Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fun With Light

This morning was a little rough. Between class, lab reviews, exploring the city and meeting so many new people, not much time is left over for sleep, so getting out of bed can be difficult. Once class begins, it usually gets better. Today, we had three hour-long lectures in a row that were each very interesting, but sitting in one place for that long was still quite difficult.

Luckily, the topics of each of the presentations were intriguing enough to keep me awake. Mary took the first shift, giving us a lot of information about the Standard Model. She talked about the subatomic particles, most obviously protons, neutrons and electrons, but also the components that make up protons and neutrons (which happen to form in such a way that they have polar charges, allowing positive protons to exist so close to one another), as well as anti-matter such as positrons and anti-protons. It was really fascinating stuff and a lot of the tings she went over, I was hearing for the first time but it really helped me understand the way atoms work on a much deeper level.

Our next lecture was a guest lecture about how general relativity is proven by gravitational lensing. He basically explained that a massive object can bend the light coming from the objects around it and if it lines up perfectly with a light source directly behind it, observers from earth see the light source as a ring around the massive object. These rings are called Einstein Rings and we can use them and other examples of bent light to understand more about both the light sources and the dark matter and black hole in the universe that have mass and therefore bend light but are otherwise decidedly inactive. In fact, gravitational lensing turns out to be one of the few ways we can measure dark matter. After the talk, we got to play with lenses made to bend light in exactly the same way a black hole would.

The third and final lecture was performed by another guest, James Aguirre. He discussed with us some of the work he is doing with telescopes that use regular FM radio waves to get an image of the distant galaxies in the universe. He showed us some of the pictures he took of the 60 something radio receivers he set up in a desert in Africa, away from interfering signals, in order to collect his data. Based on the images he showed of the maps of the universe his telescopes have already created, it's clear he is doing some groundbreaking work. He also discussed with us the next step he would be taking to collect even more meaningful data in the next five years or so.

After all the lectures, we had a well deserved break for lunch and when we came back we split back up into our interest groups. Because quantum mechanics was done collecting data, we watched the Feynman lecture on particle/wave duality. It was really cool because he is really good at explaining the complex ideas of quantum mechanics in understandable ways and also because he mentioned specifically the exact experiment we had already done with the photo multiplier and the diffraction pattern. We also worked on a power point for our presentation on Wednesday before leaving.

After class, Brian, his floor mate Abheek and I met up with Tom Miller from the Yale ILC group on campus and we sat in the grass and under the shade of a nice big tree. We were planing on playing a game of Frisbee, but in 9o degree weather, the shade-sitting idea was much more appealing.

At 7:00, we got dressed for another fancy dinner with our ILC cohorts. There were many guests present: three students from U Penn as well as other faculty. I was seated next to Britney, a rising senior at Penn who majors in Psychology and is striving to become a pediatric psychiatrist. She had some really interesting things to share about the possible clubs, the options for housing and dining, and all there is to do in Philly. It was great getting to hear from her. I also talked briefly with Ellen Kim, the UPenn admissions councilor for Northern California, about how much I was enjoying my classes and why I was interested in physics in particular. We went on to discuss the types of people who are drawn to Penn and those who are accepted, specifically, those who have interests of their own but are also open-minded and willing to study across disciplines and hear what the community has to share. It definitely gave me a better feel for the place listening to all the guests and what they had to say about Penn.

When we returned to the quad, we walked into something very peculiar. A group of about ten students were standing in a strange formation waving glow sticks around very slowly in seemingly random directions. Upon closer inspection, I realized there was a camera set up in front of them. They were making light paintings with high exposure shutter speeds. it looked like too much fun to resist, so I grabbed a glow stick and joined in. It was great. We worked together to spell out "UPenn", draw a giant dinosaur, a man shooting another man with a laser beam, a family with a puppy, and a bunch of just random shapes. We ended up with some really cool pictures. I'll try to get a hold of them and post them tomorrow. It was a great end to a long day.

The Best Days Go By the Fastest

Class seemed to be a blur today. Everything went by so quickly. We listened to three lectures for three and a half hours, but it felt like such a shorter length of time. Our first lecture was given by Mary. She discussed the Standard Model of the atom and all of the (known) characteristics of atoms. Mary began by talking about the four fundamental forces, which are strong nuclear forces, weak nuclear forces, electromagnetic forces, and gravitational forces. The pattern for all of these forces is that there is an inverse relationship between the strength of the force and the distance over which it can act on something. For example, strong nuclear forces are only in extremely minute spaces, but they are the strongest of the fundamental forces. We also talked about Leptons and Quarks, both of which are different parts of an atom. Leptons are fundamental particles that lack an internal structure and quarks are fundamental particles known for making nucleons. Although most of this was new information to me, I was able to grasp it fairly quickly.

The two guest lectures seemed to be over as soon as they began. The first lecturer was Bhuvnesh Jain and he discussed general relativity, more specifically the ways light bends around cosmic bodies. This lecture was definitely confusing. He talked exclusively about light and its properties when space was curved, and this was not exactly an easy concept to grasp. Dr. Jain explained that the “natural” path near heavy objects is curved because space itself is curved. I am still having a bit of difficulty understanding what exactly it means for space to be curved, but I will certainly get it eventually. Our second lecturer was my special interest group professor, Dr. James Aguirre. This lecture was much simpler for me than the prior lecture because James talked about everything we had already learned in our special interest sessions. He managed to pack all of the lessons he taught us about radio astrology into a one hour lecture. I wish that we had learned everything in just an hour so we could have had more time for experimentation in James’s lab. On the other hand, I also like that he took it slow with us so we could ask questions and cover the material thoroughly. Either way, I think I would have enjoyed my time in James’s radio astrology lab because he is a very interesting professor.

Following lunch, my special interest group met in James’s lab for the final time. Today we configured a circuit consisting of our oversized battery, the electronic multi-tool that we have been using for measuring volts, and one of the receivers from a Dish Network satellite dish. Our task was to observe the correlation between the distance between an object emitting radio waves and how strong of a signal they sent to the receiver. As expected, we saw that the farther away the object got from the sensor, the less signal the dish received. This was similar to our prior labs, but this experiment was left mostly left up to us to perform. Unfortunately, this was our last time studying with James. I appreciate all of the time that he took out of his research to help us compose our presentation. I only wish we could have had a bit more time to study with him because I had just begun to warm up to my group, as well as James.

After class, Onur and I returned to the dorm. I hung out with Fred, Alison, Onur, Abheek, Julia, and Brian for a while. Our group was quickly divided when Abheek, Julia, and Brian left the dorms to go meet Tom Miller, a friend of Brian and Julia’s who will be attending the Grand Strategy program at Yale. I stayed with Onur, Julia, and Fred until it came time for me to get ready for dinner. After dressing and signing out in the office, we were off to meet the Yalies once again.

Dinner was fantastic. We had six guests join us at La Croix Restaurant in Center City Phillly. Our guest list included, Eli Lesser, who is in charge of summer programs at Penn, David Toomer, an Admissions Official from Penn, Ellen Kim, the Northern California Admissions Official at Penn, and three Penn undergrads: Sam, Britney, and Sean. I was lucky enough to be seated between Sam and Ms. Kim. Sam is an engineering major who will be entering Penn’s veterinary school once he graduates from his first four years as an undergrad. We conducted very interesting conversation regarding why Penn was an excellent college, the pros and cons of an urban campus, as well as how prospective college students are evaluated in their applications. I really enjoyed talking to Sam because he was easy to relate to. We have similar academic interests (except for the veterinary aspect) and I found our tastes in colleges to be very similar. Sam was a joy to speak with and he gave some excellent insight into the nuances of going to Penn. Ms. Kim was also very interesting to talk to. Having met her at the Exploring College Options seminar in Berkeley, she was very anxious to listen to my interpretations about the event. This branched off into discussion about the Ivy League Connection and what exactly it does for students and the surrounding communities. Of course, I was also able to slip in a few questions about Penn’s admissions process. Equally enjoyable to the conversation and company was the food at La Croix. This food was simply magnificent. I started with a corn soup, which an only be described as silky smooth. I also ordered duck as my entrĂ©e, which was oh-so succulent and tender. For dessert, I ordered a dish that was just called Blueberry. It was composed of blueberries, blueberry ice cream, chocolate mousse, and chocolate sauce. It was nothing short of divine. All in all, dinner was excellent and I could not have wished for better company.

Cohorts coming together.

There was quite an interesting conversation going on from the looks of things...

My spectacular still looks so good...

Matt is enjoying his conversation with Sam.

I wish today could have just felt a little bit longer. Our lectures this morning were very enjoyable (though one was especially confusing), we had a ton of fun at dinner, and I think the ILC has made a lasting impression on the University of Pennsylvania. Eli never ceases to be amazed with our program and he actually follows our blog, which surprised me at first (if you’re reading this, hi Eli!). These are the kind of networking opportunities and connections that we want to make as ambassadors and scholars. Our goal is to reach out to as many people as we are able to so that we can bring back as much information about college life as we possibly can for those who are unable to attend programs as magnificent as this one. Today, I was truly grateful for the opportunity that I have been given, and I can never thank all those involved in the ILC enough for letting me have the chance to embark on this journey and meet so many people that have changed my life.

One great big group shot to finish the night.

Great Advice

Today I was very glad to sleep in and get food at the local store instead of waking up early. I got a couple of bagels and some milk and walked out of the amazing air-conditioned store into some of the most intense heat I’ve ever endured. Sure, I’ve visited Death Valley in California where temperatures can hit in the 130® Fahrenheit, but the thing I’m not used to is the humidity and heat combination. I tried my best, but I was sleepy and unfocused for most of the day.

What made the day interesting was that we had two guest lecturers instead of one like the rest of this week. The first lecturer talked about space and particle cosmology. One of the side interests in science I have is astronomy, so I focused intensely as I tried to absorb what he was saying. Perhaps the most interesting thing that our first guest talked about was the effects of general relativity. After Einstein had his amazing year and came up with his theory of general relativity, people found it interesting, but his theories were really untested and therefore worthless until they were proven to accurately model nature. One of the coolest predictions of general relativity is that when there is a large amount of mass in between the observer and a light source behind the mass is that the mass will bend the path the light takes. Even cooler, when the observer, mass, and light source all line up exactly, the light is bended around and appears as a beautiful ring of the original source. When these rings were found, although it was many years after Einstein came up with his theories, general relativity was again proven to be a superior model to Newton’s “Law” of gravitation.

Dr. James Agurie was our second guest lecturer. James spoke primarily about his field, radio astrology. What is cool about radio astrology is that radio waves are a vastly different wavelength than light, so you can get very different properties of stars and other wave sources in space than with visible light. One of the interest groups in our class spent the last several days on the roof using a radio telescope to look at the sun. Anyways, radio astrology is pretty cool stuff, and I enjoyed James’ lecture a lot.

One of the things that I have discovered during my stay here at UPenn is that living independently makes it extremely easy to develop daily habits. While I am quite satisfied with my studying and social habits, one of my recent goals has been to begin learning Italian. After class, I headed to the Penn bookstore and purchased a Berlitz “Essential Italian” book to begin learning. The book came with an audio CD to follow along and learn how to properly pronounce all the words in the book that was quite useful.

I hung out with some friends in my friend Fred’s room for a while, and then it was time to get dressed up to go out to dinner. While wearing a black suit in the 95 degree heat wasn’t great, the dinner turned out to be fabulous. The restaurant we went to was in Center City Philadelphia, and it was called La Croix. The restaurant was located in a very fancy hotel and was right next to a beautiful courtyard. However, what made the meal fantastic was not the setting but the company. Charles was careful to have us each take seats next to people that we could learn a lot from. I was sandwiched between two current UPenn students. The first one that I met was named Sam Gilbert and the guy on my left was named Sean. I spent almost the entire meal conversing with Sam because, as I quickly found out, he had interests very similar to mine. At this moment, I am open-minded about where I’ll go to college, but the top of my list includes UPenn, MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley and UCLA. I found out that Sam had been accepted to Columbia, MIT, and UPenn. Sam was kind enough to tell me that he chose Penn because he visited each campus and stayed overnight and that the UPenn students were extremely accommodating and friendly and that he instantly felt at home. Even better than having similar interests in colleges, Sam and I have very similar interests in academic subjects. At the moment, I am most strongly interested in a science major that will lead me down the path of researching or somehow being involved in the field of green energy. Sure enough, Sam turned out to have spent the last four years of his life studying Mechanical Engineering at UPenn and he was eager to tell me all about his program.

The first thing that Sam told me was that the engineering program at Penn still leaves you room to try some other classes for fun which he said was quite valuable to him. This sounded great to me because science is my primary interest, but I still want to study other things such as foreign languages. Another interest that Sam and I share is studying abroad. I absolutely want to study abroad while I’m in college, and Sam told me about how he spent time abroad during the summer which he thought was a nice fit for him because he didn’t have to interrupt his classes during the regular year. Beyond these things, Sam shared a ton of practical advice about housing, cooking, athletics, and just making the most out of his experience at UPenn. In fact, he had such a good time that he’s going to spend another 4 years getting a veterinary degree here. I very much appreciated Sam’s advice and friendliness, and I think conversing with him has been the most influential conversation I have had about college ever.