Friday, July 29, 2011

The End of Days

I write today’s blog with a mixture of emotions. On one hand, I’m happy to be returning home to my family and friends. On the other hand, I’m leaving the “family” and friends that I have grown to know so well over the past four weeks. Tonight, the three of us departed from the quad, departed from our lives at Penn, and watched our Clique wave goodbye to us. The events of today were truly a great way to end the month.

We began class with our final presentations, our reports of the exponential physics experiments. These were, by far, the best presentations so far. All of the slideshows and presenters were entertaining, informative, and concise. Our presentation on Newton’s Law of Cooling, I felt, went exceptionally well. We had good background information, sufficient data, we came to the correct conclusion, and presented it in such a way that Bill and the TAs wholeheartedly agreed with our analysis and description. Ryan even told us that our analysis was exactly the way he would have taught the topic. This was comforting to hear since we did not have a lot of guidance with this experiment. The research, experiments, and presentation were largely left up to our decisions. To learn that we had come to the correct conclusion and that we taught the class the same way one of our instructors would was a great feeling.

Following the presentations, we had a long discussion on what could be improved in the program and what should be kept on for the next year. It was interesting to hear about what everyone thought about different aspects of the class. For example, I enjoyed hearing the opinions of people that had never taken physics before coming to the program. Most of them felt that the program was a great way to get involved in physics and that it was still a very educational experience, despite the pace. Even the students that have been taking physics for years said that the program benefited them immensely, and I could not agree with them more. I do not have any regrets or negative feedback for this program whatsoever. Everything was run excellently, Bill and the TAs were great, and the overall experience was one that I will never forget. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in pursuing science, and even to some who aren’t necessarily interested in taking that path.

After lunch, we all gathered in the small lecture hall on the ground floor of the DRL. This was the greatest part of today. We were told that this was Bill’s time to show off all of his best demonstrations. This was absolutely true. We were given quite the show this afternoon as Bill took us through the most entertaining demonstrations of physics he had to offer. He displayed the properties of elastic potential energy by sitting on a gigantic coil that was attached to the ceiling, blew up a small house using the flow of electrons through an unstable environment, and even shattered a wine glass using sound. Bill really pulled out all the stops today, and I couldn’t think of a better way to complete the course. After the demonstrations were over, we were given USB drives with everything that we could possibly want from the program. We received the slideshows from every lecture (guest and regular), well-known physics papers that were written by some of our guest lecturers, and even every single document and presentation that Mary uploaded to Dropbox. We were also given certificates of completion for the program and wooden stars that had C’s on them, as a testament to our ability to accurately measure the speed of light. Once Bill and Mary said all that they wanted to say, goodbyes, thank you’s and even some sorrowful hugs were exchanged between both classmate and staff. I made sure to say thank you and goodbye to Bill and all of the TAs before I left, except Adam, but he left early. It all felt complete after that.

I finally got my picture with Bill

Ryan was always a huge help and a pretty cool guy. Couldn't pass up a photo-op.

It was sad to say good-bye to Mary. We have grown close.

Coolest. TA. EVER.

Bill in serious clothing??

Once we returned to the dorms, I had to finish my packing. Somehow I managed to cram all of the things I brought and all of the souvenirs and gifts I purchased into my suitcase and suit bag. I couldn’t find a scale though, so I am really hoping that my luggage isn’t overweight. If it is though, I can always transfer some items from my suitcase to the suit bag, because that is definitely under-weight. I couldn’t wait to finish packing because I wanted to get as much time with everyone else as possible. Unfortunately, it took everyone quite a while to get everything packed, so we weren’t all finished until about 6:00. We decided to just get sandwiches from the convenience store near the quad and eat light, since we would be dancing later.

The dance began around 7:30 out in the lower quad. It was actually pretty funny because after about fifteen minutes of music, it began to rain. That was actually one of the hardest rains that I had experienced during my time at Penn. This put the party on hold for about fifteen minutes, but after that, it did not stop for another three hours. The music was loud, everyone was having a great time, and for a while we all let go of the fact that we would be leaving each other very, very soon.

At 10:10, Mr. Miranda arrived to sign us out. We didn’t actually leave the quad until at least half an hour later. It wasn’t that sign out took a long time, but our good-byes took a very long time. This would be the last time for a long time, if ever again, that the seven of us would be together, so it was all very emotional. I realized at that moment how attached I had become to my friends here. I knew that I would miss them, but I did not imagine that I would be so moved just by having to say goodbye. It truly is like ripping off a bandaid, you just have to do it quickly. Sometimes, that just isn’t possible. We were so unwilling to let go of each other. Several hugs were exchanged between each of us, touching parting words were said, and there was a universal need for tissues by the time we exited the front gates. Ed bid us adieu and we were officially out of Penn’s Summer Discovery experience.

This past month has been filled with fantastic events that I will always treasure. Whether it was meeting new friends or exploring the college that I may one day call my home, I never regretted coming to Penn, not for one second. I have never been more thankful to the Ivy League Connection, and everyone who supports it, than I felt today. Although I am sad to leave Penn and my new family behind, I am overjoyed to know that I have made life-long connections, and it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for this amazing program. I am forever indebted to the ILC for all that they have done for me. For my last time in Philadelphia, I’m signing off. Good night, and good-bye Philly.

Out With a Bang

The final day here at U Penn was both incredible and heartbreaking. During class, Bill showed us four hours worth of creative, informative, exciting and occasionally hilarious demos that he himself had designed. Our evening activity, a camp-wide outdoors dance, was especially fun as well (despite the rain). By the end of the night, when I realized the month was really over and I was going to have to part with the group of friends and classmates that I met, I came close to shedding tears.

The day started off in a typical manner. Wake up, shower, dress, and say goodbye to my roommate Noor before leaving for breakfast. Our goodbye today however was much more significant because it would be the last time we saw each other before the program ended (her flight was this afternoon). We exchanged e-mails and plan to keep in touch, but it is going to be difficult waking up in the morning without her motivational music. Not seeing her every day is going to be hard to get used to.

Class began normally as well. We started off giving out presentations about the exponential relationship between variables that we studied. Alex, Brian, Onor, and I gave our presentation about Newton's law of cooling based on the data we collected with our temperature probes in hot water last week. It was interesting giving a presentation about thermodynamics to fellow high school students because not long ago, for my final project in my physics class at ECHS, I taught a similar lesson to a sixth grade class. Needless to say, my presentation today required much less background information and repetition, but I still tried to present the ideas in a similar way - on a conceptual level rather than a repetition of textbook definitions, a technique that Bill has stressed the importance of throughout the course, and is very important to me as well.

After our presentations and a short lunch break, the really fun stuff began. We moved into a larger lecture room to watch Bill perform the number of demonstrations he had set up for us. Each one displayed a different concept that we had experience with either from earlier in the course or earlier years of science in an exciting way that often exposed new ways of looking at the laws they proved. It was awesome.Above is a photo of the first demonstration. It dealt with how objects float in environments with higher densities and sink when the density of the object is greater. If you look closely, You can see a bubble floating in the tank. He accomplished this by mixing vinegar and baking soda to create carbon dioxide that stayed in the tank because it was heavier than the surrounding air. When he blew bubble into the tank, the increased density resulted in a tank full of floating bubbles. It was really cool to watch. This demonstration was designed to show the effects of angular momentum. Because the wheel he is holding is spinning, the stool he is sitting on has the ability to spin, and together they are a closed system. Bill could make himself spin on the stool by changing the angle at which he held the spinning disk. The demo was especially interesting because he informed us that this is exactly how scientists steer the Hubble telescope.Next, he brought out a vandagraph generator and used it to show us the principles of static electricity. The example of his hair strands repelling each other as they picked up a charge was particularly amusing, but my favorite was the example of the stack of pie pans that flew off, one after the other, as soon as the machine was turned on.

Bill clearly is willing to go to great lengths to provide us visual, palpable examples when he hung himself from the celling on a spring to show us what oscillations look like. He even used a motion sensor hooked up to logger pro to show us the beautiful sine wave that results from harmonic motion in position, velocity, and acceleration. I addition to being highly entertaining, seeing Bill bounce up and down like that was actually helpful in understanding the system.
Some of my other favorite demonstrations included the one that described projectile motion. He posed the dilemma of wanting to shoot a monkey that lets go of the branch he is swinging from as soon as he sees that he is being shot at. Rather than aim below the monkey as one might initially think to do, parabolic motion says that it is best to shoot directly at the monkey because as the monkey falls, the bullet falls at the same rate. Bill created a rather ingenious contraption in order to demonstrate and prove this theory. He set up a blow gun with a metal piece fitted into the end. When he blows the bullet out of the tube, the metal piece is force out, breaking an electrical circuit that was magnetically suspending a toy monkey in front of the gun. With this setup, the monkey falls at exactly the same time the bullet leaves the tube. Bill aimed his gun directly at his target and hit the monkey every time.

The most exciting part was when he exploded a toy wooden house using an electrical current and a chemical mixture that created a reactive gas within the house. He showed us that when the house was electrically grounded with a lighting rod, nothing happened, but when that protection wasn't there, a boom loud enough to make my heart skip a beat and the entire class to jump about a foot in the air. It was quite a memorable demo.
When Bill ran out of demonstrations to show, or more likely, time with which to show them, we received our certificates of completion and a thumbdrive with all the links, slideshows, articles and contact information related to what we learned and who we met during the course. It is a huge amount of valuable information that will keep my busy for the remainder of the summer, and possibly year. We said our goodbyes and our "thankyouthankyouthankyou"s to all the teachers and staff that helped us learn the amazing things we learned this week and then went back to our dorms to pack.

Once our rooms were depressingly bare, we went out to the quad for the dance party. At first, people we a little shy. I got the feeling that many of them were more comfortable with equations that dance moves, but by the end of the night, we were dancing like crazy, screaming along to the music and enjoying ourselves as much as possible in order to squeeze every last drop out of our final night. By the end, I was exhausted and fulfilled. I knew that I had made the most not only of the evening, but of the entire month.

During the past four weeks, I have learned some of the most interesting concepts and met some of the most dynamic people I have ever learned or met before. It has changes the way I look about science and learning and given my some incredible tools that will allow me to continue to discover more throughout my life. I am incredibly grateful that the Ivy League Connection informed me of the program and enabled me to experience the fascinating world of experimental science.

Going out With a Bang

Today was really an interesting and emotional day. From the start, things felt a little bit different, but Alex and I did our usual routine and went to the bakery Au Bon Pain to get our breakfast. In class, we started off by doing our presentations on research that we did a week or so ago. In general, our assignment was to test different phenomena and to determine if they were exponential relationships or not. That sounds a little bit vague, so I’ll give examples of a few of the phenomena that groups tested. My group tested Newton’s Law of Cooling to see if it was an exponential relationship. Newton’s Law of Cooling basically describes how quickly a hot object will cool down in a cold surrounding medium and how a cold object warms up in a hot surrounding medium.

To test this relationship, we got several cups of water and heated about half of it. The first test that we did tested how a cold temperature probe warmed up in the hot water. We started our data collection, placed the probe in the water and waited for a couple minutes. As soon as we saw the graph of the temperature increasing, it seemed pretty clear that Newton’s Law of Cooling is an exponential relationship. To be sure, we tested our hypothesis out by using the software, Logger Pro, to do a curve fit of our data. The data fit very well with an inverse exponential function and we concluded that the relationship is exponential.

Several of the other groups had interesting presentations such as the group that tested a car that supposedly accelerated exponentially. Exponential relationships are very important in nature, so I was glad to get some exposure to a few of these phenomena. At lunch, I ordered some pizza and then realized that I had about $30 left on my Dining Dollars card. Luckily, Mary had mentioned that people could bring snacks for the afternoon lecture if they had dining dollars left so I bought a bunch of chips and soda to share. When I got back to class, we discovered that Mary had also made all of us cookies to enjoy while we watched Bill’s demonstration show.

Bill struck me from the start as a hands on kind of guy. I was definitely right, because Bill is in charge of making physics demonstrations at UPenn. Bill started off his demonstration by showing us examples of the buoyant force by showing us how regular soda sinks but diet soda floats because it’s less dense. Things quickly got better as Bill blew some bubbles in the air and pointed out that they always sink to the ground. Just as I was about to award him the Mr. Obvious award, Bill mixed up some baking soda and vinegar in an aquarium and then blew bubbles into it. Because the baking soda and vinegar react to make carbon dioxide, which is denser than air, the bubbles floated and bounced around in midair which was pretty cool.

Bill’s demonstrations got wilder and wilder as he began to well, blow stuff up. To demonstrate how well lighting rods work, Bill brought in a scale model of a typical home and filed it with a chemical that quickly converts into acetylene gas. With the lighting rod on the house, Bill shocked the house with an electric bolt but nothing happened because of the lighting rod. When he took the rod off and repeated the process, the house exploded into pieces and made a bang so loud I’m sure every person reading this blog heard it.

I loved Bill’s demonstrations, but the several hour show flew by in moments, and soon it was time to say goodbye. Mary showed us a final slideshow of everything we did and then gave us flash drives full of everything we’ve done in the last 4 weeks. Each of our teachers spoke for a little bit and I could once again see how dedicated each of them is to the program. I cannot express how thankful I am for Bill, Mary, Ryan, Craig, Adam, Brian, and everyone in the program for making the last 4 weeks so amazing and educational.

In the evening, we got to celebrate a little bit. Summer Discovery provided a D.J. for us and we had a fun, informal dance. The dance was really fun, but for me it was overshadowed by the fact that we had to leave at 10 o’clock. Finally, it was time to say goodbye to all of my friends that have made the last 4 weeks the best time of my life. I couldn’t stop myself from crying when I said goodbye to Fred, Abheek, Onur and Alison each of whom have been fantastic friends over the last 4 weeks. While I did cry a bit, I am reminded by one of my favorite people ever, Dr. Seuss, about how to deal with something like this.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” ~Dr. Seuss

With modern technology, there’s no excuse not to stay in touch, so I know we will continue to be great friends even as Onur heads back to Turkey, Abheek back to London, Alison back to Florida, and Fred back to Alabama.

Thank you to everyone in this program for making it such a great experience.