Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Electrodynamics By Any Other Name Would Not Sound As Sweet...

Today was exciting. In class, we covered magnetism, one of my favorite topics from my high school physics class. Bill began by telling us that magnetism actually has another name, but it is not often associated with magnetism and electricity. The proper name for these topics is electrodynamics. He continued by going over the basics of electrodynamics, such as the poles of magnets and also about magnetic fields. We also learned that the Earth’s magnetic field is constantly shifting. Once we covered the basics of poles in magnets, Bill showed us something amazing. He showed us a black liquid he called Farrow Fluid. This fluid was extraordinary because it behaved just like any other liquid at room temperature, but it reacted to magnets. The fluid was placed in a Teflon bottle and two strong magnets were placed against the outside of the bottle. When the magnets were close to the liquid, it would gather around where the magnet was on the outside of the bottle. I had never seen any kind of reaction like this so I was instantly interested. After Bill astounded us, he told us about the “Right Hand Rule”, which states that electrical current flows through a wire in the direction that one’s right thumb points along that wire and then rotates in the direction of one’s curled right hand fingers. Bill packed a lot of principles of magnetism in our short lecture, but it was all very clear and easily accessible.

The amazing Farrow Fluid...

After lecture, we were given the chance to look at our data from Hershey Park. It took a while for us to get started because we spent a long time searching for our video of the ride in the Dropbox server. Mary had separated all of our data and videos into different folders, which were labeled by the names of our respective rides. Our folder had our data, but not the video. She told us it was likely that it had been misplaced in another group’s folder. We searched for a very long time before it was suggested that we just check the cameras. Our video was still on the camera that we used, but it had not been uploaded to Dropbox. This was only a minor setback though and we were still able to synchronize our video with the data and get all four recorded values from the roller coaster on one graph. In fact, despite the hiccup in the beginning, we finished before several other groups.

When we got back to class, we discovered that our guest lecturer had arrived. We quickly sat down and waited for the other groups to finish with their data. Today’s guest lecture was all about biophysics. Doug Smith, a doctor who works in the Penn Department of Neurosurgery, lectured us about the dangers, or lack thereof, of getting brain damage from roller coasters. He began by telling us that 1.7 million people experience brain damage annually around the world. Of all those instances of brain damage, only fifty unsubstantiated cases of traumatic brain injuries (or TBI) have been the cause of roller coasters over the past few decades. He told us that, at their peaks, roller coasters have about 4-6 G’s of G-Force, which is not threatening to our bodies at all compared to the 8-10 G’s that we experience when we hop off of steps or “plop into chairs.” Essentially, we are more likely to experience brain damage from sitting down in a chair too forcefully rather than from the whiplash of roller coasters. It has been concluded from several studies, by Dr. Smith and many of his peers, that there is no significant public health risk regarding brain damage and roller coasters. The only exception is if one has prior brain damage before getting on the ride. I found this fascinating because I have always been a little wary of roller coasters because of how violent many of them seem. Now I know that these fears are irrational and I can start getting over my fears of certain coasters.

Doug Smith lectures on the biophysics of our brains.

After lunch we returned to our special interest groups from yesterday. My group made its way down to James’s lab in the basement and we began our work. Today was actually more focused on questions rather than experimentation or demonstrations. Yesterday we observed the basics of how radio telescopes operate, but today we asked James a lot of questions about radio waves and how they are applied in recording data about subjects of observation. We actually spent about half of our time with James asking questions. I feel fortunate for being placed in the radio telescope group because James can answer any kind of question we throw his way and he is interesting to listen to. The other half of our time with James was spent discussing how radio waves are used in cables and wires. We also discussed how and why they are used to transmit information. Unfortunately we had to cut today’s session short because James had an appointment. However, we still have three days to study in the radio telescope lab and I cannot wait to learn more.

My special interest lab professor, James Aguiree

After our session, I ran to the AT&T Store to pick up a wall charger for my phone and then returned to the dorm. Brian arrived about half an hour after I did. We discussed our respective special interest groups for quite a while. I have to say that I am jealous of his studies with ooblek, but I am enjoying my studies as well. I had the chance to look at a sample of ooblek earlier today. It acted just as we had been told it would; the substance was soft and thick when small amounts of pressure were applied, but it hardened when large amounts of pressure were applied. We hung out for a while, waiting for the time to come when we would have to get dressed to go to dinner. At 6:20, we started to get ready so we could meet Mr. Miranda in the Summer Discovery office at 6:45. Signing out went smoothly and the three of us even got compliments about our formal dress. Once we filled out all the paperwork in the office, we walked to Mr. Miranda’s hotel to meet the rest of the group.

We arrived in the lobby to find Matt Lee, my friend and fellow PVHS Spartan, and Tom Miller, a friend of Brian and Julia, waiting. The three of us spoke to our friends and caught up a little bit. Little by little, the rest of our party (Dyana So, Ms. Kronenberg, Mr. Ramsey, and Ms. Nardone) joined us in the lobby and we headed to dinner fairly quickly. We dined at Butcher and Singer again, but this time we would be meeting the Assistant to the Dean of Admissions for Swarthmore College, Joaquin Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton was excellent company and made Swarthmore sound even more appealing to me. He told us that the most important thing at Swarthmore is the sense of community on the campus. Teachers, students, advisors, and other school officials all come together to form cohesive units. He also emphasized the importance of choice at Swarthmore. He told us that even if you are trying to follow a certain path towards a major, students are encouraged to take classes that are in no way related to their majors. I was also fortunate that he knew quite a bit about the college’s engineering program. He told me that a significant part of the engineering curriculum is focusing on how to constantly adapt and innovate. Because many colleges teach engineering to a set of standards without a strong emphasis on innovation for the future, students often leave college with outdated information that turns out to be a hindrance when they attempt to find work. In order to prevent this, the engineering curriculum at Swarthmore makes sure students know how to anticipate change and work towards it, while still learning the principles of today. I found this philosophy very admirable because Swarthmore is really taking into consideration the lives of their students post-graduation. Although I talked to Mr. Hamilton at great length for most of dinner, those were the highlights of what I learned about the college. Overall, dinner was excellent because I was able to learn more about a college I may decide to apply to and I was able to see some familiar faces.

Fellow Spartans in Philly

After dinner, Matt, Dyana, and Tom returned to the quad with us, where we continued to talk. I introduced Matt and Dyana to Abheek and Fred, as well as gave them a tour of the quad. They had a lot of questions about my experience thus far at Penn. The ease with which I was able to talk about Penn, as if it were my home, made me realize how attached I had become to the school. The Yalies hung out in the quad with us until about 11:30 and then they headed back to their hotel. At this point, Brian and I returned to our dorm to retire for the night. I think seeing some familiar faces made my day. Although I enjoy meeting new people and making all kinds of new connections, it is nice to get reminders of my close friends back home. I know my fellow Spartans will perform excellently in the Grand Strategy program at Yale, and I wish them the best of luck. On that note, I am signing off. I hope that my remaining days may be as great as this one was.

Dinner With the Dean

Today I woke up full of energy because I went to bed at 10 yesterday, so I got a good 9 hours of sleep. With Alex and Fred, I walked over to the dining hall quickly because I was very hungry. Today, I decided to have the French toast and potatoes which I’ve found quite delicious in the past. We then strolled through the campus and talked a little about how our different research groups were going.

When we got to class, Bill began to teach us a bit about the relationship between magnetism and electricity. We learned how when there is a magnetic field that it generates an electric field and when there is an electric field that it generates a magnetic field. Bill was quick to give us examples of applications of this relationship. The most prominent example was the electric motor. By coiling a spool of wire in a circle and running electricity through it, you can turn a wheel with permanent magnets in it that turns whatever you want it to. While I can grasp theoretical material fairly well, it helps me a lot to think about applications of theory which is one of the things I have enjoyed most about the program here.

After a brief introduction, Bill introduced his fellow Penn faculty member, Doug Smith. The first thing that hit me about Doug was that he absolutely knew what he was talking about and is literally one of the top researchers in neuroscience, but that he delivered his talk without any air of conceit and with a down to Earth form of communication. It takes a special kind of person to be the top in your field but still be willing and even enthusiastic to take time out of your day to talk to high schoolers. Doug was absolutely that type of person, so I enjoyed his talk a lot because he presented it understandably without really dumbing it down. The main focus of Doug’s talk was about Traumatic Brain Injury or T.B.I. for short. Doug presented some scary statistics about T.B.I. and then began to talk about the many causes of it and the various degrees of severity.

One of the most common forms of brain injury is concussion. While many people including myself before Doug’s lecture believe a concussion to be when your brain hits your skull and you go unconscious, Doug presented a different definition. Doug said that even when you don’t become unconscious, any sort of blow to the head that makes you feel woozy is extremely serious and should be considered a concussion. One of Doug’s most important points was to those of us that play contact sports. He said that repeated concussion can lead to very serious brain damage in the short term, and can triple or more your chances of getting brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s later in life. Doug expressed very strongly that he believes regulations for sports players on returning to the field after concussion need to be strengthened significantly. Finally, Doug talked about one myth that he wanted to debunk for all of us, that roller coasters can cause brain damage. In a typical example of how the free press can cause issues if unregulated, Doug talked about how one article that said roller coasters might cause brain damage spread rapidly through reputable news sources. Doug then proceeded to show us numbers about the accelerations on roller coasters and more importantly the side to side strain on your neck which is known to be sensitive to acceleration. Even in the most extreme roller coasters, accelerations were nearly 50 times below the threshold of causing brain damage. Thus, Doug taught me to be very weary of signs of concussion, but to also be skeptical about sensational news articles that only site one article.

This evening was also quite a pleasure. After I got spiffed up with my suit on, Alex, Julia, and I headed over to the Sheraton Hotel to meet with our fellow ILC members from the Yale program. The three members of the Yale program; Tom, Dyana, and Matt were all very friendly and engaging. Tom and I go to the same school and know each other well, so it was a pleasure seeing each other. Dyana and Matt were also very friendly and we enjoyed talking about college and just life in general. Our main guest of the evening was Joaquim Hamilton who is an assistant dean of admissions for Swarthmore College. Joaquim was interesting because he was open about how he went through the process of getting into college and he contrasted it with what students go through today. I found that he was very open about what Swarthmore had to offer, and what it did not. Overall, the dinner was pleasant and I had an excellent evening.

Physics is Beautiful

Class this morning was made incredible by the excitement of analyzing our roller coaster data, the many creative demonstrations that Bill had set up for us for his lecture, a very interesting guest speaker, and beginning to collect some very interesting data for our interest group afternoon labs.

First thing in the morning, we broke into our Hershey Park groups and downloaded the data we collected on our accelerometers and video cameras to the computers and making sensible graphs out of them. I was really impressed at how well our data came out and how interesting it is to compare acceleration in the x, y, and z direction as well as altitude versus time, especially once we have synced it to the first person video we took from the front car of the ride (which is admittedly mostly the grab rail, but there is definitely some useful information lurking in the background). We really only spent enough time with that to get the data on to Logger Pro, fix up the graphs and save it. The rest of the work for the presentation of Friday will be done outside of class.

After that, Bill gave a really interesting lecture on magnetism and its interactions with electricity. As always, his unique analogies and awesome demos gave me an even deeper understanding (in an enjoyable way) of a subject I was already familiar with. The first demo was one I had already seen; he sprinkled iron filaments on a magnet and we noted the patterns they aligned themselves in. In my high school course, that's as far as we went but because we have access to Penn's numerable resources, today we also got to see magnetic fields in three dimensions with tiny iron particles suspended in oil, forming a magnetic fluid. The shapes formed were more than interesting, they were beautiful. Bill also showed us how a moving current can form a magnetic field, and a moving magnetic field can form a current. The demo he used for this was an electron beam (visible through neon) between two loops of current carrying wire forming a circle. It was all really amazing to look at.

After morning lecture, Doug Smith, a medical doctor gave a talk about Traumatic Brain Injury. The lecture focused a lot on the biology that went hand in hand with the physics of the collisions we endure. It was a very interesting and probably the most applicable talk to our every day lives. I have always known the importance of wearing a helmet, but now I understand not only the physics but also a little bit about the biology behind why that it.

As the day progressed, things just got more exciting. Today was our first day of data collection in out interest groups. First, we used the radii we found with our electron deffraction patterns on phosphorous screens and the De Broglie formula to find the distance between the muclei in our crystal filter. We also played around with the voltage and the location of the beam and got some really beautiful patterns.After that, we hooked a photo multiplier to a counter and a double slit interference chamber that contains only one photon at a time. We adjusted the position of a small shutter by half a millimeter and took new data samples at each place so that we could understand the deffraction pattern that occurs even when only one photon is moving at a time. In esenc, what this means to us is that even though light can be thought of in photons, or massless particles, each of those can behave as a wave independantly of any other photons and with no medium to travel through, which is impossible in large scale mechanics so we do not fully understand whats going on. It's mindblowing.

After class, I had a couple hours to chill in my dorms and get dressed up before our dinner with the Yale ILC group, Charles Ramsey, Madeline Kronenberg, and an admissions councilor at Swarthmore. The food was delicious especially compared to the dorm food, but the conversation was even more satisfying. Although I still don't see myself thriving at a college as small as Swarthmore is, what our guest said about all the options available for courses and the freedom undergraduates have in choosing their own path was really appealing to me and I hope to be able to find that same system at a slightly more busy place with more of a focus in research.

When we got back to the quad, it was already past 10, so we spent a little time introducing our friends from the Yale porgram to our classmates at Penn and then we said goodnight. I am very excitid for tomorrows guest lecture on the physics of neuroscience because those are the two fields that I have the most interst in and I am curious to see how they can be combined.