Thursday, July 11, 2013

Millikan's Drops of Inspiration

In physics, we performed a very annoying, yet interesting, lab - Millikan's Oil Drop. A little bit of background: Millikan earned the Nobel Prize for his work on his oil drop experiment because he was able to find the charge of an electron. However, it is rumored that he had a shady deal with one of his colleagues. At first, Millikan wanted to use water for his experiment but his colleague (sorry, I don't remember his name) told him that was fallible because water would evaporate, thus, causing air fluctuations in the experimenting causing the object to have excessive movement besides its Brownian motion (motion that proved the atomic model; this motion essentially describes the random motion caused by the collision of atoms and molecules). In exchange for helping his colleague's thesis, his colleague received no credit for the Nobel Prize Millikan received later. I found this rumor very interesting, it makes me wonder how many other people had similar situations. 

Again,  the purpose of the experiment was to determine the charge of an electron. Before the lab, I had no idea how that was even possible since the electron was so small. With consideration of the size, how would you even calculate for the charge? How does the mathematics behind the experiment work?

In the experiment, we had a pre-built apparatus. We had a source of light that refracted through "windows" in a rectangular prism-like device. In that device, we put the oil (or the teachers did). However, the drops were microscopic so it was not visible to the human eye, so, we had to use a microscope. In essence, we had to observe the drops, as they dropped down the "window", and make measurements of its speed. The viscous force that pulled the drop up should have balanced with the gravitational force so that its velocity was constant. Because the density of the oil was known and also the droplets' masses, the gravitational and buoyant forces, could be determined from the droplets' radii. I will be studying this relationship later tonight because I'm wondering about the mathematics behind it. Anyways, by adding an electric field to the droplets, we could determine the electric charge of the electrons because with an added electric field, the droplet would either go up or down, and in each case, we can use that and the droplets' observed speed to do so. Using an excel spreadsheet prepared by the teachers, we did the calculations for four trials and we have an average number of 2.65026E-20 coulombs (the most accurate measurement is 1.6021765E10-19 coulombs). Bill told us that we would get inaccurate results because of the difficulty of the experiment. Our group literally spent an hour trying to even spot the white spot on the telescope. It was so small even on the telescope... It really put things into perspective. 

The apparatus. 
After the lab, I consulted Bill. I have never taken a physics class and I still plan not to, so I asked Bill how I should compensate for that. I'm learning from videos of Walter Lewin on M.I.T. Courseware but I wanted to hear from Bill what he thought was the best method for learning physics without being in a class. Apparently, I'm on the right track. I expected Bill to tell me to change my decision on not taking a physics class but instead, he told me I'm on the right track. However, I'm worried that my computational skills will be a burden for when I step into more complicated and mathematical physics. Bill told me that he would get my textbooks that have problems and answers. He's been and still is a phenomenal teacher. Not only has he taught me physics, he has also encouraged me to pursue my dream through an unorthodox method. Normally, my peers and teachers would tell me not to but Bill is different, he's given me so much hope and aspiration with his help. I feel as if I am able to discover and explore physics as what it was if I do not take a physics course in high-school. In a classroom environment, there's not much freedom and time, however, if I did it at my own pace, I would be able to expand on the topics I want and become much more like a physicist. This path is much more difficult but I feel as if it will better develop myself as a physicist. This is the real test to see if I am to fit to be a physicist. Will I be independent and strive? Only time will tell but I fully intend to. 

I didn't take a picture of myself being enlightened by Bill but here's a picture of my friend and lab partner Sophie with a smile on her face.
Later in the afternoon, Eric Furda, the Dean of Admissions at Penn, gave a speech about admissions as undergraduates. Before he started talking about admissions, he spoke about college in general. He told us to think of five things we look for in colleges and list them. For me, I look for: internship opportunities, professor-student involvement, social and environmental communities, knowledge, and inspiration. In particular, I want to become involved with a professor in biophysics. Molecular biology is the frontier to be on right now (as quoted by Bill) and for me, I want to become involved with that frontier. Also, I'm looking for an interactive and competitive chess club. In general, I'm looking for a college that will enable me to broaden my scientific knowledge and applications, and also an interactive social life. 

Mr. Furda also posted a "template" or concepts that applicants should cover for their personal statement and common app in general. 

  • Identity: How do you see yourself and how do others see you?
  • Intellect: How do you think and approach the acquisition of knowledge?
  • Ideas: What do you think and why?
  • Interests: What do you choose to do when you have the time and flexibility?
  • Inspiration: What really motivates you?
  • Culture: What is the history and mission of the institution. How is the mission relevant today?
  • Curriculum: More than a listing of majors and programs, what is the design and aim of the courses you will take over 4 years?
  • Community: Who are the people, the physical spaces of campus and the relationship of the campus to the local environment?
  • Conclusions: What should I envision for myself at the end of my college experience? What are some of the outcomes I may expect?

  • Personally, I think I have many identities. I have different "personas" in debate, school, Summer Discovery, class, and extracurricular activities. In debate, I have to be assertive and dominant but outside of debate, I am usually more relaxed. However, I think that all of these personas make up me, I wouldn't be the same without them. This description of my "identity" is condensed; I'm still trying to fully figure out who I am. I have a general idea of my "five Is" but for the sake of the blog, I will not talk about myself but of my experiences. 

    After listening to Mr. Furda's speech, I decided to take a trip around the Penn campus. I thought about my involvement with Penn thus far and if whether or not Penn was fit for me. So far, I absolutely love Penn. The friends that I have gained, the sites I have seen, the experience of the city, the knowledge I have gained, the learning environment, and the class has been at the zenith of Summer Discovery. Everyone here is intellectual and it's an enriching environment to be able to meet people that are much smarter than me. Today, I met Conner, who is absolute genius, and he does similar things as me. He plays chess, does policy debate, and has an interest in quantum physics. My conversations with him has given me so much insight and he has inspired me to study much harder. I am not discouraged that there are people who are smarter than me - my mom had told me a Chinese proverb: "there's always a higher mountain next to you" (this is actually pretty condensed) - rather I am inspired to learn from them. I am becoming a much wiser scholar through interacting with people of this community. This gives me an idea of what college is going to be like; there are going to much wiser people and I'll be able to learn and develop new mindsets and concepts through them. 
    Through my trip to the park, the memories I have made thus far in Summery Discovery rushed through my head and I felt happiness. Never thought I would walk down a park, stand still, and feel happy. I felt content and decided to head back and relax with my friends after a long, yet enlightening, day. 

    No comments:

    Post a Comment