Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Everyday Is a Gedanken Experiment

Today's class was a bit different than the usual routine since we didn't have lectures or guest speakers, but we did have plenty of time to finish up our lab on the speed of light. We went straight to lab when class started and continued where we left off yesterday. The experiment took way longer than I thought though, since we began to have more problems with our circuits and the laser, even after we fixed it yesterday.
Our experiment on the speed of light
The light from the laser was working, but it was too dim to reflect onto the diode from the mirror. Mary soon came to the rescue and tried to eliminate any possible reasons behind our technical difficulties. After several attempts of battery replacements and cable switches, she ended up fixing it by replacing our laser! The last step of our experiment seemed to be very tedious, since the other group who worked in the same hallway as us seemed to be struggling with positioning their laser towards the mirror correctly. Surprisingly, my group and I were able to quickly find the laser and point it accurately enough to reflect a strong beam from the mirror onto our diode. Soon after, we were all set to start collecting data!

The Library
We made up for all of our lost time from trying to fix our laser, by working quickly and efficiently for our experiment on the speed of light. Another aspect of how our day was different was how we were granted a long three hour break. My group and I went towards the Houston Market to get lunch, but we ended up getting food at a crêpes shop called Crêperie. The shop was also right next to a beautiful dining area: The Class of 1970 Bistro. It was the perfect timing and place to continue working on our PowerPoint presentation for tomorrow! After a productive hour of editing and practicing for the presentation, my friends decided to go and check out the physics library on campus to finish working on our project there. Our plan did go askew however, when we found ourselves succumbed to the wonderful books of physics in the library. There were so many different books on so many different types of physics, from modern physics, to electromagnetism and fluid mechanics. 

I was in heaven.

We each picked out a few books to read, and I chose one called Out of This World by Stephen Webb on modern physics. The second one that I chose was called The World Within the World by John Barrow. Unfortunately, we do not have the privilege to check out the books from the library, so we made great use of our time and read as much as we could.

Perfect view of the sunset from Citizens Bank Park!
Out of This World was the first book that I read out of the two, and I can just say that it was pure amazement. Even the introduction was captivating and interesting on its own. This particular physics book mainly focused on the modern physics of our world, and it also emphasized the process of how physics is discovered. I felt that it was extremely interesting when the author, Webb, described Gedanken physics in the introduction (I still recognized the term from my Physics class that I took last semester)! Gedanken is basically a "thought experiment" when experiments are tests of hypotheses that take place in your imagination rather than in the laboratory. Webb also wrote about a Nobel laureate, Steven Weinberg, who brought up a great point about the process of scientific discoveries. Weinberg was famous for an essay he wrote, titled as "On a Piece of Chalk" where he said that whenever we ask 'why?' questions in science,we seek an answer in the simplest and most economic terms. An example given in the book was:

Q: Why is chalk white? 
A: Because of the light absorption properties of chalk. 

Q: Why does chalk have its particular light absorption properties?
A: Because of the states of the molecules from what the chalk is made of. 

Summing up Weinberg's point, all explanations lead to the idea of particle physics since it all points to a common source. 

After our lunch break, we were ready to work in our interest groups again. Jim was back to teach us more about the radio telescope and worked with a spectrum analyzer to measure the picked up frequency and voltage. We originally planned on experimenting with the telescope outdoors today, but there was not enough sun to be exposed to for the experiment, so hopefully the weather will be good to us tomorrow! 
Citizens Bank Park: 7 PM and 11 PM
I wrapped up my amazing day at Citizens Bank Park, where we watched the game of the San Francisco Giants against Philadelphia Phillies! Although I don't usually watch baseball, I still felt obligated to attend the game and rep for the Bay Area, no matter how many dirty looks the few Giants fans in the stadium received. It was my first time at a baseball game, and I absolutely loved it, even though the game took much longer than I expected. Both teams were in the 12th inning by the time that we had to leave to go back to UPenn, and everyone was reluctant to leave the game that was just starting to get intense! 
Watching the game with friends
We all returned to our dorms well past midnight curfew, but felt more than satisfied over another wonderful day. 

1 comment:

  1. Random thought: you always go by classes of "blank". What is your high school class going to leave to your high school? It's just as important to leave something behind. Tell the other cohort because I will make you folks write about this.