Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Field Trip to Swarthmore

My floor and I started the day off with a quick breakfast at the dining hall before class. I'm really glad they require us to walk in pairs outside the quad area even though sometimes it's a hassle finding someone to accompany you, it provides opportunities for diverse and dynamic meal-time groups. I really enjoyed sitting with the girls, as I often sit with Brian and Alex's floor. The food today was also very tasty: french toast, raspberries, and blueberries.

I walked to class with Brian, Alex, and one of my lab partners from last week. The morning lecture was an introduction to how to use a digital oscilloscope to measure . After a few demonstrations and clarifying questions, we went into an early lab where we used the oscilloscope to measure the speed of electricity running through wires. It was very cool. We also played around with reflecting electric signals back using an open-ended wire and creating a pulse almost identical to the original versus shorting the end of the wire sending back a reversed pulse or dampening the current, resulting in no pulse at all. The lab really gave each of us an opportunity to experiment with the dials and buttons of the oscilloscope and really get the hang of how to use it.

After the morning lab, Bill gave a lecture on exponential functions. His presentation, as usual, gave me an even deeper understanding of the concept even though I was already familiar with it (in this case, I had been learning about them for many years). Bill used the example of four bugs in a square each trying to catch up to the bug before it so that as one bug moves, its position affects all the bugs behind it, which in turn affects the bug in front of it, thereby affecting its self and so it's position is in fact a factor that determines its position. I am doing a good job of complicating it all, but believe me, when he described it it was very easy to understand. He also showed us a toy car that he had build with an adjustable speed dial on it that trailed behind it so that it moved as the car moved. In this case, the speed of the car was a factor that determined the speed of the car.

At the end of his lecture, he described to us a lab that we would all be doing sometime in the near future where we collect data that describes a non-linear relationship. The unique part about this experiment is that not only do we get to choose our groups, but we also get to decide exactly what non-linear relationship we are going to investigate and set up the design for the lab all on our own. Clearly, the class is going in a more independent and investigative direction which is very exciting.

Today exceptional in that Bill's lecture didn't end 15 minutes late. In fact, today we went to lunch 10 minutes early. It was a Physics Summer Discovery first.

After lunch, we worked more with the oscilloscopes, this time with diodes and resistors in circuit boards instead of just wires. Once we got the hang of that, we moved on to LED lights (light emitting diodes). Using both the oscilloscopes and Logger Pro, we were able to find the wavelength, frequency, and energy that each different color gave off. With that we could find Planck's constant. It was pretty amazing how precisely we could measure these things with this equipment. The results we got were within about 15% of the accepted values.

After class, Mario signed us out and took us to see Swarthmore College. We hopped on a trolley, and then on a train and before we knew it we were standing in the picturesque lawns of Swarthmore. We got maps and took a self-guided walking tour of the campus. The scenery is really incredible and based on the bulletin boards in the main buildings, there are some really interesting groups and clubs active. But Swarthmore is an incredibly tiny campus, and the town, when compared with Berkeley or Philly leaves much to be desired. I do not see myself attending the College in the near future, but it was definitely fun to look around. They even have a climbing tree (the plaque on it said "please climb and laugh") it was quite nice.

For dinner, we went to an Irish pub. I ordered a delicious salmon BLT with thick-cut sweet potato fries. It was a great break from the dorm food.

When we returned to the quad, it was already 8:30. We checked in, had our weekly floor meeting with our RC to restate the rules and make sure everyone was on the same page (apparently the 5th floor lounge is now off limits after another program had a dance there and failed to clean up properly), played a few creative card games and then it was off to bed and the end of another day.

I Met Iron Man. What Did You Do Today?

Tony Stark!!! (aka Craig)

Okay, I didn’t really meet Robert Downey Jr. today, but Craig is close enough. He brought in his “arc reactor” that he gutted and improved with better lights. Some people in class have even taken to calling him Tony (Tony Stark/Iron Man). This made for quite an entertaining morning.

However, the fun and games could only last for so long and soon Bill began his lecture. Today we continued our discussion from yesterday about voltage and current, but we also began discussing resistance and how to use a device called an oscilloscope. This machine is essentially a cross between a graphing application on a computer and the scanning equipment. It primarily scans and graphs voltage and current, but it has a wealth of uses that we did not even cover today. When we weren’t covering the oscilloscope, Bill was going over Ohm’s Law. Ohm’s Law has several variations, all of which state that the quotient of voltage and current is equal to resistance, the quotient of voltage and resistance is equal to current, and the product of current and resistance is equal to voltage. He did not just tell us the definition of the law though. He went through a lengthy explanation that told us the derivation of Ohm’s Law. I think this is the part of the class I enjoy the most. I really appreciate the explanations that Bill gives regarding how certain principles came to be. This is material that was not covered in my high school physics class, so it makes me appreciate this advanced course that much more.

Today’s lab was very simple (in principle). All we had to do was become associated with the oscilloscope, which was not as easy as it sounds. The device has many different menus and configurations. In order to measure and compare the correct values, one must find just the right settings and sift through a series of menus in order to get to the correct arrangement. In order to get associated with the machine, our task was to measure how long it took for a generated pulse to go from one point to its opposite point, a reception port on the machine. Setting up the wires and cables for the task was easy enough, but we were baffled by the menus on the oscilloscope. We needed the help of a TA to get us out of our haze. Iron Man was busy, but thankfully Ryan is very knowledgeable about the device and he was able to help us get going in the right direction. After Ryan helped us, we completed the lab without any issues and my entire group knows a few of the basics of using an oscilloscope.

Our post-luncheon lecture covered several things. First we discussed diodes, which are conductors that only allow current to flow in one direction. Then Bill combined the ideas of wavelengths from yesterday with our instruction on the oscilloscope that we had earlier. The latter did not have much new information; rather it explained what we were going to be testing in the lab and how we would go about doing it. Our task was to illuminate LED’s and, using the oscilloscope, measure how many volts it took to light it ever-so-slightly. After doing this for three different colors of LED’s, all of which we recorded different values for, we were tasked with finding how much energy was required to illuminate the lights, what the wavelength of the lights were, and the frequencies of the lights. Luckily, we were able to finish in a timely manner (despite technical difficulties) because Brian, Julia, and I had to meet Mr. Miranda to visit Swarthmore College.

Our cohort took a train to Swarthmore at about 4:45. We arrived at the campus and my first glimpse of campus took my breath away. We stepped off the train and turned around to see a lush, green hillside with many trees and a group of students playing Frisbee in the distance. It was a truly magnificent first impression. That first impression did not change as we walked to the General Admissions Building. Everything was tranquil. I would not be surprised if you could hear someone whispering from over thirty feet away if you were standing on the main green. The entire campus was silent, even with a lot of people on campus! We took a self-guided tour with complementary maps from the Admissions Building because it was so late in the afternoon. I could not get enough of the Swarthmore campus; it was like a dream. There were even Adirondack chairs scattered about the campus for group discussion or solitary reading. You could tell that this was truly a campus for intellectuals. I absolutely loved my first impression of the school and I plan to discuss Swarthmore as a possibility for college with my college counselor.

After the train ride back, our cohort enjoyed dinner at a nice pub and enjoyed massive meals. We then returned home and told our friends our perspectives of Swarthmore. The rest of the night was spent relaxing after a long day of work and learning. We also learned that the fifth floor lounge is off limits because other parties left quite a mess the last time they were up there. It’s okay with me though, because we hadn’t been going up there much lately anyway because there were always a lot of people up there and it was always loud. We have found a new hangout in the dorm building that hopefully will go unnoticed for a long time. On that note, I am signing off.

The Solitary Chair...
Something isn't right here...
The Swarthmore belltower

Gravity Gouges

Today was one of those mornings where I felt sure that there was an exceptionally strong gravitational field located directly under my bed. I was pretty sluggish at first, but I was motivated by wanting a shower and being extremely hungry, so I wandered out of our room and found the shower stall. After my shower, I felt much more awake and we walked over to the dining hall together. Over time I’ve figured out that I am a lot more energetic after eating only a light breakfast, so I visited the fruit bar and then got a large bowl of cereal in lieu of hot cooked food. Alex, Julia, and I have the walk to class down to a science now, and we arrived just a few minutes early.

Today in class we talked more about waves and how they are related to energy. Bill re-introduced the oscilloscope to us so that we could use it in our lab. Today, we attempted to measure the speed of different waves using the oscilloscope. By using the oscilloscope to graph exactly when each wave left the device and then graphing it again when the wave had gone through a circuit of wire we could measure the speed of electricity through the circuit. We knew the distance that the electricity travelled through the circuit and we found the time it took from the oscilloscope so we calculated the speed of electricity in our circuit and found it was roughly 60% of the speed of light. We also determined the wavelength of several different colors of light using a sensor and Logger Pro.

After class we all raced back to our dorms to meet with Mr. Miranda. After we dropped off our stuff in our rooms and got through all the necessary paperwork, we walked to the subway station nearby. We rode the subway to the Amtrak station downtown where we took the train several stops to the Swarthmore stop. As soon as we got off of the train, I was amazed by the view of the Swarthmore campus. While I don’t have a strong preference for a more open or urban campus yet, I really liked how open and beautiful the Swarthmore campus. We walked up a wide path through a large grass field up to the undergraduate admissions office. We each took a self-guided tour map from the office and walked outside to begin our tour. We walked around for about an hour and saw most of the campuses’ buildings. I enjoyed seeing the library, science buildings, and the expansive gardens in the area such as the rose garden. I liked the campus a lot, but I think that I am at least currently interested in going to a college with a slightly larger campus than Swarthmore’s. That said, the combination of a beautiful campus, highly driven students, and dedicated college town would make Swarthmore a great place to go to college.

After we returned from Swarthmore, it was time for the social part of my evening. While I honestly have a ton of fun in class each day, I always look forward to returning back to the dorms, kicking off my shoes, and hanging out with my friends. After spending some time hanging out in our room, we decided to go somewhere else which ended up being a bad idea for me. In the interest of being ridiculous, I attempted to climb upstairs without touching any of the stairs. While it worked for about two and a half floors, I never saw the landing of the third. As my physics teacher Bill would have been eager to describe, I used the chemical energy from my food to climb up several floors which converted my energy into the gravitational potential energy that ultimately was converted back into kinetic energy and a nice little gouge in my shin. Luckily the Summer Discovery staff was well-prepared to repair the damage of my stupidity, and my leg is nicely bandaged up and feels fine now. Anyways, that’s plenty of physics for today, goodnight.

P.S. Alex fell off a swing at Swarthmore which was hilarious! Further proof that gravity was exceptionally strong today.