Thursday, July 14, 2011

I've Never Though of Oil as Beautiful Before...

Just to mix things up this morning, I actually got out of bed early so I had enough time to grab breakfast with my floor at the dinning hall (the blueberry pancakes today were almost as good as I get them at home) and then return to the quad to collect up the lab data that was due today. It was a nice, leisurely start to my day.

The first lecture of the morning was about Saturn's rings and what they tell us about the way gravity behaves. Bills presentation explained Newton's Law of Gravitation only after we understood the general concept based on what er know about the way Saturn looks (and also, the way the position of the moon affects the tides). It was a short talk, but there was a lot of really valuable and accessible information packed into it.

We then took care of some logistics. We went over the lab that we would be performing that afternoon (measuring the magnitude of a singular charge) as well as some information we needed for tomorrow and the weeks to come. Mary showed us pictures and gave a short shpeel of all the rides available for us to analyze at Hershey Park. We split up into the groups we would be working with for the acceleration experiment, discussed our options, and got familiar with the accelerometers we will be using tomorrow while we waited for our guest speaker.

They also discussed with us the options we had for the groups we are going to break up in for next weeks afternoon labs. These groups are not chosen based on who we think we would work best with, but rather, which group in investigating a subject we are interested in. We are going to be studying and experimenting with the same subject for the entire week in order to really be able to get into some investigative labs and theories. Some of the options that seemed especially cool were radio wave astronomy, wave/particle duality, and Non-Newtonian fluids. I am still having trouble deciding on just one topic because they all seem extremely interesting,

When our guest speaker showed up, things really picked up. His name was Randy Kamien and he is an expert on soft condensed matter. He started his lecture off with a magic trick where he unlinked together two solid rings (he later admitted that, in fact, one was not solid he was just covering the gap with his hand). He tied the trick into his lecture about topology (which he described simply as the science of counting) by telling us that the trick was magic because the ring originally intersected at one spot that you could count and it is impossible to change that in a loop. He went on to talk about liquid crystals in display screens and how lights ability to pass through the screen depends on the orientation of the molecules in the liquid crystal. To be honest, I don't think anyone understood all of what he was saying (he started involving fourth and fifth dimensions in his hypothetical looped path situations) but I could tell that he did a good job of making it much more accessible than it could otherwise be and I learned a lot of really cool stuff the things I didn't fully grasp only sparked my interest in physics more. Once again, we ate lunch only after all of our questions had been asked so we ate a little late, but it was definitely worth it.

When we returned for our afternoon labs, microscopes and perfume-like spray bottles filled with watch oil was waiting for us on the table. We recreated the experiment Millikan performed in order to find the charge of one electron. By looking at the speed of minuscule oil droplets falling through space and comparing it with the time it took them to rise when a known voltage was applied, we found that the average charge was very close to the accepted value of 1.6x10^-19. It was really fun looking through the microscope and timing these tiny droplets of oil illuminated on a black background. My eyes did start to hurt after a while (I can only imagine how Millikan must have felt) but the little specks of light moving around in the microscope was actually quite beautiful.

After class was over, I hung out in my room with my room mate and a couple other girls from our floor, One of them played a couple pop songs on the french horn that she brought. She was very talented so it was good fun listening to them (it is not easy to make a french horn sound that nice). Afterward, I grabbed some dinner and met up with Brian, Alex, and one of their floor mates and we watched another movie in the lounge before bed.

No comments:

Post a Comment