Friday, July 29, 2011

Out With a Bang

The final day here at U Penn was both incredible and heartbreaking. During class, Bill showed us four hours worth of creative, informative, exciting and occasionally hilarious demos that he himself had designed. Our evening activity, a camp-wide outdoors dance, was especially fun as well (despite the rain). By the end of the night, when I realized the month was really over and I was going to have to part with the group of friends and classmates that I met, I came close to shedding tears.

The day started off in a typical manner. Wake up, shower, dress, and say goodbye to my roommate Noor before leaving for breakfast. Our goodbye today however was much more significant because it would be the last time we saw each other before the program ended (her flight was this afternoon). We exchanged e-mails and plan to keep in touch, but it is going to be difficult waking up in the morning without her motivational music. Not seeing her every day is going to be hard to get used to.

Class began normally as well. We started off giving out presentations about the exponential relationship between variables that we studied. Alex, Brian, Onor, and I gave our presentation about Newton's law of cooling based on the data we collected with our temperature probes in hot water last week. It was interesting giving a presentation about thermodynamics to fellow high school students because not long ago, for my final project in my physics class at ECHS, I taught a similar lesson to a sixth grade class. Needless to say, my presentation today required much less background information and repetition, but I still tried to present the ideas in a similar way - on a conceptual level rather than a repetition of textbook definitions, a technique that Bill has stressed the importance of throughout the course, and is very important to me as well.

After our presentations and a short lunch break, the really fun stuff began. We moved into a larger lecture room to watch Bill perform the number of demonstrations he had set up for us. Each one displayed a different concept that we had experience with either from earlier in the course or earlier years of science in an exciting way that often exposed new ways of looking at the laws they proved. It was awesome.Above is a photo of the first demonstration. It dealt with how objects float in environments with higher densities and sink when the density of the object is greater. If you look closely, You can see a bubble floating in the tank. He accomplished this by mixing vinegar and baking soda to create carbon dioxide that stayed in the tank because it was heavier than the surrounding air. When he blew bubble into the tank, the increased density resulted in a tank full of floating bubbles. It was really cool to watch. This demonstration was designed to show the effects of angular momentum. Because the wheel he is holding is spinning, the stool he is sitting on has the ability to spin, and together they are a closed system. Bill could make himself spin on the stool by changing the angle at which he held the spinning disk. The demo was especially interesting because he informed us that this is exactly how scientists steer the Hubble telescope.Next, he brought out a vandagraph generator and used it to show us the principles of static electricity. The example of his hair strands repelling each other as they picked up a charge was particularly amusing, but my favorite was the example of the stack of pie pans that flew off, one after the other, as soon as the machine was turned on.

Bill clearly is willing to go to great lengths to provide us visual, palpable examples when he hung himself from the celling on a spring to show us what oscillations look like. He even used a motion sensor hooked up to logger pro to show us the beautiful sine wave that results from harmonic motion in position, velocity, and acceleration. I addition to being highly entertaining, seeing Bill bounce up and down like that was actually helpful in understanding the system.
Some of my other favorite demonstrations included the one that described projectile motion. He posed the dilemma of wanting to shoot a monkey that lets go of the branch he is swinging from as soon as he sees that he is being shot at. Rather than aim below the monkey as one might initially think to do, parabolic motion says that it is best to shoot directly at the monkey because as the monkey falls, the bullet falls at the same rate. Bill created a rather ingenious contraption in order to demonstrate and prove this theory. He set up a blow gun with a metal piece fitted into the end. When he blows the bullet out of the tube, the metal piece is force out, breaking an electrical circuit that was magnetically suspending a toy monkey in front of the gun. With this setup, the monkey falls at exactly the same time the bullet leaves the tube. Bill aimed his gun directly at his target and hit the monkey every time.

The most exciting part was when he exploded a toy wooden house using an electrical current and a chemical mixture that created a reactive gas within the house. He showed us that when the house was electrically grounded with a lighting rod, nothing happened, but when that protection wasn't there, a boom loud enough to make my heart skip a beat and the entire class to jump about a foot in the air. It was quite a memorable demo.
When Bill ran out of demonstrations to show, or more likely, time with which to show them, we received our certificates of completion and a thumbdrive with all the links, slideshows, articles and contact information related to what we learned and who we met during the course. It is a huge amount of valuable information that will keep my busy for the remainder of the summer, and possibly year. We said our goodbyes and our "thankyouthankyouthankyou"s to all the teachers and staff that helped us learn the amazing things we learned this week and then went back to our dorms to pack.

Once our rooms were depressingly bare, we went out to the quad for the dance party. At first, people we a little shy. I got the feeling that many of them were more comfortable with equations that dance moves, but by the end of the night, we were dancing like crazy, screaming along to the music and enjoying ourselves as much as possible in order to squeeze every last drop out of our final night. By the end, I was exhausted and fulfilled. I knew that I had made the most not only of the evening, but of the entire month.

During the past four weeks, I have learned some of the most interesting concepts and met some of the most dynamic people I have ever learned or met before. It has changes the way I look about science and learning and given my some incredible tools that will allow me to continue to discover more throughout my life. I am incredibly grateful that the Ivy League Connection informed me of the program and enabled me to experience the fascinating world of experimental science.

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