Monday, July 18, 2011

Black Holes Burn Bright

Week three of Summer Discovery at Penn has begun. We began class today with Craig lecturing about modern physics and relativity. He told us that modern physics is when the perspective of physics changed completely. The lecture today was half history and half concept. First he discussed how Einstein questioned some of the basic principles about light and time. Craig explained that the laws of physics are the same for all observers moving at steady speeds with respect to each other. He also said that before modern physics, people believed that time was a universal constant. Einstein proved that light, not time, is the universal constant and that time is relative. This transitioned into the conceptual lesson of the day, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the resulting equation E=mc^2, where E is energy, m is mass, and c is the speed of light. I really like Craig’s style of lecturing. He’s very energetic and he teaches almost as if he’s telling a story, which makes it very engaging. All of the TAs have great lecture styles, but I think Craig’s is my favorite.

After lecture, we watched a documentary called BLAST, which was about a Penn cosmology professor, Mark Devlin, and his research into other galaxies. He and his team constructed a telescopic satellite, which they launched from Antarctica, and were able to capture photos of distant galaxies. Eventually, the satellite crash-landed, but the data survived, so it was still a success. Our guest lecture was interesting as well, especially since it was given by the same professor that we just watched a documentary on! Mr. Devlin told us that BLAST stood for Balloon-borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope. He also mentioned that if you want funding from NASA, you need your project to have a good acronym (which if you think about it seems to be the case). He told us a lot about cosmology and explained some of the phenomena that are occurring in the nearby galaxies. For instance, the Whirlpool Galaxy is currently colliding with one of its neighboring galaxies. He also explained that the universe is a fluid that is coalescing and being drawn together. However, the most interesting tidbit of information he gave us was that black holes are some of the brightest things in the cosmos because of all the matter they suck in, which in turn gives off light and energy. He gave a fascinating lecture.

After lunch, we returned to class and were assigned new groups for this week’s lab work. I was mistaken before when I said that this week would be dedicated to studying Newton’s Law of Cooling. Instead, we were put into groups based on what we chose when given a choice of five topics to research. I was hoping to study Ooblek, which is a mixture of corn starch and water that changes properties depending on how force is applied to it, but I was given my second choice, radio telescopes. I am glad I was given radio telescopes though because I am one of the few groups who has the opportunity to study with another Penn professor. My group, which consists of Onur, Berke Tezcan, Faith Waldron, Danielle Ziaja, and Shreya Jain, will be studying under James Aguirre. James has been a professor at Penn for a number of years and recently returned from researching in South Africa. Unfortunately, we did not have time to discuss this at great length, but I plan to ask him about it at some point this week. He gave us a brief introduction to studies involving radio telescopes and we even did a mini-experiment using one he had in the lab. A couple of the advantages to using a radio telescope over a visual one are that you can measure things such as temperature and electrical properties with them. He demonstrated this by observing a fluorescent lightbulb using a telescope he constructed using a Direct TV satellite he hooked up to a frequency scanner and oscilloscope. All the craftsmanship and ingenuity I’ve seen here thus far has really inspired the scientist within me. Today we had a great session with James and I look forward to working with him and the rest of my group as the week progresses.

After class, Onur and I ran to the Penn bookstore and I helped him pick out some music. I let him listen to a couple of my favorite bands on my phone and he actually bought one of the CDs I recommended. Hooray for cultural sharing! I only wish I understood Turkish so I could listen to his music too. Once we left the bookstore, we made our way back to the quad so we could go to the Penn Admission Information Session. This meeting was a great way for prospective students to learn about Penn. The speaker gave an extensive speech about how applying to apply to Penn She then opened the floor to questions. Most of the information was basic stuff and I already knew a lot of it, but I was still able to glean some more information about test scores and other details about the application process. I took extensive notes so anyone who is interested can learn a little more about Penn.

· When you apply to Penn, you apply to one of four schools: the College of Arts and Sciences, the Wharton School of Business, the School of Engineering, or the School of Medicine.

· For the School of Engineering, there is a graduation requirement that all students in that school must design something. The idea is to create something (anything really) that shows ingenuity and innovation using what one has learned as an engineer.

· Each of the schools has its own core curriculum.

· In the application process, Penn reviews GPA/class rank, transcripts/rigor of courses, test scores (ACT/SAT I and II), and extracurriculars.

· Penn values well-rounded students AND well-lopsided students, as long as lopsided students are heavily invested in an area of their interest.

· Penn IS NOT a score choice school, which means they ask for all of your test scores, no matter what the score.

· Penn requires the SAT I and two SAT II Subject Tests OR the ACT with writing.

· The median SAT score is around 2000-2200 and the median ACT composite score is around 32-33.

· Interviews are not required, but they help.

· Penn has many study abroad programs (none were listed specifically, but I’m sure the information can be found at Penn’s website).

This is only the tip of the iceberg regarding admission to Penn, so for anyone interested in applying, I strongly recommend checking out the Penn website or contacting an Admissions Official via phone or email (they love it when you do!).

The rest of our night was spent relaxing and talking about our respective days. Since Brian was assigned the Ooblek group, I had a lot of questions about what kind of experiments he would be doing. Today was another excellent way to start off the week, and I am looking forward to my studies. My only regret is that my time at Penn becomes less and less as the days pass. I just have to make my remaining days count, and that is certainly what I plan to do.

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