Monday, July 15, 2013

An (e^x)citing Apparatus

The day began with a lecture on exponential functions. While all the math was quite simple, the lecture also mentioned that humans tend to think linearly. I would be interested in exploring how math and psychology mix. Bill then introduced the various things we could work on for our exponential projects. A couple seemed really interesting to me. The first was a car that has a wheels that changes its speed. The wheel is set behind the car, so it turns its own wheel. Another involved examining the charge on a capacitor. I was also interested in one about Newton's Law of Cooling. There were tons of interesting options, but a few other students and I are interested in the probability of number appearance in man-made numbers, like in a newspaper. This topic is known as Benford's Law. I should be able to easily build a parser to analyze massive amounts of data.

Next, we learned about special relativity. Though I won't go into all the details here, it was extremely interesting. It was explained using a few different analogies. This was quite useful, as multiple ways of explaining it helped me get an idea of the big picture. While it took a little while to sink in, by the end it made sense. I also appreciated that we (the students) talked among ourselves afterward about what it all meant. I gained a deeper understanding of it in this way.

A guest speaker, Mark Trodden, came in to speak about particle cosmology. He works at Penn, doing particle cosmology (I bet you never saw that coming). While some of what he had to say had already been covered by other guest speakers, he taught us much more about dark matter. He was a really good speaker, able to talk about complex subjects in simple ways. While before the talk I knew some general information about dark energy and dark matter, afterwards I knew about how they study it. He told us much more specific information about what we know. It was also extremely interesting to learn about how they can possibly study something that does not interact with electromagnetic fields. He told us about some of the next steps that they will take to learn more. I am fascinated by this subject, along with so many others. My biggest complaint about this class is that it introduces so many fascinating subjects that I will never have time to study them all.
The Cloud Chamber

After this talk, we had some lunch (Side note: there is a place that sells Insomnia Cookies right next to where we eat lunch. Insomnia Cookies are as good as dark energy is mysterious). We then returned to class. We broke up into interest groups. I am working in a group investigating charged particles with a cloud chamber. The chamber is super-saturated with an alcohol mist. The bottom of the chamber is cooled. There are massive coils with which we will be able to change the paths of the particles. While today we were unable to do more than super saturate the chamber, it will be incredibly interesting for the rest of the week.

After class, I decided to go on the trip to the Eastern State Penitentiary. Its exterior was imposing, like a castle. The interior had architecture like a church. When it was first designed, it focused on reform. This was the first prison to do that. Everybody was kept away from other criminals, and the rooms were small but much better than other prisons. However, it soon ran into having to deal with too many people. They crammed more and more people and buildings in. Eventually, it became too costly, and it was abandoned. It was quite hot out. Most of Philadelphia is built in brick. This is because brick is so cheap, as it is the natural state of tourists who have been left in the sun too long. It was a fun day, though I might have to sweep up some brick dust from near my seat.

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