Tuesday, July 5, 2011


On behalf of our UPENN Chaperone Mario Miranda.
We arrived in Washington, D.C. on Thursday June 30, and after checking into the Holiday Inn in Georgetown, strolled up Wisconsin Avenue to where the Naval Observatory and Vice-President’s House are located (the VP has two official residences). The compound was closed to the public, but as random luck would have it Vice-President Biden and his motorcade entered the compound just when we walked by the main entrance, allowing us to get a quick photo of the Vice President’s drive-by.

On further thought, in metro Washington, D.C. encounters with politically powerful persons are not instances of random luck—they are frequent. Moreover, to Georgetown University students interactions with political leaders happen at regularly scheduled events. Thus, GU students are at an advantage in having access to internships related to international relations, public policy, government civil service, business or non-profit advocacy, environmental and/or social justice issues. Many prominent persons in these fields often give speeches, lecture and/or teach at GU. ILC scholars should understand this when deciding if Georgetown University is the right college for them.

Established in 1789, GU is the oldest Catholic Jesuit college in the U.S. It regards itself as a medium-sized research college and has four undergraduate schools, perhaps the most notable being the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, which is the oldest and largest foreign service college in the U.S.

On Friday July 1 we met with Mr. Bruce Chamberlain of the Admissions Office who provided us a very thorough overview of GU, including financial aid information. We then attended a general information session followed by a campus tour.

Later that Friday afternoon we visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was an unforgettable and disturbing experience. The HMM features, heart wrenching photographs, film clips, and videotaped testimonials from Holocaust survivors. The desk attendant (after learning I was a teacher) gave me a CD to augment my lesson plans on the Holocaust. In future I plan on using their web-site and other available media for classroom instruction.

We ended our Friday afternoon activities by touring Washington, D.C. in an open-top double-decker bus followed by dinner near M Street and Wisconsin Avenue—Georgetown’s vibrant center.

On Saturday July 2 we took Amtrak into Philadelphia and settled into the Sheraton Hotel near UPenn. The scheduled tour of the campus was (unbeknownst to us) cancelled because of the holiday weekend, so we explored the campus on our own and were delighted to find a pond-garden on campus. Later that evening we met Dr. June Y. Chu, and UPenn student, Margaret Wang, for dinner and had a great meal and conversation. Dr. Chu, who knew nothing of the pond-garden, was very supportive and said she would check up on the ILC scholars when she returned from vacation on July 18.

On Sunday July 3 we toured Philadelphia, our nation’s first capital. The colonial architecture laced in Greco-Roman motifs stretches for blocks in the Old City section where many restaurants, bars, and cafes attract throngs of tourists. At our dinner with Dr. Chu, she mentioned that the restaurant industry has become a major engine of Philadelphia’s economy. I believe that to be the case in major cities along the eastern shore board.

The Fourth of July was a busy day for the ILC scholars as they checked into their dorms and attended a dinner and orientation for all of the UPenn summer students.

Let the Classes Begin!

Today was the first official day of class. I woke up at 6:30 today so I could get an early start. I cleaned up, got my supplies, and headed to breakfast with Brian, Abheek (today I learned that his last name is Basu), and Fred. We also walked down with one of our other floormates, Richard Dong. We skipped the small-talk though and just discussed what we liked about Penn so far. One of our other floormates, Onur Soybir, joined us midway through breakfast. I met him last night and we got to know each other better today. Our group of six ate a quick breakfast and then returned to the quad so we could be escorted to class.

Thankfully the walk to class is fairly easy to remember. Once we leave the quad, all we have to do is make a left and keep heading down a straight road until we reach the end of the “home area”, which is the area that summer students are confined to. Once we reach that border, we just make another left and eventually we reach the David Rittenhouse Labs. This is where all of our classes will convene, starting at 9:00 every weekday morning. Our group entered the building together and we were introduced to our professor by the RC’s. Bill Burner is our professor and I can already tell I am going to enjoy his class. Bill has been teaching physics, at both the high school level and college level, for over forty years. Every day, Bill lectures us on the topic of the day for about an hour to an hour and a half and then we will break up into our lab groups to perform experiments based on the lecture. Following these experiments is lunch. We take a break for an hour and then come back. I believe that we will normally have another lecture followed by another lab, or we will have a guest lecturer. I am still a little fuzzy on how the class operates on a day-to-day basis though because we were not given any kind of syllabus. However, I’m pretty sure I’ll catch on quickly because Bill seems like the kind of professor that would prefer a class to be easily understood.

Today I performed two experiments. We were put into groups of four. My groupmates are Sarah Hale, Greg Dadourian, and Ana Carolina-Miranda. I wasn’t able to get to know them very well because we had to work quickly, but I’m sure we will come to know each other well soon enough. Our first experiment involved mechanics, which basically consists of movement. We only dealt with time, distance, velocity, and acceleration today. We were not testing what made these principles work, but we were told to observe them in action using a motion sensor and computer graphing. We would have to move a certain distance in a certain amount of time according to the plot of the graph or the instructions we were given on how to make the graph. It was not as simple as it sounds. The distance that we were confined to was only three meters and we had to do most of these experiments within ten seconds. We had to use precision and accuracy to perform the tasks that we were given and it was quite a challenge, much to everyone’s surprise. The second set of labs involved lenses and light (optics, as Bill called this section). We had to do a series of experiments involving refraction of light, distances between real images and virtual images, and focus magnified images through a lens onto a screen. I had never done optics in my previous physics class, so this was all new territory for me. Nonetheless, it was fascinating and fun. Our class concluded with the optics experiment at 4:00.

We returned to the dorms and unloaded our things for the day. After class, we are basically free to do whatever we want to do. We can hang out with friends, do assignments, play sports, etc. Thankfully, the only homework my class is going to have consists of answering surveys and questions about the day’s lab online. This will give me time to explore the Penn campus, Philadelphia, go on day trips, and participate in any of the other exciting activities the staff has planned. There is never a dull moment here at Penn, and I plan to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can.

The evening was very calm, but still enjoyable. We took a campus tour after some icebreakers and we learned where exactly our boundaries are on campus. Following that, we hung out in groups for the rest of the night. I met a few more people including Julia’s roommate, Noor, and a friend of Fred’s and Abheek’s from their biomed class, Alison Liu. We had a lot of fun just getting to know each other and we even found a rec room on the fourth floor. We played music, shot some pool, and even played some board games. Like I said, there is never a dull moment at Penn.

It is only my second day and I already love it here. My class is exciting, the people are friendly, and the sense of community that you can find here at Penn all make for a really positive experience. I hope to have many more days like today.

Fiat Lux

Today was especially exciting as it was the first day of class for us in the Experimental Physics Academy. We walked over to the David Rittenhouse Labs as a group at 9:00 for our morning lecture. Once there, our professor, Bill Berner, showed us to our room and told us a little bit about what to expect. It was very clear that he knows what he is talking about, but also that he is the kind of teacher who listens to his students as much as possible and is absolutely willing to answer any questions we may have. He taught high school for 25 years before he joined the UPenn faculty and is in many ways the perfect person to teach the course (complete with the unkempt white hair and beard). We also met Mary Pandya and some of the assistant teachers there to help understand the lesson. The simultaneous casual atmosphere and sophisticated material made the first day of class both unique and enjoyable.

We covered some material that was review of simple mechanics because there are a good number of students who have never taken physics before, but we were able to cover about a months worth of curriculum in just over an hour. And afterwards we got to play around with the motion censors wile learning more about the nature of motion.

After that, Bill Berner covered some topics relating to light, lenses, mirrors and optics that was all new to me and very exiting. He talked about parabolic mirrors in practical use, such as cosmetic mirrors and rear-view mirrors on cars. He also discussed why objects appear closer when viewed from the bottom of a pool. During his lecture, he used physical demonstrations with lasers, mirrors and tennis balls with pupils drawn on them (to represent the eyes of the viewer) to help us understand what he was teaching us. These and the occasional joke slipped in made his lecture very engaging. What I liked most about his speaking though, was how much he stressed that sciences are not separate from each other or the outside world and how often he tried to highlight those connections for us.

We took break for lunch, where Alex, Brian and I discussed the appeal of American schools with a student from Istanbul, Turkey and after that, it was to the lab where we spent the rest of the day hands-on experimenting with light, lenses, focal points, and refractions. The equipment available to us, even on the first day made lab work more exciting than it has ever been for me. We had a huge lens set up where we could experiment with standing close to it and seeing people across the hall enlarged or standing back further than the focal point to see their image flipped on its head. We also had some high-powered lamps set up at the very end of the hall in order to experiment with "infinite" light sources. We spent three hours in the lab, all of it fully entertained collecting data that proved what we had learned in our earlier lecture. Because, as Bill Berner says, "just because the old man in the front of the class said it, doesn't make it true".

Once our classes ended, our day was nowhere near over. We still had ultimate Frisbee to play (say hello to the MVP on the wining team), dinner to eat and a campus to tour, all three of which involved meeting more new and interesting people than I would have ever thought imaginable. The campus tour felt more like a stroll around the city. We passed clothing stores and movie theaters and angry taxi drivers. For some, it may have seemed a little overwhelming, but I found it to be thrilling and very enriching.

After the tour, we had some time to relax, and get some of our course work done. I took the opportunity to familiarize myself with our programs website where we will be posting the mandatory surveys about our labs. One great thing about our class is that there are no grades or credits so the motivation for completing work is purely based in investigation and comprehension. Likewise, the system for completing assignments is more oriented towards helping everyone understand the material than giving individuals credit (hence the online surveys viewed by question not student).

At 10:00 we had a pizza party and played some pool, ping-pong and card games in the dorm''s lounge. It was a good way to unwind at the end of our first day and I got to know some of the people on my floor much better because of it. I can't believe this is only my second day in the program. I have already learned so much.