Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dinner With the Dean

Today I woke up full of energy because I went to bed at 10 yesterday, so I got a good 9 hours of sleep. With Alex and Fred, I walked over to the dining hall quickly because I was very hungry. Today, I decided to have the French toast and potatoes which I’ve found quite delicious in the past. We then strolled through the campus and talked a little about how our different research groups were going.

When we got to class, Bill began to teach us a bit about the relationship between magnetism and electricity. We learned how when there is a magnetic field that it generates an electric field and when there is an electric field that it generates a magnetic field. Bill was quick to give us examples of applications of this relationship. The most prominent example was the electric motor. By coiling a spool of wire in a circle and running electricity through it, you can turn a wheel with permanent magnets in it that turns whatever you want it to. While I can grasp theoretical material fairly well, it helps me a lot to think about applications of theory which is one of the things I have enjoyed most about the program here.

After a brief introduction, Bill introduced his fellow Penn faculty member, Doug Smith. The first thing that hit me about Doug was that he absolutely knew what he was talking about and is literally one of the top researchers in neuroscience, but that he delivered his talk without any air of conceit and with a down to Earth form of communication. It takes a special kind of person to be the top in your field but still be willing and even enthusiastic to take time out of your day to talk to high schoolers. Doug was absolutely that type of person, so I enjoyed his talk a lot because he presented it understandably without really dumbing it down. The main focus of Doug’s talk was about Traumatic Brain Injury or T.B.I. for short. Doug presented some scary statistics about T.B.I. and then began to talk about the many causes of it and the various degrees of severity.

One of the most common forms of brain injury is concussion. While many people including myself before Doug’s lecture believe a concussion to be when your brain hits your skull and you go unconscious, Doug presented a different definition. Doug said that even when you don’t become unconscious, any sort of blow to the head that makes you feel woozy is extremely serious and should be considered a concussion. One of Doug’s most important points was to those of us that play contact sports. He said that repeated concussion can lead to very serious brain damage in the short term, and can triple or more your chances of getting brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s later in life. Doug expressed very strongly that he believes regulations for sports players on returning to the field after concussion need to be strengthened significantly. Finally, Doug talked about one myth that he wanted to debunk for all of us, that roller coasters can cause brain damage. In a typical example of how the free press can cause issues if unregulated, Doug talked about how one article that said roller coasters might cause brain damage spread rapidly through reputable news sources. Doug then proceeded to show us numbers about the accelerations on roller coasters and more importantly the side to side strain on your neck which is known to be sensitive to acceleration. Even in the most extreme roller coasters, accelerations were nearly 50 times below the threshold of causing brain damage. Thus, Doug taught me to be very weary of signs of concussion, but to also be skeptical about sensational news articles that only site one article.

This evening was also quite a pleasure. After I got spiffed up with my suit on, Alex, Julia, and I headed over to the Sheraton Hotel to meet with our fellow ILC members from the Yale program. The three members of the Yale program; Tom, Dyana, and Matt were all very friendly and engaging. Tom and I go to the same school and know each other well, so it was a pleasure seeing each other. Dyana and Matt were also very friendly and we enjoyed talking about college and just life in general. Our main guest of the evening was Joaquim Hamilton who is an assistant dean of admissions for Swarthmore College. Joaquim was interesting because he was open about how he went through the process of getting into college and he contrasted it with what students go through today. I found that he was very open about what Swarthmore had to offer, and what it did not. Overall, the dinner was pleasant and I had an excellent evening.

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