collected ourselves and the significance of it, especially because particle/wave duality is such a mind-bending phenomenon that is crazy just to think about, let alone explain. My group faced the challenge quite elegantly and we sat down knowing that each of our peers knew a little bit more about the amazing concept that we could prove with our own data.

After lunch, we went on a tour of the grad labs, which gave me more of an idea of what the field of physics actually looks like than anything we've done in class before. Young students with excited smiles and scraggly beards showed us the equipment they worked with and explained to us why they were interested in the field they were currently researching. It was clear it was a lot of hard, and possibly tedious work, but it was also clear that each of them was genuinely excited about what they were doing and confident that the work they were doing was both significant and completely awesome. It was an environment I can see myself fitting right into.

Our PENNultimate Day

Today was exciting from the start because we began our class with a talk with Rick Vanberg. For the first few minutes I munched on my bagel and listened, but soon his talk became quite captivating. The first thing that Rick talked about was the standard nuclear model for the sun. Based on the observations of nuclear activity on small scales, scientists came up with a model that accounted for the gravity, high pressure, and high nuclear activity in the center of the sun. One problem was that the accepted model at the time predicted a large number of neutrinos would be released for every fusion reaction in the sun.

Because there are so many reactions every second, scientists predicted a certain number of neutrinos per second would hit each meter of the Earth’s surface. To test this model, a scientist filled a large vat full of liquid and then waited for a while. Although the experiment was underground, neutrinos are tiny and have no charge so they very rarely interact with the matter in the way. When the neutrinos strike the liquid, they are absorbed and they change the atom that they strike into a different element. When he took the measurements of the number of neutrinos that he detected, he found that there were only about 28% of the neutrinos that there should be.

To solve this conundrum which either implied that our model of the sun was totally wrong or that we didn’t understand neutrinos, a Russian scientist stepped up to the plate. Communicating through the veil of the Iron Curtain, this scientist published several papers where he claimed that we misunderstood the neutrino. To test this claim, a project called SNOW was developed. Snow basically consisted of a huge neutrino detector built to detect all kinds of neutrinos unlike the past models. To filter out background radiation, SNOW was built 2 kilometers beneath the surface of the Earth in a nickel mine in Ontario. SNOW ended up successfully measuring all of the neutrinos that came from the sun and we learned that the neutrinos were being morphed into other flavors and that the nuclear model of the Sun is actually correct.

Next on our schedule were the student focus group presentations. Each of us spent 4 days last week with our groups researching a subject that we picked. My group studied a non-Newtonian fluid called oobleck which basically means that it is a material that behaves both as a solid and a liquid. The peak of our presentation was on Monday when we used the oobleck in a demonstration. Because oobleck acts a solid when it’s under pressure, each of us could run over it. Today, we showed some graphs of how objects decelerate when they hit oobleck compared to when they hit water. The graphs were neat because you could really see how the oobleck gave away for a moment and then hardened and stopped the incoming solid whereas the water allowed the object to easily pass through. It would be way too much to talk about every other group’s presentation, but they covered many amazing topics such as quantum mechanics and radio astronomy. Each group had a unique perspective to offer and we all learned a lot from each other.

When we returned for lunch, we got to do something pretty interesting. We split into groups and then visited different parts of our building and the one across the street. We got to go into research labs and listen to brief talks by the researchers themselves about what they were working on. The first lab we stepped into was a lab where a grad student and a professor from UC Santa Barbara (WHOO California) were developing technology for better mammograms. Because current mammography methods require the breast to be squished tightly between pressure plates so that the waves could get better images, these researchers were searching for a way to do mammograms with near infrared light. The advantage of this is that the discomfort of the plates could be avoided and therefore more women might show up for their mammograms. I was impressed by how applicable this research seemed and that it truly was for a good cause. We heard many other talks about great stuff like carbon nano tubes and grapheme. These researchers were researching grapheme so that they could manufacture tiny detectors for things such as bomb detection. Overall, I was very impressed by how passionate these researchers were about their areas of study.

I am in shock that tomorrow will be my last day here at UPenn, but who knows; maybe I’ll be able to spend another 4 years here.

Thanks to Alex for capturing Julia's momentary lack of enthusiasm.

The Day is Almost Here...

Today was much less intense than the past couple of days. We began with a lecture from a well known particle physicist, Rick Van Berg. Rick primarily designs detectors for particle physics experiments. He has done a lot of work in the Cern Laboratories in Switzerland, home to the smartest scientists of this age and the best particle accelerator in the world. Lately, he has been working in the SNO facilities in Ontario, Canada. SNO stands for Sudbury Neutrino Observatory and it too is one of the best research facilities in the world. His lecture was actually all about Neutrinos, which is a basic particle that usually travels close to the speed of light, can pass through most matter unaffected, and is electrically neutral. He discussed the origins, discovery, and research of neutrinos and it was all fascinating. For instance, the SNO facilities are basically giant clean rooms, much like facilities in which they produce computer chips in. Professor Van Berg told us that if even a teaspoon of dust were to be introduced to the facility, every project would be ruined. I always find the stipulations that are put on certain research environments interesting. I like seeing all the effort that scientists and researchers are putting in to reduce their possibility for error as much as possible. Professor Van Berg covered one of the more difficult and complex lectures, but his was much more understandable than some of our other lectures.

After lecture, we continued with our presentations. I was very excited to watch these demonstrations because I wanted to see what kind of work my friends and peers had been doing for a week. I was also anxious to see how our data and experiments would stack up against theirs. When it came down to it though, our topic was quite different than most of the other groups’. While most of the other groups were doing experimentation for the majority of the week, we were being given lectures about radio astronomy and the tools used to study it. This was completely understandable though. Although we did not do many experiments, we needed to know how everything worked before we could understand what exactly we were doing before we could actually do it. This really made our presentation stand out because our data section was short, but our general and background information was much more extensive than the other groups’. Mary told us at the beginning of lunch that she though our presentation was a nice change from the rest and that our information was plentiful and well-organized.

Following lunch, we split into four groups to tour different labs around DRL. I didn’t realize that there were so many different kinds of research going on in the DRL. We visited medical labs, cosmology labs, and even soft-condensed matter labs, which deal with matter that has both the properties of liquids and solids. Mostly, we spoke to grad students that were doing research in the lab. They were able to tell us all about the projects they were working on. One of the most interesting projects we saw (in my opinion anyway) was a machine that was being developed that would use near-infrared waves to sense tumors. The research was mostly focused on improving scans for breast cancer, but it was also applicable to scanning other tumors and also brain activity. It was truly amazing work. Of course each of the labs was showcasing the best of what they were working on and each of them told us why their specific field of research was one of the best. It was interesting to hear about the different research styles and opportunities that all of these grad students have. It was even better to hear that undergrads are also allowed to study in these labs and perform research. Our visits to these labs were truly enlightening because it gave me an even better glimpse of what kind of research opportunities I could potentially have in college.

Sample data collected by grads and undergrads

Professor Van Bern discussing ATLAS, another project he worked on

After class, I continued packing a little bit. I’ll finish tomorrow before the room check, but it’s definitely not something that I am looking forward to. Once 6:00 came around, my floor and our RC, Carlos, went out to Bobby’s Burger Palace for a group dinner. Apparently the Bobby, after which this restaurant is named, is THE Bobby Flay. I didn’t realize this until we walked inside and there was a whole section of the counter dedicated to Bobby Flay marinades, spices, and cookbooks. The food was amazing as well. It was just a burger and fries, nothing too extravagant, but it was just so delicious. The burger was cooked to perfection and the fries were perfect. I couldn’t imagine a better way to come together as a floor. We all took a group picture out front, but we only had time for one shot because we had to be back at the quad as a group before a certain time. Unfortunately my camera was not the one used, but my friend and floormate Sachit’s. He will be uploading the picture to Facebook soon and I will be sure to use the shot in my reflection blog.

Everyone approves of Bobby's

We returned to the quad and got as much of the group together as we could. Since this is our last full night here at Penn, we wanted to enjoy our final moments hanging out in our lounge-like dorm. Although Fred, Abheek, and Julia were busy, Alison, Brian, Onur, and I still had a great time. We talked, we laughed, but most importantly we just enjoyed each other’s company. Being together in the dorms and lounges is what I’m going to miss the most about being at Penn. These nights were often the highlights of my days and I will always treasure the moments I’ve had in our little family of seven. The end is near.

One day remains.

A different take on Vettriano...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Unifying Theory

We got right to work today with a morning lecture about nuclear physics from Ryan, one of the very helpful and knowledgeable assistant teachers. The first couple slides were about the history of nuclear energy and the discovery of x-rays. Ryan went on to explain the physics behind alpha decay, beta decay, and gamma radiation (during this part of the presentation, our previous lecture about the standard model came up again and it was necessary to recall the concept of leptons and quarks). The remainder of the lecture was devoted to explanation of applications of radiation that are highly important both within and independent of the realm of physics. We discussed the benefits and waste products of uranium mining, the breakthroughs and limitations of radiation as a cancer treatment, briefly touched on the subject of mass spectrometry and how radiation can be a helpful tool in studying the origins of the universe. Towards the end, the lecture transformed into more of a discussion that was so lively and obviously relevant, that I found myself more engaged than I had been during any previous first-thing0in-the-morning lectures.

After Ryan's talk, we were given a short break to let the information soak in a little and to give us time to prepare for our presentations of the Hershey Park Rides. It was a very different experience hearing from groups of fellow classmates as opposed to professors and teachers. Each group went on a different ride, so the data was unique in that regard, but each team's presentation and analysis of data varied greatly as well. Some groups were able to record videos and sync them to their data, others calculated the resultant total acceleration based on the x, y, and z values they collected. One group even had a three dimensional animation of altitude v. y acceleration v. time. By the end of the day, I had learned a lot from my fellow class mates about creative ways to handle data in a way that makes sense to your particular experiment and goals.

When all the presentations were over and we returned from our lunch break, we prepared for our guest lecture by watching "Elegant Universe", the PBS show on string theory. As I was watching, I realized that I had seen parts of the show before; my fifth grade teacher played if for our class. At that time it had come out only a few months ago. I remembered the movie distinctly because it was a moment in my life when I realized both how incredibly cool science could be, and at the same time, how very little I understood about the complexities of it. Watching the film this time around, I understood many more of the concepts, but the sense of wonder was not lost.

Only moments after watching the program he was quoted in, we got to hear from string theorist Burt Overt himself. He described to us, in much greater detail than the movie, the basic concepts of string theory, the implications that the theory has, why it makes sense in the real world, and the ways in which it can be tested.

The basic definition of string theory is the hypothesis that the smallest components that make up the universe are not particles but tiny strings that vibrate at different frequencies to create different kinds of matter. The mathematical calculations that have been done suggest that such a theory means that there must be 6 other dimensions besides the three spacial dimensions and time. The concept of extra dimensions is a hard one to grasp, but it made more sense to me today than it ever has before when Dr. Ovurt did a demonstration with a rolled up piece of paper. Another implication of string theory he discussed was the concept of supersymmetry, meaning that for every particle, there is a so-called "sparticle" that also exist. These particles have yet to be found because they do not appear in low-energy circumstances, but Ovurt has high hopes that CERN will provide the environment necessary to make significant breakthroughs in the subject.

It was fascinating listening to an expert talk about a field that is at the very outer edges of the scientific frontier. The fact that people in the class asked questions that no one in the world has answers to, but that Ovurt is actively working on discovering was almost too much to comprehend.

After class, we had a few hours to wander campus before we went out to dinner with Mr. Miranda and the Yale chaperone. We ate at City Tavern, a place I had been interested in visiting since our initial tour of the city. The food they serve is all based on the typical cuisine of the taverns of the 18th century that our country's founders used to eat. While we munched on some sweet potato pecan rolls (apparently one of Thomas Jefferson's favorites) we discussed not the past, but the future: our plans for senior year, applying to colleges etc. When dinner was over, we visited an ice cream parlor, a great end to one of my last days here at Penn.

Today Was Truly a Rollercoaster...

Our final days in class seem to be getting more and more complicated. Today we began class with a lecture from Ryan on nuclear physics. The subject material was confusing at first, but he was able to make it accessible. He told us that this was one of the most important topics that is almost never covered in high school physics classes. Since this is an issue that will invariably affect all of our lives. Nuclear reactors and energy has been an issue for several decades and, with the approach of peak oil and the need for alternative energies, will continue to be an issue in the coming years. Since this is a prominent issue, people my age need to be informed of just how nuclear physics works so they can make informed decisions. With that said, I found his lecture to be quite informative. One of the points that Ryan made that I found quite funny was that a plate that one microwaves several times over a long period of time will be more radioactive than a cell phone. Since there is a lot of worry over the radiation given off by cell phones, I found it ironic that people don’t even realize that there is a bigger danger right in front of their noses. This just demonstrates why people need to be informed about nuclear physics. I found that it fit the situation perfectly.

After Ryan’s lecture, we did our presentations on our Hershey Park rides. Our group was the fifth to present (out of eight) and I would say that ours was one of the better presentations. Each of our PowerPoint presentations had their strong suits, whether it was creativity, enthusiasm in the presentation, or being strong in data analysis. One group even produced a 3-D model of their coaster in a graphing application on one of their member’s Mac. All of the groups kept their presentations entertaining as well. The group that was assigned the Great Bear filled their presentation with bear puns (it was almost un-bear-able). I had a great time watching all of the presentations and it made me look forward to the presentations that we will be giving tomorrow.

Our guest lecture followed lunch. Today we were visited by Dr. Burt Ovrut, a string theorist who teaches Theoretical High Energy Physics. String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity and is a contender for the theory of everything, a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system. That was the definition that Dr. Ovrut gave. In layman’s terms, string theory is the theory of how everything in the universe is tied together by basic elements called strings. In his lecture, Dr. Ovrut discussed the possibility of other dimensions that are parallel to ours and are unreachable, different particles that may exist, such as gravitons and sparticles, and even membranes, which separate the dimensions. The lecture was extremely difficult to follow. The pace of the discussion was non-stop and you either had to keep up or get left behind. I would like to understand string theory better someday, but before then I will definitely need to work a lot harder, and I am prepared to take on that task.

After lecture, Brian and I headed back to the dorm. He began his summer assignment for AP Lang and I decided to begin packing so I don’t have to do all of it on Friday afternoon. It was actually kind of sad because I felt like I was taking apart different pieces of the home that I have built over these three weeks. My desk is much cleaner, my closet and drawers are nearly empty, and my suitcase is about half full. I know I will be glad that I started packing today, but when I was taking down the wall mount I had made for my lightsaber, it was quite saddening. It is still hard to believe that I will be returning to California soon.

Around 6:20, we met Mr. Miranda in the office so he could sign us out for dinner. Much to my surprise, we dined with Ms. Nardone again, the Yale chaperone. We ate dinner at an old fashioned restaurant at Penn’s Landing that was set to the theme of an older Philadelphia, around the time of the Founding Fathers. The attire for employees, decorations in the restaurant, and even the meals felt like they were ripped straight out of a history book. I enjoyed the venison medallions with a starter called mushroom toast. The toast was basically just marinated and grilled mushrooms over a piece of bread that was toasted to the consistency of a crouton. It was delicious and almost as good as my entrĂ©e. I had never had venison before this meal, and it is one of the best kinds of meat I’ve ever had. We also got the chance to get to know Ms. Nardone a little bit better thanks to this dinner. She’s a very interesting and knowledgeable person and I think the Yale group is very lucky to have her as a chaperone. After dinner we stopped by an ice cream parlor called the Franklin Fountain. It is the Philadelphia equivalent of Fenton’s in California. The ice cream was truly amazing and I wish we could have gone sooner. The parlor even had a section in the back with shelves full of vintage soft drinks, including bottles of RC Cola, Dr. Pepper, and several brands I had never heard of before. At first I was sad that I would miss the talent show to go have dinner, but I had a great time and I wouldn’t trade it at all.

A true colonial...kind of...

Ice cream in a Chinese take-out box...I approve

When we returned to campus, we had a meeting in the lower quad to discuss our last few days in Summer Discovery. Ed told us that normal rules would still be enforced, even though some people may think that everything is basically over, and that he didn’t want us to be sent home prematurely just because of something stupid that might be done on the last day or penultimate day. He also told us about our check-out procedure and that our rooms need to be clean by 5:00 on Friday afternoon. We were also given an evaluation form to evaluate the program as a whole and even the Summer Discovery staff that we interacted with the most. After that, the night was pretty laid back, which was more than welcome after the mind-boggling guest lecture and traumatizing experience of packing from earlier today.

Two days remain.

Time's Flying

I stepped into class today with a couple of bagels from the campus bakery and took my seat. I’d have to say that today is the first day where it’s really hit me that I have to go home in only a few days. It’s hard to walk anywhere on campus without seeing a few Ben Franklin quotes, and I think one of the ones that has stuck most is, “When the well is dry we know the worth of water.” I’m realizing now that I only have a few days left here so of anything I’ll try to appreciate them more than any of the others instead of whining about it. Anyways, I was in a very receptive mood for Ryan’s lecture on radioactivity and I think I learned a lot from it.

Ryan first discussed the development of what we know about the atom and how we learned it. This stuff was mostly review for me because of my chemistry classes, but it honestly amazes me every time how scientists such as Thomson and Rutherford pieced together an accurate model of the atom while everyone else thought they were crazy at the time. It also impresses me how each of these atomic models built on the last but did not totally discard. Thomson proposed that there were positive and negative charges in the nucleus and Rutherford discovered that the nucleus is actually a dense positive center. This model was improved on by Niels Bohr where he theorized that electrons orbit the nucleus much like planets do the sun. This was later revised, but the ideas of each of these scientists were still kept in some form.

The next part of Ryan’s lecture was talking about the uses of nuclear energy and a few common misconceptions about it. One of the first things he summarized is how a nuclear reactor works. By packing together fuel rods near each other, the excess neutrons from an atom fly out and then hot another atom which produces a couple more neutrons for each one that hit it causing a chain reaction. Then, what surprises a lot of people is that this energy is simply absorbed and used to boil water. From this point on, the power is generated just as it is in any other power plant; the steam is used to drive a turbine which turns a magnet which creates a current.

One of the first misconceptions that Ryan sought to debunk is that many people think of radiation as dangerous and very negative. What many people don’t realize is that radiation also has many applications that are very beneficial to humans when controlled properly. One of the biggest areas radiation is used to benefit humans is in the medical industry. As I believe Ryan pointed out, the acronym MRI is really missing a letter; it should really be NMRI which stands for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging. MRI machines use carefully aimed radiation to get something like an X-ray of your body, but 3 dimensional and with a low dose of radiation. Furthermore, radiation can be very carefully aimed at malignant tumors in the body to kill them before they mestastethize. Although this treatment is not always successful, it can help in some cases and is certainly a good application of radiation.

The day only got better as we got further in, because the next part of our day was about string theory. We watched a brief movie on the fundamentals of string theory, and then talk to one of the leading experts in the field, Burt Ovrut. The fact that Burt truly talked to us and didn’t have a lecture prepared made his talk extremely valuable because we could easily tap his brain about any part of the subject we were interested in. The basic premise of the talk was that string theory proposes that the universe is full of tiny vibrating strings that when struck at different frequencies act as the ‘particles’ we commonly observe. I will avoid trying to dump a huge amount of information here, but the reason that string theory is so important is because it could unify all of physics as we know it. Today, physics is a shattered mess of quantum mechanics, general relativity, and a bundle of different forces. String theory is intriguing because when you work out the complex equations, there are simple solutions to these complicated problems. For example, string theory predicts only one force instead of the gravitational, electric, magnetic, strong, and weak forces as we know them today. As Bill always says, it’s only philosophy until there’s solid evidence, there is little evidence to support string theory today. However, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland may well find evidence for or against sting theory, and guess what college physics program helped develop some of the detectors for the LHC. That’s right, scientists at UPenn helped. It’s very exciting to be around a place where there is so much progress going on.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Traveling at the Speed of Light

Class today was very laid back. We started off the day with our speed of light lab. Since we had already set up our circuits, all that was left to do was line up our laser with a mirror across a dark hall in such a way that it bounced back and hit our second photo receptor just right (the first sensor was placed next to a beam splitter in front of the laser. Both receptors were attached to an oscilloscope so we could determine the delay between the two waves (it came out to about 8 nanoseconds). Because we knew the length that the light had to travel from the first sensor, to the mirror and back to the second sensor, we were able to measure the speed at about 3.4 x 10^8 m/s, which is not too far off the accepted value. We were given two hours to collect our data and make our calculations, but because my group finished early, we had about 30 minutes to kick back before our guest lecture.

It was good we were given that time because after a short break, I was able to give all of my attention to Ken Lande when it was time for his lecture to begin. Dr. Lande spoke to us about the energy crisis, how long our current consumption of petroleum can be sustained, and the effects waste products such as CO2 emissions are having on the environment.

Once he convinced us that an alternate source of energy was necessary, he discussed possible solutions. I was surprised at how inefficient the current sources of green energy are. For instance, in order to power the united states with exclusively solar energy, an area twice the size pf Pennsylvania would need to be covered with solar panels. Even more shocking was the amount of land that would be needed to grow crops for bio fuels to power the country: 1/6 of the area of the United States, which would not leave very much room for agriculture. We also discussed fission reactors, but after the disaster in Japan, people are hesitant to rely on something so potentially hazardous. Additionally, in order to rely on fission reactors for energy, we would need to increase the number of plants we currently have by a factor of five. Dr. Lande maintained that the most promising alternate energy source is wind turbines. Only half a million wind turbines would provide enough energy to free us from our dependence on fossil fuels, which would only cost about $200 million a year (only a fraction of what we spend on automobile gasoline).

I appreciated his lecture for its practicality in the real world, in fact he often teaches classes at Wharton school of Business because there is so much money going into alternate energy sources. No wonder too, it is arguably the most pressing issue the world faces today. Me and Brian discussed its importance and the lecture in depth as we walked to lunch.

When we returned, we were given time to do whatever it was we needed to get done. For me that was working with my Hershey Park group on making a PowerPoint for our presentation tomorrow. We wrote up an analysis, slapped a couple graphs of the data we collected, added a video and called it a day.

After class, I went with a book and read for a while by the coy pond. It was very relaxing and it allowed me to sit back and let time move a little slower for a while. With only three days left, I want to get everything I can out of the time I have.


Yesterday I talked about how building our light-speed measuring device tied together many of the concepts we’ve been learning, but today was even better because we actually operated our device and got values for the speed of light. The first thing we did was to take our laser in the hallway, remove as much light from the hall as possible, and to set our mirror a ways down the hall from our laser. The next step took a lot of fine tuning, because the laser was far away from the mirror which was small, any tiny adjustment to the angle of the laser would throw it feet away from our target, the mirror. After plenty of trial and error we got our laser beam aimed perfectly so that it the beam split in half where one beam immediately entered the oscilloscope and the other beam went down the hall bounced back and then entered the oscilloscope. In order to keep our data as clear as possible, we did several things such as re-concentrating the laser beam onto our sensor after it had hit the mirror and bounced back. Once we got the whole system set up, taking our measurements and understanding what they represented was actually relatively easy.

By reading the time difference between the wave leaving the laser and immediately hitting the oscilloscope and the one that travelled, we had a time measurement for how long the trip down and back the hallway took our light beam. We recorded this data and then measured the distance down the hall and the distance back to our sensor. As I said earlier, the technology we used was complicated, but the idea was simple because all we had to do to calculate our value for the speed of light then was to divide the distance we measured by the time it took to get our speed value which ended up at 3.4*10^8 meters per second. We measured the distance after we got our time values so that we would essentially be doing a ‘blind’ experiment so that we couldn’t change the numbers to better fit the already known value of approximately 3.0*10^8 meters/second. For two days of high school students working, I was quite impressed by how close we got to the actual value. Once again, many thanks to Bill, Ryan, Craig, and Mary for guiding but not pushing us through the experiment.

Once again I was excited to listen to another guest speaker, Dr. Ken Lande. I was particularly excited to listen to him speak because he was speaking about one of the topics I am most interested in – solving our energy problems-. I have had a passion for energy conservation since I was much younger and I changed all the bulbs in our house to compact fluorescents. Ken began his talk by painting the picture of the sad state that American energy supply is in today. Nearly as pressing as the budget deficit deadline, the world is approximately at the date of ‘peak oil’ where the most oil is being extracted per day and the extraction can only decline from here on out. Obviously this is a huge problem, because while our oil supplies are dwindling, our appetite for oil is not. Additionally, climate change has presented a huge need to immediately begin weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels.

While the first part of Ken’s talk was quite frankly depressing because of the seemingly unsolvable crisis of fossil fuels, Ken soon shifted his talk to possible solutions to our energy need. The main possibilities for our energy supply as Ken sees it are photovoltaic panels, solar thermal concentrators, wind turbines, bio-fuels, wind, and nuclear power. I suppose I am biased towards solar energy because I live in California where we have tons of intense sunlight, but Ken presented his best idea as a blend of wind power and nuclear power. He presented a very well-developed argument because we already have the technology to make millions of wind turbines, and wind is also a close second to fossil fuels such as coal economically. While it’s a painful reality to face, it’s important to realize that all change in the world is driven by economics, so the fact that wind is comparable in price to fossil fuels makes it very appealing compared to solar which costs nearly 3 times as much as coal. Additionally, Ken argued for nuclear power because although it isn’t renewable, we have a massive amount of energy that we can harvest from uranium and plutonium. Although nuclear power is currently frowned on because of the meltdowns in Japan, there are much safer reactor designs that are possible, and either way nuclear energy is a must because the problems of climate change and literally running out of fossil fuels will force alternatives. Additionally, Ken pointed out that for the number of deaths associated with mining for fossil fuels compared to those from nuclear meltdowns, nuclear is safer. In a sense, the stigma associated with nuclear power vs. coal is like that of airplanes vs. car crashes. Although the deaths due to car travel per mile are literally orders of magnitude higher than those for plane travel per mile, people make a bigger deal out of plane crashes because they are so conditioned to accept car crashes but plane crashes happen rarely and are therefore a big deal. I don’t mean in any way to say that nuclear meltdowns are a small matter, but based on the safety statistics and energy demand, it is a good alternative.

I was very impressed by Ken’s lecture and the thoughtful questions that my fellow students asked. I have been interested in this field for a long time, and today only wet my appetite more.

Speed of Light Confirmed

We got it working! Our contraption that we had hoped would measure the speed of light actually worked this morning. Well, I shouldn’t say that WE got it working. Apparently the same problems that were occurring with our apparatus were also present in several other groups. Because of this, Bill and the TAs stayed after class several hours yesterday to diagnose and fix the problems with our machines. Apparently the problem was with the scanning range of our oscilloscopes. This was a relief because it meant that we did not cause the problem. Once we did the final checks on our circuits and oscilloscope, we moved our cart with our apparatus on top into the hall. We had to place the laser and light-receiving diode at one end of the hall and put a mirror far enough away so that we could get a decent measurement. We placed our mirror about fifteen meters away from the laser. Once we had everything aligned correctly, which actually took a while because the laser was so small and the mirror was so far away, we began taking our measurements. We measured the wavelength of the laser at two points: one about two centimeters away from the tip of the laser and the other at the diode when the light was bounced back by the mirror. The oscilloscope showed us both wavelengths on different channels so we could find two peaks in the wavelengths and measure the time between the peaks. Our first time was about two-hundred nanoseconds, which means that is how long it took for the light to go from the laser to the diode. We divided the distance traveled by the light by the time it took for the light to travel that distance, because velocity is distance divided by time, and our answer was not what we were looking for. Our results actually told us that the laser was travelling at twice the speed of light. After much trial and error, we asked Ryan what we could have possibly done wrong and he told us that there was too much noise in our data. He helped us get a stronger focus on the wavelengths of the oscilloscope and once he did that, the rest was easy. We found two peaks, measured the time, and came to the correct result, 3*10^8 . Well, we actually got 3.06*10^8, but the difference is negligible. Ryan actually did not believe us when we told him that our measurements were not that close to the actual result. Apparently other groups were getting results around 3.20*10^8 or 2.8*10^8, which is understandable because there are several errors that could occur. We did it though. We measured the speed of light.

Believe it or not, that's a tape measure...a deadly tape measure...

Bill helps us with our oscilloscope

After our lab, we were given a lecture by Penn professor Dr. Ken Lande. Dr. Lande focuses his research in experimental astrophysics and the investigation of fusion energy. His lecture was one of the most interesting yet. He discussed the energy crisis and the different options we have in fighting it. According to Dr. Lande, our options for alternative energies include photo-voltaic solar light converters, solar thermal concentrators, wind turbines, bio-fuels, and nuclear power. The most viable solution of these choices at the moment is the implementation of wind turbines. This is because they are cheap to produce and construct (relative to the other choices) and they are the most efficient form of capturing natural energy. I was very interested to hear about what Dr. Lande said about the best form of alternative energy was because I had to debate that very topic three years ago in Forensics. He also discussed the use of nuclear power, primarily fission reactors. The US has only one-hundred and two fission reactors that we use for twenty percent of our energy needs. France has many more reactors and supplies 70% of its energy needs using fission. It is astonishing how politics can get in the way of what could possibly end one of the most significant issues of the century, certainly of my lifetime. I asked Dr. Lande about the use of IFRs (Integral Fast Reactors) and whether they were more or less safe and about their efficiency after the lecture. He told me that this style of fission reactor was incredibly efficient and was proven to be safe, but because of the political climate and decisions made around the ‘70s the project was put on hold indefinitely (thank you SO much former President Carter). I enjoyed Dr. Lande’s lecture very much and it was clear that Bill had been saving one of the best for last.

Dr. Lande presents a possible solution to the crisis

After our guest lecture and lunch, Brian, Julia, Mike, and I met back at DRL to begin our PowerPoint presentation on the Sooperdooperlooper, the roller coaster we had to analyze during our time at Hershey Park. We did not finish the PowerPoint at the labs because Mike had to commute back home and we preferred to finish at the dorms. We decided to include some history on the ride and a detailed description of what riders experienced while on the coaster. In addition to these, we had to type up descriptions of the physics behind the ride, which is the real meat of the presentation. We conclude our presentation with our graph data on the different accelerations of the carts as well as the altitude throughout the ride. Following our graphs, we will show the video we took of the ride, even though the protective bar on the cart obscures most of the view. Due to the low quality of our video, we also included a link to the YouTube video that shows the ride from a first-person point of view. The video is much better than ours and I think it will be a great way to conclude the presentation. I have a lot of confidence in our presentation as well as the data we will be presenting.

After putting the finishing touches on our PowerPoint, I headed down to a large field near the DRL to play in what was supposed to be the staff vs student ultimate Frisbee game. This wasn’t exactly how it played out because there were only three RCs. It was still a great game, regardless, and I definitely had a lot of fun. I even got to know a couple of the RCs better that I had not had the opportunity to meet previously. I also surprised myself in this game because I was a lot more useful to the team than I usually am. Usually I just hang around the other team’s goal, unnoticed by the other team for the first few goals of the game, and wait for my teammates to get the Frisbee. I can usually get a few goals this way because I am relatively open and already near the goal while everybody on the other team has to run back to play defense. Instead, I was much more mobile in this game. Although throwing was still my Achilles heel, I was playing more offensively by intercepting and blocking throws, in addition to my usual strategy. It was a great game concluding game of ultimate Frisbee and I will miss playing such a fun game with my Penn peers.

The rest of the night was basically just spent lounging around the dorm. Fred, Onur, Alison, Brian, and I were all quite tired from our intense game of Frisbee so we did not feel like doing much of anything. We all sat around in my dorm listening to music, sharing our favorite videos on YouTube, and playing a game called QWOP. In this game, you control an Olympic runner and you have to control his thighs and calves using the Q, W, O, and P buttons in order to make him run. It is nearly impossible to control the runner, but it is incredibly entertaining to watch. We also ordered Insomnia Cookies and had them delivered to the dorm. It was quite the evening, even though we didn’t do much of anything. We just enjoyed each other’s company.

Three days remain.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Maximizing the amount of sleep I get lately has been one of my top goals. Last night I got plenty of sleep and felt energetic and ready to head to class. I grabbed a quick breakfast to eat on my way/in class and then walked over to our class with Alex because Julia had already left. Alex and I were a little early today, so I had time to say hello to my friend Mikael before class began. Today was unique because Bill tied together many of the ideas we have been studying in the last few weeks into one large goal for the next couple of days – measuring the speed of light-.

To be a bit more specific, over the last several weeks, we have studied mechanics, optics, learned to use oscilloscopes and many other neat things. These topics are being united in a way because measuring the speed of light we will need to use our knowledge that we gained here to put together a device that is essentially a laser that sends out a beam of light that we split, reflect, and carefully time how long the pulse takes to return to our oscilloscope which we learned how to use last week.

To be honest, actually walking into the lab and seeing the dozens of wires and pieces of equipment that we had to hook together I felt like we wouldn’t be able to actually create the device that we needed to. With some excellent teamwork we actually managed to put together several of the circuits before we asked for help. Our teachers all have a nice approach to helping us where they try to steer us in the right direction and only interfering if we’re totally stuck. Today, Mary helped us several times when the wiring diagrams got a little overwhelming or we otherwise got stuck. I was very grateful for her help as well as Bill and Ryan’s and sooner than we expected we had constructed our light-speed measuring apparatus.

Next up, we were lucky to get to hear from another one of Penn’s faculty, Dr. Phil Nelson. Something that I’ve found great about the UPenn faculty we’ve gotten to listen to is that while they are very well educated and deeply into very specific research, they have all been excellent speakers as well. Phil spoke today about light and color. The first thing that he did was demonstrate how our eyes combine colors to make other colors. He showed us a pure yellow slide (which he proved was only yellow by shining it through a prism) and then showed us how he could overlap a red slide and a green slide to create an identical looking yellow. However, the mixed yellow could be separated back out into red and green. Then Phil began to throw some questions at us, why do our brains combine these colors instead of sorting them out? Can electronics make superior vision? And what are the applications of this knowledge?

Phil began to answer his first question by speaking about a man named Thomas Young. Young made many very accurate predictions about color and our eyes almost 200 years before his hypotheses could be confirmed. Perhaps the most consequential hypothesis that Young made is that the response of the photoreceptors in our eyes to light is equal to the Intensity times the Sensitivity. Thus our photoreceptors must sacrifice some clarity in order to be sensitive to a wider range of colors. For evolutionary reasons, humans have evolved to have three different types of photoreceptor cells that each specialize in decoding what we call red, green, and blue light. Because these photoreceptors are tuned to these colors, our brains must guess when something is in between these colors and that is where the red and green look yellow. Our brains see that the red and green photorecetors are reporting the same amount of light and ‘average it’ to yellow. Phil then talked about the many applications of this knowledge. Perhaps the most obvious is that LCD and Plasma screens each use different combinations of red, green, and blue light to make every color they display. The other applications are countless, and once again I was impressed by how articulate and relevant Phil was.

In the afternoon, it was time for my group to present what we have been working on for the last several days. As a brief synopsis, we have been experimenting (playing) with a mixture of cornstarch and water called oobleck. Oobleck is classified as a non-Newtonian fluid because it behaves as a fluid when you move something slowly through it, but it behaves as a solid when you quickly try to move through it. This has some interesting results, because you can slowly sink your hand into it and it’ll get wet and covered in oobleck, but if you punch it as hard as you can you’ll probably end up breaking your knuckles. Today, my group displayed these properties by making four huge tubs of oobleck and then having the entire class run across the surface. Watching them do this was a bit of a cruel natural selection process because the faster students made it out unscathed while those who hesitated sank in and then had to struggle to get out.

Overall, today was a lot of fun because I worked hard with my group in the morning and overcame obstacles, I enjoyed hearing another incredible lecture, and I had fun making a mess in the afternoon.

Oh, and my favorite thing that Bill said today was about how earning a PhD is beneficial, “By learning everything about something, you learn something about everything.” I don’t know if my educational interests will take me in the direction of a PhD, but I thought that quote really summed the idea of a PhD up nicely.

Man-made Quicksand in the Rain

Even though it had only been three days, while I was walking to class it felt like it had been a very long time since I had last been in the DRL (David Rittenhouse Labs). Today’s class was challenging, to say the least. We began class with Bill explaining how exactly we are going to measure the speed of light. In order to measure the speed of light, we will split a pulsed laser beam right at the tip of a laser pointer. Half of it will signal one channel on our oscilloscope. The other half of the beam will travel the length of the room and will be returned by a mirror. A lens will focus the returning beam on a photodiode that is connected to the second channel on our oscilloscope. The separation between Channel 1 pulse and the Channel 2 pulse indicates the time taken by light for the round trip. That doesn’t sound too complicated, right? In practice, however, it is pretty confusing. In order to get all of the apparatuses set up, a series of circuits have to be made, certain wires have to be connected in just the right places, and all of the pieces have to come together and work in unison so an accurate measurement can be obtained.

As Bill went through the procedure in his lecture, it seemed easy enough to follow, but this was not the case when we had to assemble everything. Progress was slow. We managed to get the laser working, but after that we were having trouble making our circuits. Thankfully Ryan, one of the TAs, was able to point us in the right direction and we were able to get everything connected so that it should have worked. However, it did not work for some reason. We spent the rest of our time in the lab making adjustments to the oscilloscope and our circuits, but to no avail. Before we could find the correct arrangement, it was time for our guest lecture. We will have to figure out our problem(s) tomorrow in class. Thankfully we get two days to do this lab.

Our guest lecturer was Dr. Phil Nelson, who is a part of Penn’s Nano-Bio Interface Center, and the Institute for Medicine and Engineering. His lecture was about light and its erratic behavior. The lecture was actually half bio-physics, half optics. He began by combining different colors of light and splitting white light into a rainbow by using a prism, but as the lecture continued he began talking about how our eyes and brain perceive colors. He explained that color is of vital importance our survival because it is a major factor in how we identify things in our environment. He also said that our eyes omit a lot of information and that they only pick up certain spectral colors. What I found the most interesting was his discussion of photons. He told us that photons arrive at random, no matter how hard we try to make a steady light. Their average rate corresponds to what we think of as brightness. In class, we have mostly been referring to light as a wave. We have acknowledged that it was also a particle, but this was the first time that we had every really analyzed light in that respect.

Phil Nelson discussing the interaction of different spectras of light

After lunch, we returned to the labs for the most fun part of the day. The ooblek group was finally going to get to show off what they have been learning for the past week by preparing small pools of the mixture. They prepared four tubs of the muck and, when it was all ready, they had people run across it. Most of the class ran across, save about eight or so people, and it was very fun to watch. I didn’t run because I was taking pictures and videos for almost the entire time, but it was fun nonetheless. Some decided to just run across, while others just walked across to see what it would be like to try to get out of quicksand, which is basically what ooblek is. We spent the entire second half of class outside the DRL playing in ooblek and it was one of our best sessions in class thus far.


Brian helps Bill mix the ooblek

After class, Onur, Brian, Julia, and I returned to the dorm and began our PowerPoint presentation on Newton’s Law of Cooling. It was actually easier than I had anticipated. We already knew everything we needed to know about the law, so we just had to organize our thoughts, data, and pictures. We finished preparing the presentation in about an hour. Now we just have to decide who will be covering which part(s) of the presentation and rehearse our information. I am confident that we will be able to do this with little difficulty.

A quick dinner was next on our agenda. Onur, Fred, Brian, and I headed over to the commons, while Julia went to go play squash with Abheek. When Onur and I exited the commons (Brian and Fred left dinner early to go to the gym), we discovered that it was raining. This was different rain than what we have been getting though. This rain actually fell for a good hour, maybe more! I am unsure of the exact time, but I do know that it was very refreshing and it got rid of the humidity in the air. It was actually such a welcome occurrence that Onur, Abheek, Julia, and I hung out in the middle of quad for the duration of the rain. It reminded Abheek of his home in London, just as much as it reminded me of rain back home in the Bay Area. It was a nice change, especially after that massive heat wave last week.

The rest of our evening was spent lounging in our dorm. Fred and Onur hung out for a while and we watched funny YouTube videos while we listened to music over Onur’s speakers. We are all well aware that our time together is getting shorter. Fred even began packing up clothes that he didn’t think he was going to wear in the next four days. It is sad to think about the fact that our family will be disbanding so soon, but our strong friendships and memories of the fun times that we have had over the past three weeks will make it easier to deal with. I look forward to the next few days, both because of class and the last few nights with friends. Tomorrow is another day, and I’m ready to face it, even if it means dealing with that confounded contraption we are using to measure the speed of light. On that note, good evening.