Thursday, July 7, 2011

Learn Something Everyday

Today started off at my now routine wake-up time of 7 AM. By solving a complex multi-variable equation that includes the variables of studying, eating, having fun, and sleeping, I have finally settled into a good routine. While the time blocks assigned to each of these activities may be fairly routine from day to day, each day so far has been unique and fun. After a quick shower and then a breakfast run with some friends, I walked over to class with Julia and Alex. While I’ve enjoyed meeting so many new people, having Julia and Alex around, who I’ve known for a while longer, is great too. We arrived in class a few minutes early but very soon Bill Berner was up front with a huge smile on his face.

For me, the majority of the first few hours of class were review. From my physics class at school, I already have a good idea of the concepts of momentum and inertia which Bill was talking about. While I already knew the material in the lecture, once again I was impressed by the lab that followed. When we walked into the lab, we set up the motion sensor, hooked it up to Logger Pro (lab software), and set up our video camera. We then took a basketball and dropped it, as it fell it went further and further away from the sensor. The sensor we used takes 60 measurements every second of the ball’s position, velocity, and acceleration. In this particular experiment, the main things we were interested in were the various forms of the balls energy. By using well known physics equations to calculate the ball’s kinetic and potential energy in real time, we could easily see how the ball’s energy changed forms. Furthermore, we also had Logger Pro graph the total energy (the sum of the ball’s kinetic and potential energy) so we could see it gradually decreasing with time. While the lab was intended to illustrate that the total energy in a system is constant, it appeared to decrease because we had no way to account for the energy lost to heat and sound when the ball squished.

In the afternoon lab, we continued to experiment with optics. This time, we were learning about refraction instead of reflection. Bill cleverly took an example of Snell’s Law applied to the scenario of a lifeguard calculating the most efficient path to a drowning swimmer and reshaped it to introduce the topic of refraction. By analyzing the angles that light refracted in our prism, we could learn a lot about the material the prism is made of. 

After the lab, Bill reminded us that we are taking a field trip to a car museum tomorrow. We will be learning more about inertia, but also have the side benefit of looking at a $21 million dollar Alfa Romeo from 1938. While I’ve had my driver’s license for around six months already, Bill has stressed that the insurance to drive that car would cost more than going to college for the rest of my life.

Finally this evening, I went along with about 40 other people to Penn’s Landing where we watched a free movie outdoors. The movie was the docu-drama “127 Hours” about a man who was trapped in a slot canyon and was forced to cut his own arm off to escape. While it was certainly gory, the underlying message to me was that humans can persevere through so much more than they are put through on a daily basis. 

That said, only getting 7 hours of sleep doesn’t look so bad.

The Franklin Institute

I do not understand how each day continues to outshine the previous one, but somehow it does. It started with class; today's was the most interesting yet. After only one hour of lecture about the conservation of momentum and energy, we got straight into the labs and today there was no need to write down any data because we learned how to program Logger Pro to calculate it all for us.

After we set up the equations for the graphs, we dropped a basketball under a motion detector and the data automatically displayed the potential energy and kinetic energy at any given point. The graphs ended up looking beautiful and the information backed up the concepts we learned in the lab.

We also got to utilize our new knowledge of video analysis and we found the ball’s parabolic change in height that way too. Plotting a basketball’s position frame by frame in a video that takes 60 frames per second might sound tedious, but my lab partners and I all took turns and lively conversation made it seem to go by very quickly. The resulting graph was also really cool.

After that, Bill gave a lecture on the physics of racecars during which he explained some of the activities we would be doing tomorrow when we go to the Simeone Foundation Museum. He also showed us a video clip of a NASCAR race and explained what exactly the loosing car did wrong in physics terms. It was one of the best lectures so far.

Our afternoon lab was also really interesting. We measured the refraction index of a material using two different methods. He also did a demonstration with a laser and a tube. He positioned it in such a way that a spiraled light path formed.

After class, I went on one of the optional scheduled field trips to the Franklin Institute. We saw the special exhibit of mummies from all around the world. It was an exceptional display. They had mummies dating from more than 2,000 years ago to as recently as 50 years. Some of them were intentionally mummified with chemicals and linen wrappings. Others were simply preserved due to the environment they happened to die in. Some of the naturally occurring were in strange positions and held strange objects. Often times their hair was still intact and occasionally even braided. It was slightly disturbing, highly educational and definitely interesting.
When I got back to the campus after the museum, I played an international game of soccer (or "football" to most of them). There were people from Switzerland, Turkey, Italy, England and Brazil. I was surprised at how much I remembered from freshman year. I was even able to score some goals. Once we sweat through all our T-shirts and the sun went down, we retired to the lounge where we brought a laptop so we could share some of the music we liked listening to with the group. Needless to say there was a lot of variation in genres and taste. We listened until it was time to go to bed so we could be fresh for the new, and if the trend continues, even more exciting day.

Only Cool Guys Know Latin

Today was the first day that seemed to go by slowly. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because it gave me a chance to slow down and not feel rushed. That’s one thing that I’ve noticed about being here in Philadelphia. Ever since my arrival, I’ve noticed a change in the pace of my lifestyle. Things are a lot faster here in the east. Since I’m used to a more laid-back, easy-going lifestyle at home, this is quite a noticeable change. I think that’s why today’s slowness stood out to me. Although time seemed to crawl by today, it gave me the chance to enjoy what I did that much more.

The mechanics portion of our first lecture of the day concerned conservation laws, momentum, impulse, and different types of energy. I find that these refresher lectures are a great way to start my day because not only is it engaging, but I also learned this already so it makes me remember things I learned in physics this past year. I find comparing the different paces of my physics classes astonishing. We took a good one to two months covering material in school that we only took three days to cover here. Obviously the material cannot be covered as extensively and we do not get to practice the actual formulas that we are taught, but it is taught so thoroughly that it can be quickly understood by people who have never taken physics before. Bill added another nice nugget of information into today’s mechanics lab. He told us several Latin terms that corresponded with each concept he taught. I’m paraphrasing quite a bit here, but he essentially said that only cool guys know Latin. Bill’s humor never ceases to amuse, and I hope this continues.

Our mechanics lab today was very simple. Our job was to observe the changes in different kinds of energy, position, speed, and acceleration of a mini-basketball when it was dropped from a particular height. Once again we used the motion sensors in one of the Rittenhouse labs. I’m really enjoying being able to experiment with real equipment instead of doing small-scale high school experiments. I like high school science experiments and labs because they are often easily approachable and you can learn concepts fairly quickly, but to use real lab equipment makes it such a better experience.

Our second lecture continued our previous discussions about the reflection and refraction of light. Yesterday Bill only discussed these ideas in concept, but today he actually applied them to objects and taught us that way. He used lasers and prisms to show us different ways that refraction and reflection can occur. We also learned about the critical angle, where a laser that is pointed a prism will only reflect back into the prism and exit one side as oppose to reflecting and refracting (which is what happens to beams at any other angle). He gave an extensive lecture on these concepts and it made it that much easier to perform the lab.

I found our optics lab to be easier than the past couple of labs. Our task was to measure the angles of incidence, find the critical angle of our prism, and also find indexes of reflection. Essentially, our task was to find out how the light changed as it traveled through the prism and what that meant about how any other light at any other angle would pass through that object. This lab was especially fun because our groups got to sit in the dark and point laser levels at prisms which reflected red beams of light in several directions. This lab was fun and simple.

After class, I returned to my dorm to find a glorious fridge! I immediately started filling it with the bottles of water I purchased at Kmart yesterday so they could be cold for later. I’m making sure to keep hydrated because of all the walking we have to do and the extreme humidity. Following my excitement of the arrival of our fridge, a few of us went to do our laundry. I always find it slightly amusing to find someone my age who does not know how to do their own laundry. I’m not going to mention any names, but I once again had a good chuckle while I was tutoring a friend about how to separate and wash laundry. 

Once we had completed that daunting task, our group decided to toss around a Frisbee. We did this until dinner. We concluded the night by watching 127 Hours at Penn’s Landing in center city Philly. I was surprised by just how excellent that film was. Although it was gruesome, it was inspiring to watch Aron’s struggle for survival. I would recommend that movie to anyone (even those who might be a little squeamish).

A long, relaxing day was just what I needed. Although I have been having fun and doing a lot of things here at Penn, the chance to take a breather is always welcome in my book. Now that I’ve had my slow day, I am hoping that the next couple of days are just as fast-paced as the rest of my days have been.