Thursday, July 14, 2011

Light, Lectures, and Labs. Oh My!

Today was another day where I was very glad to get some extra sleep. Alex and I slept in until eight and then got breakfast at the WaWa store. I picked up a couple of bagels with cream cheese and filled my bottle with water and then we headed to class. Over the last couple of days, we realized that we have been walking two sides of a triangle to get to class so using our amazing mathematical knowledge we decided that we should start walking along only one side because it’s much more efficient. Even though we woke up later than usual, we made it to class on time and took our seats.

Bill started off the day by talking about Newton’s Law of Gravitation. While it might seem a bit backwards because we were discussing special relativity yesterday, today we were going over very specific examples of how Newton’s Law of Gravitation works. The first thing to note about this law is that it is an inverse square law. What this means is that for two masses at a distance r apart that have some gravity that when they are twice as far apart, they will have four times less gravity. Bill furthered his discussion by talking about the rings of Saturn which clearly display some of the more interesting effects of gravity. One cool thing about Saturn’s rings is just that-that Saturn has multiple rings. There is a gap between these rings because there are meteors and moons that orbit Saturn a bit further out than these gaps in the rings and their gravity pulls the stuff further away from Saturn and clears out gaps between Saturn’s rings.

The next thing that we talked about in class is our upcoming field trip. Tomorrow, we will be visiting Hershey Park which is a large amusement park. There, we will bring along all sorts of weird looking electronics that will take an hour or so to get through security to convince them that they are science tools and not weapons. These strange looking electronics are really data loggers and 3 dimensional accelerometers. On our field trip, our job is to bring this data logging equipment along with us on a ride and take data of the acceleration on the ride we choose. In order to choose which rides we ride, we formed into 8 groups of four people each. Each group was then assigned a number, an in the interest of both fairness and geekiness, Craig used a random number generator to choose which group would pick which ride they would analyze first. To the surprise of many of us, the first group to choose did not choose a huge roller coaster but instead chose the Merry Go Round. Each group after continued to choose, and we were pleased to get our second choice, the Sooper Dooper Looper. While spell-check did not like the name of that roller coaster, I am really looking forward to spending time tomorrow riding and analyzing its motion. Of course the day will not be all work, because Bill encourages us to get our data collection finished before lunch so that we can have several hours after lunch to play and enjoy the park.

After our lunch break, we returned to do a lab. For those that are familiar with the foundation of chemistry and physics, we repeated the Millikan Oil Drop Experiment. The basic idea of the experiment is to spray tiny atomized droplets of oil into a chamber where you can see them with a microscope. Then, you can apply an electric field to the droplet to see how quickly it moves in one direction, flip the field and then see how quickly it goes that direction. With some logic and a bit of fancy math, we were able to calculate the charge on each electron. What impressed me so much was that Millikan came up with this extravagant experimental design and got such accurate data that it was used for many years. This was a fascinating lab to repeat, and it was much more interesting than the 5 times I have read about it in science classes.

I’m sure I’ll have an extensive blog about Hershey tomorrow, but for now it’s time for me to rest up for the big day. Goodnight.

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