Archive for the ‘ Science ’ Category

Zonderling – Particle Parade

Somewhat fitting that I discovered this while working on a biochemistry lab. Very well may be my favorite track by Zonderling yet.


Happy Easter

He is Risen!

After a long and unplanned, but needed, break from the blog, I’m back. Towards the end of last semester I needed to take some time off of writing to focus on work and studying, and I never restarted as I meant to. I’ve been meaning to make a post or two over the last couple of weeks, but this is the first chance I’ve really gotten.

Anyway, here’s a really quick summary of this semester. I’m taking four academic classes: chemistry (thermodynamics and kinetics), chemistry lab (primarily focused on methods and instrumentation), modern physics, and ordinary differential equations for physics majors. Chemistry has been pretty boring, as it has been mostly a review of the topics covered in AP chemistry. I’m still not particularly enjoying lab (my summer job ruined academic labs for me), but it has been more interesting and less time-consuming than the two semesters of organic chemistry lab. The toughest class for me has been physics. The material we’ve been studying, including relativity and quantum mechanics, is very interesting, but it’s very difficult to grasp, and as a result I’ve been behind the class for most of the semester. Lastly, I’ve been really enjoying differential equations, especially after the difficulty I had with calculus III. I don’t really like it when my teacher decides to assign three problem sets due in a single week, but I’ve found the math itself to be pretty fun.

Musically, my semester has been pretty busy too. I’m playing in wind ensemble, which has been fun. My favorite piece we’re playing with the group is also the most difficult: “Tulsa: A Symphonic Portrait in Oil,” by Don Gillis. 32nd notes should be banned at tempi greater than 160 bpm or so… I’ve continued to play in orchestra, with Brahms 4 as the highlight of our most recent concert. I don’t like playing it as much as Brahms 1, but it’s pretty good. We’ve started rehearsals for our final concert of the year, Beethoven 9. At our last rehearsal, they announced the highlights of next year’s season, including Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto, Beethoven 5, Appalachian Spring (again), Pictures at an Exhibition, and a couple of other pieces that I forget about. Unfortunately no Mahler or Strauss, but still looks like it will be a good year.

There are three and a half weeks left in the spring semester, and they’ll be busy. In addition to Beethoven with the orchestra and our normal wind ensemble concert, I’m going on a short wind ensemble tour to do a couple of concerts in another part of the state. It isn’t long, but it will still be fun. Between now and then, I have two chemistry group projects to finish. One is a presentation for lecture about the function of solar cells and how it fits into what we’re learning (salt solutions, electrochemistry and other things), and the other is a self-guided experiment into the composition of vanilla, using gas chromatography. I also have a chemistry exam, and I may have a differential equations exam, but I’m not sure.

Finals week will be a little strange again. My last day of classes is Tuesday, April 28th, and I have exams on Thursday and Friday of that week. If I have a chemistry exam final (we’re hoping that our teacher decides not to have it, but we’ll see), it will be Thursday morning. Chemistry is Thursday afternoon, and physics is Friday afternoon. And my differential equations final is Thursday, May 7th. I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself for 5 days, but hopefully it will be pretty relaxing. I will need to move my things to wherever I’m keeping them over the summer, whether that’s in the house I’m living in next year (with 8 other Chi Alpha guys), or with some family friends again. I take the train home on the 8th.

Well, I’m not sure what else I want to say in this post. I need to pick a major soon, as well as classes for next semester. I’m leaning towards biochemistry now, for a number of reasons that I may explain in another post. Hopefully my next post will be a lot sooner than this one was.

Also, I’ve been listening too…

Tough Week Ahead

It’s December, which means I can finally let myself listen to and enjoy Christmas music. Not that I wasn’t allowed to earlier, it’s just a personal rule of mine. That being said, I don’t know how much Christmas music I’ll be able to listen to this week. It’s just that kind of week…

Today was pretty good. Normal lectures (physics and chemistry) in the morning, and then my last physics lab of the semester (on slit interference experiments) was at noon. Those all went decently, and I let myself relax for a little bit this afternoon. After catching up on my “I’ve Been Listening To…” posts, I watched YouTube videos for a little bit, and then had a horn quartet (one of four ensembles I’m playing in this semester, not counting basketball band) rehearsal from 5 until 6. And then I talked to my mom and dad for 40 minutes, just because. I ate dinner at N (French toast and fried chicken), and then talked to Grandmommy and Poppy for 50 minutes as I walked back to my dorm. So I hadn’t done any work yet when I got back to my dorm. Oops. At least it was a good day though.

Tomorrow is my last organic chemistry lab, and I’ve barely started my last lab report, which is due tomorrow too. After my lab, I’ll have a short horn studio combined class, playing my jury piece for the others in the studio to practice for the actual jury. And then I’m having “Hornsgiving” with the marching band mellophone section.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, this year I spent my Thanksgiving break with our family friends the Ks. Compressing 5 days into a couple of sentences, that was a much better decision than staying on grounds and sitting in my room for the better part of the break and getting all of my food from the one open convenience store on grounds, like I did last year. This year, I had a real surrogate family to stay with (rather than seeing fewer than 10 people on the way to scavenge for food), ate better than I have in months (as good as pita chips and nutella are, they don’t compare to homemade beef stew and biscuits for dinner), and had what felt like a true vacation instead of an extended weekend with no one around. I even ran a 5k on Thanksgiving morning, which went pretty well, considering I haven’t run seriously in several weeks. Besides actually going home, the only thing that could have improved my break would have been a win at in our football game against our rival school, which I went to with the marching band and didn’t get back from until 4:30 in the morning. Still recovering from that night…

Back to this week. On Wednesday, I’ll have normal classes and then my fourth and last orgo test, on catalysis, coenzymes and nucleic acids, before the final exam. We had a 3 hour review session on the test material last night, which was stressful because there was so much to go over, but helpful. I have some studying to do before the test, but I know what will be on the test and what I need to review, which is good. Just need to sit down and do it.

After my chem test, my week gets significantly more bearable. I will still have 2 orchestra rehearsals on Wednesday and Thursday, problem sets for chemistry and physics due Friday, preparation for my jury on Saturday, and other normal homework assignments and classes, but it shouldn’t be that bad. So maybe this post should be titled “Tough Two Days Ahead.” Oh well.

On another note, I just (well, right before I started this post) solved a tough light interference problem using calculus, which may or may not have been as exciting as I thought it was, but is pretty cool.

I have more that I could say, but I need to start a lab report. Silly lab report.

Death by Higher-Dimensional Bubble

Tonight I should finish a book that I’ve been slowly working my way through since the beginning of August: The Shape of Inner Space by Shing-Tung Yau. I was given the book along with a physics award my junior year of high school, and started it during summer vacation after letting it sit on my shelf for over two years (too much to read, too little time; my list of books I want to read currently has almost 130 titles). The reason why it’s taken me so long hasn’t been because I don’t have the time to read it, however, but because the material is so dense and takes so long to understand. I still don’t fully understand several of the concepts presented by the author, the winner of the Fields medal in 1982 and a key figure in the development of the mathematics of String theory through structures called Calabi-Yau manifolds, so it’s definitely one that I will want to re-read in a little while.

For those of you who aren’t that familiar with String theory, the idea is that all matter in the universe, rather than consisting of simple point-like particles, is made up of small strings, the properties of which determine their identity and interactions with other strings. While this is a little bit confusing, and scientists still aren’t completely sure what consequences may arise from these circumstances, the theory helps to unify many existing theories and other observed phenomena. Where the Standard model fails to accurately explain gravity (seemingly the most obvious, but actually the least important of four “fundamental forces“), the interaction is a direct result of String theory (don’t ask me to explain why, I don’t know). However, despite all of its successes, there has been no hard proof to date that supports String theory, and the search for such evidence continues today.

Another interesting consequence of Sting theory is that it would probably require the universe to exist with ten dimensions, but last time I checked, we only live in four (three spacial dimensions and time, along which we can only move in one direction, and at a constant “speed”). So where do the other six go…?

This is where the work of Yau and a number of other mathematicians and theoretical physicists comes in. Yau was one of the mathematicians responsible for proving the existence of Calabi-Yau manifolds, which manage to compact several dimensions into a long, thin shape. If you’re not sure where this is going, imagine wrapping one of these manifolds so that their ends touch, creating a thin loop of many dimensions, or a string. Now imagine that such a loop is the same as the strings in String theory…

So the universe may be a four-dimensional space made up of tiny strings of six-dimensional spaces. Kind of hard to imagine, but mathematically, it seems to make sense (even though I can’t explain it). While this setup is stable for the time being (we don’t live in ten-dimensions, right?), if the forces that hold the six-dimensions of the strings together (they would really like to “get out” into the whole universe) slacked even a little bit (and at any one of these individual strings), things would change quite a bit. The escaping dimensions would form a ten-dimensional bubble whose expansion would almost instantly reach the speed of light as it moves through our four-dimensional universe. Any and all existing matter “run over” by that bubble would be violently reorganized into ten dimensions, decimating everything. And our only way to observe things is with light, we wouldn’t even be able to observe the bubble before it destroyed the Earth and all of its matter. That’s a fun thought…

Fortunately, the likelihood of an actual bubble forming is very very low. Using more math that I can’t understand or explain, it’s been calculated that the universe would probably last e^(10^120) years, which is a ridiculously long time. According to Google and other web-based calculator applications, e^(10^120) is approximately equal to infinity. So we should be good for a long time.

Hey, it’s interesting to think about though.

Just a Quote

I came across this while reading the other day, and thought it captured the spirit of science, in most cases, perfectly.

From The Quantum Universe, by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw:

“Science, of course, has no brief to be useful, but many of the technological and social changes that have revolutionized our lives have arisen out of fundamental research carried out by modern-day explorers whose only motivation is to better understand the world around them.”

I’m A… Biologist?

I’m planning on majoring in chemistry, the order and sense of which I’ve been fascinated by since eighth grade. I enjoy learning and applying physics, better understanding our universe on its most fundamental levels. I’ve always liked space and astronomy, exploring worlds beyond our own through books and movies both non-fictional and fictional. When I was younger, dinosaurs were the coolest things ever (then again, has that really changed?). Years later, computer science piqued my interest when my friend G took an online Java programming class and I followed along the curriculum with the required open-source textbook. The only main branch of science that has never particularly caught my attention is biology. So naturally I’m working in a biology lab this summer.

In early spring, I began searching for internship opportunities with private STEM (the academic abbreviation extending over all fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) companies near my hometown. Through church, my family knew a couple of people at two in particular, one business focused, it seemed to me, on engineering and another biology research and production company. I’m not as interested in engineering, but the work they were doing was closer to my interest in the physical sciences than my small interest in biology, so given the choice, I toured the former, and then submitted my resume as applications to each respective internship program. Months later, after beginning to think about being stuck with a non-STEM job for my time at home, I received an e-mail from our biologist friend, offering me an internship in his lab for the summer. I never heard back from the engineering firm.

As it were, commuting to and from work at the biology lab is significantly easier than getting to and from the other corporation would have been, so it’s probably for the better that I wasn’t really given the choice between the two. And now I get a healthy dose (weather permitting) of exercise biking nine miles each morning and evening. It gets a little warm on the hot and humid days, but I have no other complaints.

So, for more background: I’ve taken biology three times so far. I remember very little from my seventh grade class, besides thinking that population biology and evolution were rather boring. Freshman year was basically a more in-depth look at the same subject material, but with occasional labs (look at those cells!) sprinkled in. And then junior year I took, and enjoyed, AP biology, reaching an entirely new level of understanding regarding the functionality of life. It was exciting, but not enough to distract me from my intentions to study chemistry or physics. Between the AP bio exam in 2012 and my first day of work this past May, I learned no biology whatsoever, besides what little I read in articles from Scientific American. Needless to say, starting in a private DNA and genome biology lab (the real deal), with no advanced biology education or formal bio lab education, was a little overwhelming (understatement much?).

After a brief orientation and tour of the campus, I was thrown straight into the stormy ocean of research. The first week or two I did most of my work blindly from instructions my supervisors wrote for me, barely understanding what I was doing or where in the grand scheme of our projects it fit. It was exhausting. Over time, I began to understand the theory and mechanisms of the work I was, well, working on. Two months later, I still wouldn’t nearly call myself a biologist. I still have tons of questions regarding the nearly ten projects I’ve done work on so far. And while I’m considering going in to a field similar to molecular biology at least a little bit more than I was, I am still most interested in the physical sciences.

All that being said, it’s pretty close to the best summer job I could possible have. It may not directly supplement my studies at school, but it’s giving me a completely new appreciation and understanding of biological science and research. And the opportunity to do real research, even if it isn’t quite in my field of choice, is irreplaceable. There’s just something about doing work (lost of work) in order to learn and better understand things that we, as humankind, don’t yet know. It’s like learning things at school but even better. Sure, the work can be menial (sonicating cells from 12+ cultures is something everyone should  have to do sometime to “build character”) and the hours a can be long, the data and results of a successful is always exciting (as long as that data doesn’t say that you need to re-run it). While lab sections at school may be necessary for learning good practice in lab situations and experiment design, their telegraphed results never create (for me, anyway) the excitement that my experiences in the “real” lab can.

I’m not even going to get into how cool some of the equipment we get to use is (we’d be here for a little while), which is a shame. To sum it all up, the only way I can think of making my job better would be for it to be in a chemistry or physics lab (and no, that engineering firm does not count). Anyway, I only have two weeks of this year’s internship remaining, but I’m already looking forward to my work next summer. I don’t know what kind of projects and work I’ll be doing then, but only time can tell in the research world. I’ll just need to wait and see.

An Open Letter to Physics Teachers

This is a post that I wrote back in April following an especially fun physics lab. I meant for it to be longer and a little more humorous, but I don’t remember what my ideas were for it:

Dear Physics Teachers,

Really cold things like dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) and liquid nitrogen are really fun. For this reason, I highly suggest that you use them any time you are trying to explain concepts like ideal gas laws. Sure, you may lose a little bit of productivity when everyone wants to put *insert object here* in the vat of liquid nitrogen, and subsequently touch, play, or break it, but I’m guessing that the time lost will be less than if you are constantly keep your students focused in a lecture. After all, where else are you going to get a chance to play with really cold foggy things that make everything placed in them shatter (or otherwise break)? Your consideration would be greatly appreciated.


Some Kid (definitely not a “mature” college student…)