Monday, July 22, 2013

Breakfast with the Bomb

I admit that I stole today's title from the calendar. Hey, it's a good title. I had breakfast today in the physics room. To entice us to arrive half an hour early, Bill had brought breakfast: donuts, bagels, and orange juice. The morning was spent talking about the atomic bomb, and, even with the extra half hour, it was not enough. There were three mains sections: the situation that caused the atomic bomb to be developed, how the bomb works, and finally the implications of it. The first section was mostly review to me, as I had just taken a elective on WWII in my high school. It was interesting to learn a bit more about what was going on in the scientific community. The second section was much more interesting. While I knew the basic concept of the Uranium-235 bomb (like Little Boy), I did not know the concept of plutonium bombs (like Fat Man). Furthermore, I didn't know much at all about how fusion bombs worked, and why they were more effective than plutonium. It was also fascinating to learn more about the conditions in which the bomb was developed. It was assembled in an old farmhouse with minimal tools. The final section was quite interesting as well. While I already knew a fair bit about the cold war, I did not know much about what happened to the scientists involved. Very few people connected to the bomb had their reputations left intact. Developing the bomb made all of what the rest of they did shadowed. We also learned about various applications, such as nuclear power plants.
A tool for demonstrating chain reactions. Inside this cage lie about a dozen mousetraps with pingpong balls on them. When one mousetrap is triggered, it launches the pingpong balls, triggering more mouse traps.

We then had a guest speaker, Charlie Johnson. I found his work fascinating. He works on bio nano hybrid sniffers. Since everybody knows what this means - they don't? Are you sure? Bio nano hybrid sniffers are tools for sensing (the sniffer part) various chemicals. It uses carbon nanotubes, or graphene, (the nano) with biological proteins (the bio) attached (hybrid). Long story short, it works like this. The carbon nanotube is a zero gap semi conductor (it acts like a metal or a semiconductor, according to quantum mechanics). This means that was is attached to the nanotube changes its electrical properties. We know how to measure voltage, so by measuring the voltage, we can tell whether the nanotube has something attached to it. With this sniffer, it has a protein attached to it. This protein can chemically bond with some other chemical. When it does so, the voltage changes, and you have detected that chemical. They have developed a method to attach any protein sensor to the nanotube. They can use the same ones found in a dog's nose if they want. This is a huge breakthrough. They have shown this can work for monitoring glucose level in your blood or even saliva (for diabetics). It works for detecting Lyme disease. It was a fascinating lecture. It might not have been the best, but is was certainly up at the top. There was very little information that was review, and it was all information that could be applied elsewhere (unlike just listening to the specs for some device). He was also a good orator.

After this, we had lunch. We then started the speed of light lab. Today we got the circuitry set up for the apparatus. The basic idea is that since speed is distance per time, and, because we want a fairly short distance, we want to measure a very short amount of time. We have a laser that pulses really fast (thousands of times per second). It goes through a beam splitter. Part of the beam hits a sensor that goes to an oscilloscope. The other part goes down the hall, hits a mirror, turns back, and hits another sensor. Both sensors go to an oscilloscope, which can measure voltages and times extremely accurately. It took quite a bit of messing with circuits to get it to all work. Luckily, two of the people in my group were very into circuitry. Personally, I'm more of a software guy than a hardware guy. The concepts behind hardware are interesting enough, and I love learning, but software is just more interesting to me. After this, I returned to my dorm for work on science, specifically, the presentation on Hersheypark. Despite procrastination, I am satisfied with how far we are at this point in time.

No comments:

Post a Comment