Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Modern Physics is Mind Blowing

It was hard to get out of bed this morning. I think I hit the snooze button about 4 times. It all worked out though because instead of walking to the dining hall, I grabbed a quick bagel at WaWa's (the Philadelphia version of a super seven-eleven) and ate it in the shade of the huge tree in the center of the quad. It was quite relaxing.

When my morning picnic was over, I walked to class with one of my current lab partners who is from LA. We had a nice chat about how interested we were in attending Penn as an undergraduate. It was very cool hearing his opinion of the place.

The class was lecture heavy today, which is not to say that it was boring. Whatsoever. In fact, today was probably one of the most interesting and thought provoking days of the entire course. We started out with a concept that is slightly counter-intuitive: particle/wave duality. Ryan, one of the student teachers, set up a very helpful PowerPoint in order to aid our understanding. We discussed the uncertainty principle and all that in entails. He showed us a diagram of Shrodinger's thought experiment involving a cat in a box. As long as the cat is in the box, you know where it is, but because it's in the box with a breakable vile of poison, you can not know if it is dead or alive, and so, for all intensive purposes, it is both dead and alive. It was a very strange scenario, but it definitely helped the entire concept make a little bit more sense.

After we all got headaches from wrap our minds around the concept of light as both a wave and a particle, Bill set aside an hour or so when we might normally do a lab to talk a little bit about what our past labs entail. He stressed that data is not important unless it is contemplated, analyzed and discussed.

The next lecture was a guest speaker by the name of Mark Trodden who is an expert in the field of cosmology. He talked a lot about galaxies and how he uses them to better understand gravitation, even applied to life on earth. He also discussed interesting concepts like the Doppler Effect, Hubble's constant, and dark matter and energy. He basically told us the entire story of scientist's current theory of the creation of the entire universe in less than two hours. I was fascinated by it all and how the study of the universe can be both humbling and helpful in appreciating just how special life on earth is. It's a touch of psychology mixed into physics.

We were released to go to lunch only about five minutes late, but almost everyone stayed behind at least thirty more minutes to ask fascinating questions that received equally as thought-provoking answers.

When we returned from our late lunch, we separated into lab groups to wok on labs as usual, except today, not only did we get to decide who our partners would be, we also got to decide what our experiment was going to be about and we were able to set it up ourselves. The only constraint put on us was to investigate the relationship between two non-linear variables and determine whether or not the relationship was exponential. Brian, Alex, and their floor mate Onour and I chose Newton's law of cooling. We graphed the curve of temperature vs. time of a probe first starting in hot water then cooling to room temperature, then starting from ice and warming to room temperature. Next we used two probes, one in the ice and one in the boiling water and switched them to see how their curves intersected. It was my favorite lab so far because of how independent and exploratory it was. Next Friday, once we collect our data and organize it, our job is going to be to give a presentation to the class about our findings, which sounds interesting, but not nearly as interesting as it will be to hear all the other group's findings.

After class, I took another quick nap before dinner, followed by what is becoming a fairly routine game of ultimate Frisbee. I'm proud to say I've improved quite a lot since the first day. Today was especially cool because we played with some students taking art classes here at Penn who were very fun to talk to (they were stressing about finishing their Mona Lisa).

After the game, we walked down to Seven-Eleven for some refreshments, then back to the quad where the weather was nice enough, even by 9:30 that we could just lay on the grass for a while before heading back to our rooms to sleep.

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