Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bill Berner Teaches Physics...and Defies it...

Today was another excellent day. Our breakfast group was much smaller than yesterday because people are starting to flesh out their own unique schedules for waking up, getting meals, exercising, etc. It was only Brian, Fred, and I today, but we had an enjoyable meal nonetheless. Even though I only met Fred a few days ago, I feel like I have known him for much longer and we have become great friends already. Even though we are in different classes, we hang out every day. After a brief breakfast, Brian and I met Julia and the three of us walked to class.

Today’s class continued our discussions on mechanics and optics. These two topics are the theme of this week. Bill began today’s lecture with a very brief discussion on why we needed to see physics principles instead of just studying them. He used optics as an example by making a connection between his lecture on virtual images and how a mirror works. He stood on top of a table where he set up a waist-high mirror. He put one leg on each side of the mirror and explained that his “right leg” was a virtual image because it was just a reflection of his left leg, but it looked like it existed behind the mirror. He then defied physics by suspending himself above the ground…kind of. He picked up his left leg by grabbing his pant leg and it made it look like he was floating. Bill is very good at making class entertaining and making sure that we are aware of real world connections. He told us that this is why we do not get credit for this class. He wants us to do science, not play the game for a grade. He won’t be giving us tests because he feels that would change the dynamic of the class from something that should be a wonderful experience. It is rare to find people that are this devoted to education and I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity to learn from such an individual. After his quick demonstration, Bill continued to lecture on mechanics. Today’s lecture started as more review because we went over Newton’s Laws of Motion and forces. Later in the day when we returned to optics, all the information was new again. Bill expanded upon his lecture involving lenses from yesterday by discussing telescopes and the different ways that different lenses can work together to produce an image. I’m finding the material confusing at first, but I am able to grasp it thanks to how thorough Bill’s lecturing is and thanks to help from my lab partners. That was basically what our lectures consisted of today.

After each of the lectures, we had labs. The first lab involved measuring the acceleration of a small platform with an adjustable cardboard sail across rails being propelled by a fan. The purpose was to notice trends in the data. Unfortunately, we had to work so fast that we did not have time for group data analysis. We will have to review it by ourselves and discern the meaning(s) of the data upon reflection later. The second lab had several parts to it. First, we had to construct a telescope using with two lenses and different pieces of tubes that we were given. The goal was to read a fortune cookie message at the end of a five foot long tube. Everybody in my group was able to see it except for me. Apparently this was expected because everybody has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their eyes. It also takes a different arrangement of lenses to make something visible for different people in a lot of cases. The other part of the lab involved creating an image on a screen using several different kinds of lenses. This part of the lab was relatively easy because all we had to do was arrange the lenses in the right order and at the right distance to get them to create an image. I thoroughly enjoy Bill’s labs.

After class, Brian and I returned to our dorm to drop off our things and hang out for about an hour. At 5:00, we went to dinner with Abheek and Fred so we would be back in time (5:45) for the sponsored “Kmart Run.” There were about fifty of us total. Four RC’s were in charge of the entire group while we were given free roam in the store to grab whatever items we needed. I bought several things, such as a flat of water, another pillow, and laundry detergent. Brian and I also purchased a couple of plastic lightsabers, just for fun. We clipped them to our belt loops and several people turned their heads or got some good laughs out of them, ourselves included. After we got back, Brian, Julia, Alison, Onur, Fred, Abheek, Richard, and I sat in the quad for a couple of hours just talking and having some fun. I find that these are the perfect ways to unwind after the day. Our friendships are all so new, but we all feel very close to each other. Spending group time together is quite the way to finish the day. I look forward to what new experiences await me tomorrow (other than watching 127 Hours).

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