Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Electrodynamics By Any Other Name Would Not Sound As Sweet...

Today was exciting. In class, we covered magnetism, one of my favorite topics from my high school physics class. Bill began by telling us that magnetism actually has another name, but it is not often associated with magnetism and electricity. The proper name for these topics is electrodynamics. He continued by going over the basics of electrodynamics, such as the poles of magnets and also about magnetic fields. We also learned that the Earth’s magnetic field is constantly shifting. Once we covered the basics of poles in magnets, Bill showed us something amazing. He showed us a black liquid he called Farrow Fluid. This fluid was extraordinary because it behaved just like any other liquid at room temperature, but it reacted to magnets. The fluid was placed in a Teflon bottle and two strong magnets were placed against the outside of the bottle. When the magnets were close to the liquid, it would gather around where the magnet was on the outside of the bottle. I had never seen any kind of reaction like this so I was instantly interested. After Bill astounded us, he told us about the “Right Hand Rule”, which states that electrical current flows through a wire in the direction that one’s right thumb points along that wire and then rotates in the direction of one’s curled right hand fingers. Bill packed a lot of principles of magnetism in our short lecture, but it was all very clear and easily accessible.

The amazing Farrow Fluid...

After lecture, we were given the chance to look at our data from Hershey Park. It took a while for us to get started because we spent a long time searching for our video of the ride in the Dropbox server. Mary had separated all of our data and videos into different folders, which were labeled by the names of our respective rides. Our folder had our data, but not the video. She told us it was likely that it had been misplaced in another group’s folder. We searched for a very long time before it was suggested that we just check the cameras. Our video was still on the camera that we used, but it had not been uploaded to Dropbox. This was only a minor setback though and we were still able to synchronize our video with the data and get all four recorded values from the roller coaster on one graph. In fact, despite the hiccup in the beginning, we finished before several other groups.

When we got back to class, we discovered that our guest lecturer had arrived. We quickly sat down and waited for the other groups to finish with their data. Today’s guest lecture was all about biophysics. Doug Smith, a doctor who works in the Penn Department of Neurosurgery, lectured us about the dangers, or lack thereof, of getting brain damage from roller coasters. He began by telling us that 1.7 million people experience brain damage annually around the world. Of all those instances of brain damage, only fifty unsubstantiated cases of traumatic brain injuries (or TBI) have been the cause of roller coasters over the past few decades. He told us that, at their peaks, roller coasters have about 4-6 G’s of G-Force, which is not threatening to our bodies at all compared to the 8-10 G’s that we experience when we hop off of steps or “plop into chairs.” Essentially, we are more likely to experience brain damage from sitting down in a chair too forcefully rather than from the whiplash of roller coasters. It has been concluded from several studies, by Dr. Smith and many of his peers, that there is no significant public health risk regarding brain damage and roller coasters. The only exception is if one has prior brain damage before getting on the ride. I found this fascinating because I have always been a little wary of roller coasters because of how violent many of them seem. Now I know that these fears are irrational and I can start getting over my fears of certain coasters.

Doug Smith lectures on the biophysics of our brains.

After lunch we returned to our special interest groups from yesterday. My group made its way down to James’s lab in the basement and we began our work. Today was actually more focused on questions rather than experimentation or demonstrations. Yesterday we observed the basics of how radio telescopes operate, but today we asked James a lot of questions about radio waves and how they are applied in recording data about subjects of observation. We actually spent about half of our time with James asking questions. I feel fortunate for being placed in the radio telescope group because James can answer any kind of question we throw his way and he is interesting to listen to. The other half of our time with James was spent discussing how radio waves are used in cables and wires. We also discussed how and why they are used to transmit information. Unfortunately we had to cut today’s session short because James had an appointment. However, we still have three days to study in the radio telescope lab and I cannot wait to learn more.

My special interest lab professor, James Aguiree

After our session, I ran to the AT&T Store to pick up a wall charger for my phone and then returned to the dorm. Brian arrived about half an hour after I did. We discussed our respective special interest groups for quite a while. I have to say that I am jealous of his studies with ooblek, but I am enjoying my studies as well. I had the chance to look at a sample of ooblek earlier today. It acted just as we had been told it would; the substance was soft and thick when small amounts of pressure were applied, but it hardened when large amounts of pressure were applied. We hung out for a while, waiting for the time to come when we would have to get dressed to go to dinner. At 6:20, we started to get ready so we could meet Mr. Miranda in the Summer Discovery office at 6:45. Signing out went smoothly and the three of us even got compliments about our formal dress. Once we filled out all the paperwork in the office, we walked to Mr. Miranda’s hotel to meet the rest of the group.

We arrived in the lobby to find Matt Lee, my friend and fellow PVHS Spartan, and Tom Miller, a friend of Brian and Julia, waiting. The three of us spoke to our friends and caught up a little bit. Little by little, the rest of our party (Dyana So, Ms. Kronenberg, Mr. Ramsey, and Ms. Nardone) joined us in the lobby and we headed to dinner fairly quickly. We dined at Butcher and Singer again, but this time we would be meeting the Assistant to the Dean of Admissions for Swarthmore College, Joaquin Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton was excellent company and made Swarthmore sound even more appealing to me. He told us that the most important thing at Swarthmore is the sense of community on the campus. Teachers, students, advisors, and other school officials all come together to form cohesive units. He also emphasized the importance of choice at Swarthmore. He told us that even if you are trying to follow a certain path towards a major, students are encouraged to take classes that are in no way related to their majors. I was also fortunate that he knew quite a bit about the college’s engineering program. He told me that a significant part of the engineering curriculum is focusing on how to constantly adapt and innovate. Because many colleges teach engineering to a set of standards without a strong emphasis on innovation for the future, students often leave college with outdated information that turns out to be a hindrance when they attempt to find work. In order to prevent this, the engineering curriculum at Swarthmore makes sure students know how to anticipate change and work towards it, while still learning the principles of today. I found this philosophy very admirable because Swarthmore is really taking into consideration the lives of their students post-graduation. Although I talked to Mr. Hamilton at great length for most of dinner, those were the highlights of what I learned about the college. Overall, dinner was excellent because I was able to learn more about a college I may decide to apply to and I was able to see some familiar faces.

Fellow Spartans in Philly

After dinner, Matt, Dyana, and Tom returned to the quad with us, where we continued to talk. I introduced Matt and Dyana to Abheek and Fred, as well as gave them a tour of the quad. They had a lot of questions about my experience thus far at Penn. The ease with which I was able to talk about Penn, as if it were my home, made me realize how attached I had become to the school. The Yalies hung out in the quad with us until about 11:30 and then they headed back to their hotel. At this point, Brian and I returned to our dorm to retire for the night. I think seeing some familiar faces made my day. Although I enjoy meeting new people and making all kinds of new connections, it is nice to get reminders of my close friends back home. I know my fellow Spartans will perform excellently in the Grand Strategy program at Yale, and I wish them the best of luck. On that note, I am signing off. I hope that my remaining days may be as great as this one was.

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