Friday, July 8, 2011

Bowling Ball Broom-Pushing: The New Olympic Sport

Today, class was the most interesting day of the course so far (of course it was also the day I forgot my camera, so apologies for the lack of photos today).

It started out with a really cool demonstration about refraction index. First, Bill placed a beaker of water in a larger beaker of water and we noted that we could still see the edges of the beaker. However, when he filled the two with corn oil, we found that the smaller beaker virtually disappeared. He explained to us that this was because light moves through corn oil at the same speed it moves through plexiglass, so no refraction occurs and the boundaries between the materials are difficult to detect. The demonstration gave us a physical experience that we could couple with the formulaic information we got yesterday. Bill thinks it's really important for us to not only memorize formulas but to experience the physical phenomenon we are learning about first hand.

He went on to describe the superposition of waves and the way we can use those laws to determine that light acts as a wave. We then quickly went into the lab where we used those laws to determine the wavelength of the red light of our laser was. It was exciting because we were able to get results fairly close to the accepted value.

But it was after all this (and lunch) that the fun really began. We all got in a bus and drove to the Simeone Foundation Museum, home to over 100 million dollars worth of exotic racing cars. Once there, before going on the tour, we did a "lab" investigating inertia and centripetal force. We used a broom to push bowling balls around on a number of different tracks, trying to get the fastest times. The first was just a straight track. The challenge was accelerating the ball constantly, but also knowing when to begin decelerating in order to successfully stop it at the end. We discovered that it can be quite difficult to change an object's path if it has a lot of inertia (a 12 pound ball for instance).

The next track was circular and the ball was rolled toward it with a fair amount of speed. Time was not an issue for this track but rather the broomer's ability to keep the ball on track. In order to do this, one had to continually apply a force in the direction of the center of the circle. After these two labs, "inertia" and "centripetal force" became actual tangible concepts, not simply memorised definitions.

The final track was really just for fun. We broke up into our lab groups, each with four people and pushed our bowling balls around a track with plenty of twists, turns, and hard right angles, one at a time in relay-race fashion. The team with the fastest time and the least number of deviations from the track won. My lab group came in 4th out of 8 (not too shabby). It was loads of fun to see classmates start to get legitimately competitive about it.

After the times were recorded, Bill gave us a tour of the museum (he had been there so many times, he knew it by heart). The cars were arranged in more or less chronological order, starting in about 1905 and dating all the way up to the 70's. He pointed out to us the changes in design in tire size, width, and tread pattern (early tires were simply imprinted with the words "non skid"). We also looked at the development of suspension, which, in race cars serves the purpose not of comfort but of keeping the wheels on the ground. Design changes made to the body of the car for aerodynamic purposes was also very interesting. Not to mention, the cars themselves were beautiful. They could be considered works of art. In fact, one of the cars was one of only two like it and the other is now on display in the Louvre. It was truly an amazing museum.

When we returned home, it was raining like crazy. So much so that our trip to the art museum was cancelled, so instead they took us to watch a slightly immature movie. I was a little disappointed, but I still enjoyed myself and the counselors promised us a reschedule. After the movie and our nightly chill-sesh in the lounge, I got to bed to get some rest for tomorrows trip to New York City.

1 comment:

  1. Julia,

    We always said that you were a smart person. As soon as I saw your blog the exact same instant I thought to myself: Why won't she put photos in her blog?

    Bu you smartly explained that away in the first line by telling me you had forgotten your camera. So today you get a pass.

    This is a nice blog, Julia, but when you tell us that you saw an immature movie and don't tell us the title we have to think you're just teasing us. End the suspense and tell us what the movie's title was and why it was immature.