Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Faster Than The Speed of Sound

A very successful day passes by today in physics.  We discussed thermodynamics, or the movement of heat, began our first trials in our exponential behavior experiments, had a guest speaker, and successfully measured the speed of light.  It was a busy day but a rewarding one.  It was the type of day where everything good that you could hope to happen happened.  Experiments went smoothly, the topics were interesting, results were accurate, and people were pleasant.  Overall, today is in my top three days of best academic days of all time. 

In the morning, we discussed thermodynamics for the first time during the course.  Thermodynamics is one of those areas of physics that is fun to imagine and also has the most practical applications.  We were a little stressed on time today, so we had to shorten the lecture a bit, but I already know enough about thermodynamics for all intents and purposes.  It just so happens that the day that our class is being evaluated by the university, all of our equipment starts to fail.  We eventually sorted everything out, but it was fun to watch as one computer started to fail after another and watching professor Burner improvise the lesson.  Sometimes the best descriptions are thought of on the spot instead of a textbook definition from a PowerPoint.

Radioactive Sample
Today we also began our exponential behavior experiment.  My group was studying radioactive decay and whether or not the rate at which the atoms decay is exponential, meaning that a function plotting the graph would include an exponent.  Our group had the fun group; that is to say that we were the only group that got to work with radioactive isotopes.  There really wasn't any danger, but there was still enough radiation to make a Geiger counter go crazy when we put the solutions close by.  Based on the data we collected, we believe that the decay rate decreases exponentially over time but we need to study more asymptotic behaviors before we can make an accurate conclusion.

Something that I participated in today with only three other people was measuring the speed of light.  The four of us who are researching radio telescopes had the opportunity to conduct the experiment that everyone else will be doing next week.  This was the high-point of my day by far.  The experiment included using a laser beam, a mirror, a large lens, and other equipment including our new best friend the oscilloscope to shoot light across the hallway and reflect it back into our sensors to collect data. 

Light Measuring Rig
Inside the Laser Beam
Yesterday our group built the circuitry and assembled the sensor array for today’s experiment.  During testing, we managed to reflect the laser beam using a mirror from one hundred and twenty-six feet down the hall into a lens which we used to then focus the beam onto a diode that was connected to our oscilloscope to collect our data.  We measured the difference between the time it took for the light to travel down the hall and back to the time it took for the same laser to register on our sensors from point blank.  We calculated that light travels at 2.97 x 10E8 when the actual accepted value is 3 x 10E8.  That’s less than a five percent error!  We had our assistant instructor Brian going through every room bragging at how his group had accurately measured the speed of light almost to the exact value.  If that wasn't enough, apparently our group finished the entire lab hours before any other group in the sixteen year program ever could.  Due to the fact that we finished so quickly, tomorrow we will have to make up a new lab to do, because we were still supposed to be working on it into tomorrow.  After accomplishing our tasks so efficiently and easily, we all felt pretty pleased with ourselves.

Humanities Last Best Hope
By the end of everything, I finally felt hope for humanity knowing that there are still teenagers out there in this world who can remain focused for hours to get the job done without any distractions; who share the same knowledge and appreciation for the science as I do.  I was a little concerned at the beginning of the program at after seeing how many people there are here who don’t care whether the data is complete or correct but that as long as it is done, it is good enough.  I didn't expect that type of behavior from students here at an Ivy League University; I expected more.  Thankfully though, at least I know there are at least three other people here who came here not only to learn but to conquer.  

No comments:

Post a Comment