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2011 SPS National Interns
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Name Moriel Schottlender
City College of New York (CCNY)
Internship: PhysicsQuest
Follow SPS on: Twitter Facebook YouTube Photobucket The Nucleus Email and Share

I am originally from Israel, and am currently a senior in the City College of New York (CCNY) majoring in physics. I love anything to do with space and astronomy, and am very passionate about science communication and outreach.

I love finding the quirky side of physics, the projects everyone can relate to whether they are professional physicists or interested amateurs. My current research project, for example, deals with the behavior of the Slinky (remember that toy?) and it's proving to be quite a challenging project. 

In my spare time I write short stories, watch sci-fi shows, design websites for fun and run a science outreach blog called, where I try to share the awesomeness of science with the public.


Name Moriel Schottlender
City College of New York (CCNY)
Internship: PhysicsQuest
Follow SPS on: Twitter Facebook YouTube Photobucket The Nucleus Email and Share
Friday, July 22nd Friday, July 1st Friday, June 10th  
Friday, July 15th Friday, June 24th Friday, June 3rd  
Friday, July 8th Friday, June 17th  

Friday, July 22nd

Week 8, final presentations week! Woah.

Okay, this week was more than just about the final presentations, but those took a big chunk of it. We were all preparing to show our presentations on Friday, and I worked on mine over the weekend so I can show it to Becky before she (and the entire APS Outreach team) left for Comicon. I managed to finish it on time and had enough time to practice and correct and even choose a small experiment to do with the audience. It was great! I was a little nervous, but random sampling of people in the crowd increased the odds of it being unnoticeable. I will ignore the lack of bias and the fact I had no control group, and choose to believe this conclusion.

But I digress. This Saturday I met a friend of mine, a fellow physicist and blogger, who works in the Naval Observatory here in DC. It was great to meet another blogger face-to-face, bloggers tend to stay behind the computer screen too much. Okay, not just science bloggers, but I think us specifically. It gives us an excuse to avoid sunlight and social interaction.

Monday was the last day I had with Becky before she left for Comicon, and we took advantage of it to go over my drawings (or, rather, attempted drawings) and my presentation. I finished almost all the schematics, and only have a few last issues left before it can be sent to the art department to produce something that's actually legible.

Thursday was extremely exciting, as it was Anish's science cafe! It was absolutely amazing: we had a very brief introduction-lecture from Dr. James Gates about string theory and information in the universe which ended on the sensationally mind-provoking question of whether or not we're in the matrix. I love those kind of questions even if they're meant to be more colorful than "purely" scientific. Philosophy was -- and should remain, in my opinion -- a big part of our understanding of how to do Physics. These type of questions get us to research into the more basic elements of our universe, or to re-examine our definitions of the universe.

Since it was a NOVA "Cosmic" Science cafe, we had a lot of "swag" around. I won a hat (totally going to wear it my last semester in school) and there were NOVA ScienceNow coasters on the tables. The coasters featured Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, whose work I sincerely admire, and I had a bit of an awkward time putting my beer glass on top of it.

Of course, being a sucker for social media (and a nerd, admittedly) I decided I shall tweet this uncomfortableness along with a picture of the distressing beer situation. Here's my tweet:!/mooeypoo/status/94165297904369665
Towards the end of the cafe, Elizabeth (who, among other things, is the one responsible for editing these journal entries, so... hi Elizabeth!) waved her phone at me, indicating Dr. Tyson actually answered.

On a tweet.

Of course, not only had he answered, but he was very witty, saying "You're just 'Having a Beer on Me.'" Ha! And that was followed by numerous chuckles and retweets from other twitterers. It was a great addition to a lovely evening and a great conversation-style interaction with Dr. Gates.

We topped the evening off with a dinner with Dr. Gates at RFD and, finally, left for the dorms to practice our presentations in the next morning. As I said before, it went great. At least, I think it did, if I believe my random sampling of biased friends.

This week was the hottest and most humid EVER! Okay, not ever.. but it was quite bad, weather-wise. So before I close this lengthy journal entry, I wish us all a cool week with dry air and - most importantly - no mosquitoes.

'till next week, Bzzzzzzzzzzzz*splat* !

Friday, July 15th

We're approaching the finish line, and I'm totally not ready for this internship to end.

This week was incredible, once again. I feel like I say that every week, and I probably do, but I can't help it - it's true! We just do so many things, and each week we have more and more new adventures and experiences.

I finally got to try the "flash freeze" experiment, which isn't really flash and doesn't really freeze anything. After a few attempts to get it to freeze (even without the flashiness) I decided it is probably best to move on to better and bigger experiments that actually work consistently. Also, I started running out of ice. And fridge space. Details, details.

This week I also started drawing schematics for the art department. I am supposed to draw rough drafts of how the graphics for the experiments should look like for the manuals. Only problem? I can't draw. My cups look like buckets, my ice looks like a book shelf and my attempt to draw fingers resulted in having to censor the entire page. I guess I found out drawing isn't my strong suit, but I did manage to get the main gist of it on to paper, so that's something. The art folk (who are, by definition, artsy), will be the ones doing the actual graphics for the manuals. Phew.

Finally on Friday (today) we went for a tour of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which was absolutely awesome. We got to hear about how things are done from the "other" side of grant applications and had the privilege of speaking to Dr. Cora B. Marret, the Deputy Director of NSF. The whole day was arranged by SPS and Patricia Engel, who on top of working for the NSF is also a former SPS intern. It was a great day, and this evening the rest of the intern gang is going to watch the final installment of Harry Potter. I won't be joining them. I only watched two of the movies, so watching the final one will just result in me bugging them the entire time for explanations they likely won't want to give me. Yes, yes, I already know, everyone thinks I'm lame for not watching the whole series. What can I say, between full-time work and full-time physics degree, I had no time for child wizards. I promise, I'll fix it. At some point. Abrakadabra..or.. something.

We realized this week that our final presentations are going to be done on Friday of next week, which is totally scary since it's not REALLY the end yet. Also, it's... next week. But I started writing my presentation and thought about which of my experiments I will show to the unsuspecting crowd. I promise, it will be an extremely cool one, and I will try not to blow anything up. At least not immediately.

Too bad Becky and the rest of APS Outreach team isn't going to be there; they're leaving for Comicon. I'm so jealous! It's okay, though. I'm just going to dress up as The Doctor and experiment in the dorms.

So, 'till next week... what? WHAT?? WHAT!!?? WHAAAT!?*


* If you did not get this reference, you are in dire need of watching Dr Who. And yes, this *is* worse than not watching Harry Potter.

Friday, July 8th

July just started, I can't believe it! This weekend was a long one, starting with the beginning of July and ending with the Fourth of July which was absolutely amazing! Spending it in the nation's Capitol (especially at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the Washington Memorial) was very exciting. We ended up taking a spot about 5 hours in advance and spending our time waiting with a small picnic, then watching the 19 minutes of fiery colorful explosions in the sky. Awesome!

The week itself was too short, though, we only worked for three days! On Tuesday the APS had a "birthday bash" meeting, and since Becky was at meetings outside the ACP, the responsibility for presenting a demo fell on my shoulders. After consulting James, I ended up presenting a nice little thermodynamics demo showing how a candle covered with a glass cup produces negative pressure and sucks up some colorful liquid around it on the plate. It went great, everyone seemed to enjoy it, so that was also a good test-run for making it a demo in the extensions!

But the week really was too short. One of the last demos I am missing is now declared a full-fledged failure; it was really supposed to be a cool one, so I refused to admit defeat until I tested all the available manipulations I could find. But alas, reality ignores theory more often than I can admit. Oh well, moving on to the new one! I think I have a few more up my sleeve.

On Friday we went to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for a tour with Binayak and Heather. We went to see their labs and some explanation on what they're working on. Very cool stuff, really! I think I finally understand what silicon wafers are meant for and some of their limitations in producing faster and better chips. My uncle (a chemical engineer) will be very happy; he's been working on silicon chips for years and tried to teach me a thing or two each time we spoke. I get it now! (I think...)

The amount of new technology that they're working on - even in the "simple" context of measurements and standardization - is mind boggling. The options are endless - or at least so large as to seem endless (a physicist's clarification). They made me feel a lot better about lab research and the future.

That's it for this week. I still can't believe we have less than a month left. Time just moves so fast, I might have to change my equations for it. Or.. well.. maybe just my expectations and work speed...

Until next week -- to infinity and beyond!

Friday, July 1st

Another week passed, and another one starting. Fourth of July weekend is coming up, and we're in the Nation's Capitol! Yay!

Last weekend we all went out to the sculpture garden for a jazz show and some drinks. It was great, only we had barely any space to sit on; but we made do with a small bench we slowly took over. It was great.
The way back, though, was frightening. Cabot had an unintentional (and totally not his fault) encounter with a car in the crosswalk. The driver, instead of stopping, drove forward, and Cabot showed off some impressive twirling skills as the car literally bumped into him. It was slow, so Cabot was fine, but it had our hearts skipping some beats. Scary.
After verifying he was okay, we pushed on to China Town where we sat for dinner at RFD - where Anish's "Science Cafe'" will be taking place at the end of the month. Their food is great, and the atmosphere is even better, not to mention the location is awesome. I think he made an excellent pick.

At work I continued devising new demonstrations, trying my best not to burn my fingers too badly. I have a few plans for demos involving boiling water and candle-fire, and you would be surprised how easy it is to get some decent finger-burns out of those. Safety first!

Wednesday we ate lunch with the group responsible for the new site; we had a focus group and ended up offering a lot of improvements and our opinion on it. It looks like the site is going to be really impressive. I know I'm going to use it now that I need to look for a good grad program in Astronomy.

Thursday was our tour-day. Everyone (including Courtney and Cabot who usually work in the Capitol and Heather who is usually at NIST, and minus Binayak who had a training session at NIST) came to the ACP for a tour. I was responsible for the fourth floor, which was a bit difficult since all I know, really, is my little corner where the Outreach group is allowed to burn stuff in. It was awesome, though, and we ended up having a tour of each floor and had introductions from the different societies in the building, including the APS Outreach (where I sit). I also showed one of my demos. Erin and Amanda showed their demo too, the one we delivered for the 3rd and 7th graders, only with some notable improvements. It was quite awesome.
Then we continued to the University of Maryland to visit Dr Richard Berg and experience his Physics IQ Test demonstrations. It was absolutely great, though I think I failed about half of them. We didn't do much worse than the physics faculty he delivered it to two days earlier, though, so that's something.

Finally on Thursday night we concluded the day with a BBQ at Dr Dylla's house (the Executive Director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics). It was great to have a downtime with our mentors and with other people in the ACP building, and also have Dr Mather and his wife come and talk to us casually. I think some of the interns were starstruck. Not me.. of course... ahem...

On Friday we had a tour of the Capitol building, led by Courtney and Cabot. They're great tour guides, and the Capitol is stunning, especially under the dome - it's majestic and gorgeous. After the tour of the Capitol we continued to visit the botanical gardens. It was really nice, I like reading and seeing plants from all over the world, especially since I recognized a few from my country.

Finally, this week ends. It was so full of events! Next week is a new one, and I have to find and test at least two more demos. It's a short week, though, since the fourth of july weekend is longer than usual. I guess I'll have to start experimenting earlier. Maybe while I'm watching the fireworks. Hey... fireworks are physics too.
Happy Fourth of July!

Friday, June 24th

ourth week over, wow. I feel like I just got here. On the other hand, I also feel like it was a year ago. Time is weird.

This week was really productive. We finally gone over the demo-writeups that I already finished and decided to combine a few of them and remove others that were already done in previous years, so I spent the majority of the week testing new demos. I got three more almost done and a few more in planning stages. They're going to be great.
On wednesday we joined the Outreach lunch where the outreach departments from all floors met and shared experiences and plans. I brought a demo and Amanda and Erin brought their activity that we all delivered to the kids last week. My demo was working just perfectly all morning while I tweaked and mastered it just so I can show it off at lunch. Of course, it worked perfectly to the extent that it didn't work at all... I think the balance of "stariness" was shifted; see, all morning? It was me, Becky and James who stared at it with "wooh!" noises. At lunch, 20-some people did, resulting in the demo's ooh-factor self-imploding.
Yes, I know, it's not a very physical explanation for the mishap, but you can't blame me for trying. I think I figured out what it was, though, and I spent the rest of the day preparing a fix and testing it 10 times before I was certain enough that it works. Of course, I went over to the other department to show it off. The "ooh" factor had to be restored.
I did discover, however, that glass explodes when too hot (you knew that already, didn't you? well.. I had to test it for myself, so ha) and that pyrex should withstand heat to the extent that it really doesn't. I had to clean up two exploded pyrex glasses; one of them was the result of my own slippery grip with the aid of gravity (whoops) and the other decided to explode while I was trying to heat up water in it. I guess I am not going to write THAT in a middle-school demo...
I now have a lot of supplies to test a lot of other demos. I needed two empty clear plastic bottles, so Becky bought 2-Liter soda bottles which were then consumed quickly (that required talent!).
So overall, the week was super productive and quite fun. There's a lot more to do for the extension activities, and I have to say that finding safe cheap home experiments about evaporation and heat is really not that easy (glass, I remind you, explodes when hot, and pyrex isn't very reliable.. just saying) so I'm hoping to find some this week that will replace the one I had to take off.
To Pyrex and Beyond!

Friday, June 17th

This week was so full of events, I don't even know where to start.

I will be a good physicist and start from the convenient middle, then move back and forth in time.
Wednesday night the wall-mounted mirror in our dorm room decided to test the theory of gravity, a test that resulted in it crashing loudly into the floor and, in the process, shattering to hundreds of reflective shards. It appears gravity was unfazed.

Cabot certainly was, though. He (and I, along with Amanda and Courtney who was also in our room) had to take a moment to recover our beating hearts from somewhere in the basement. The shock was quickly transformed into a conversation about the structural integrity of drywall and the fact that Cabot became stranded in our room now, since he was, unfortunately, barefoot. No worries, though. Amanda made some food and Courtney recovered his shoes while Amanda and I ended up waiting till almost 1am for maintenance to come and save us.

We went to bed really late after a rather exhausting day -- but I will get to that in a bit.

I will digress to the beginning now. The weekend was absolutely awesome. The Capitol Steps show on Friday evening was hilarious and we all had a lot of fun. Then on Sunday we walked around Georgetown and ended up waiting in a 45-minute line to get cupcakes. Let me tell you, though, 45-minute-line cupcakes are worth it. They were awesome, and I'm rather happy they require some level of effort to purchase, otherwise I think I'd be eating them much more often, and, quite possibly, ending up looking like one.

Must exert effort for cupcakes. I think I discovered the law of cupcakedynamics.

On Monday we went to Tuckahoe Elementary School to help Amanda and Erin with their activity about Rutherford's discovery of the nucleus. We had two groups of 3rd graders that simply blew our minds. They were cute and terribly smart. When Amanda asked them what was the smallest thing they knew, we didn't really expect one of them to yell back "quarks!". A little physicist in the making! It was such a rewarding experience. The kids seemed to really enjoy the activity, and Amanda and Erin were brilliant. The activity they devised was a complete success, at least for the 3rd graders.

On Monday evening, we went to a science cafe with Joe Palca about his book "Annoying: The science of what bugs us", which he wrote with Flora Lichtman. It was a lot of fun, and the discussion was great. I also ended up buying the book (I have a little sister, I have to learn the craft) and getting it autographed. Yay!

Tuesday was my first day of the week actually doing work. Becky was out the entire week at a convention out of town, so I had a list of "to-dos" to accomplish. I was so worried I wasn't going to successfully finish them by the end of the week, that I spent a good portion of Tuesday and Thursday in front of my computer, typing and revising. The fourth floor had a day off of my experiments, though. Despite the incredibly busy and hectic week, I think it was quite productive. I now have seven finished activities that are waiting for Becky to go over them, and I continued to make another list for a few more exciting demonstrations on the subject.

Erin and Amanda had to adapt their lesson to teenagers, since on Wednesday we went on to deliver the same type of activity (revised, of course) to two full classes of 7th graders. Middle-schoolers are much more of a challenge to engage than elementary school kids. It was exhausting and quite different than the younger children, but I thought Amanda and Erin did a great job changing the lesson plan for the older kids. Even the teacher said they were more engaged than usual, and for teenagers, that says a lot. Well done Amanda and Erin!

The day was topped off by a picnic at ACP followed by an egg relay and an open mic, which proved once and for all that physicists are, in fact, quite talented people. At least those who went up to the stage. It was pretty impressive! In the evening we went to have Frozen Yogurt at an outdoor concert in Farragut square - an awesome finish to an exhausting day.

Thursday and Friday were full work-days in the office for us, so I managed to finish my list of to-dos and work on some ideas on more home experiments.

I will take this moment in time to apologize to the fourth floor of the ACP building, and in particular those of you who require the continued use of the kitchen refrigerator. I promise, the balloons and colorful ice cups will be taken out by next week. Or by August, the latest. Promise.

It is now Friday evening, and there is one more really cool thing that just happened: my business cards are on the PhysicsCentral Physics Buzz Blog. How amazing is that? When I made them, I wanted people to have a reason to take them out of the stack at the end of the day (or at the end of a busy convention) and remember who I am, so I made sure there is a little science experiment that goes along with the card. With only the help of a few folds and liquid soap, it transforms itself into a racing boat, demonstrating the principle of surface tension and surfactants. The guys here at the office (who, incidentally, write for PhysicsBuzz blog) thought it would be a great blog post. I'm so honored! (

Of course, as I said in the first journal entry, I live and learn. Next time I make these cards, I will make them waterproof.

Here's for another incredible week!

Friday, June 10th

Another Physics week just ended and we're on our way to our third week. Wow. I know it's a cliche to say time flies (not to mention it's not very physical), but it sure felt like it. During the weekend we decided to do the tourist thing and visit museums. We ended up walking half of Washington DC's waterfront on foot and then visited the Air and Space museum and watched their Hubble 3D IMAX show. In the evening, tired but happy and extremely hungry, we decided to cook dinner together and watch a movie. We all made something for the dinner; I made my famous vinaigrette sauce for the salad, but people seemed to prefer the store-bought Feta sauce. I refuse to take it as a hint.

The week was super exciting too. I managed to experiment with quite a number of extension demos and find a few REALLY cool ones I'd like to try for next week. Becky is going to be at some convention so I will be on my own, free to roam the kitchen and destroy plastic utensils and paper cups. We made sure I have a list of "todo"s, which, I have to say, look much better on paper than they do in reality. I need to work on the write ups for the demos I already tested and transform them to Middle-Schooler-safe perfectly understandable quick summary while keeping it engaging and avoiding the ever-so-boring cookbook-style. It's a lot harder done than thought-of. I just hope I manage to finish them before the end of next week.

On Tuesday evening we all went to a Science Cafe in the NSF building in Arlington. The lecture was very interesting, and I think Anish (who is supposed to arrange some of those himself during the summer) got quite a lot of ideas and some feedback from us. Also, the burgers were awesome. Food and science always work so well together. Sometimes too well. I'm going to have to hit the gym extra this week!

On Friday we met the SPS Executive committee today for lunch, and we will again for dinner followed by a "Capitol Steps" show. They're great, I already follow them a little through their website, so the evening is bound to be exciting; you will have to wait for next week to hear how it was, of course. Reverting to the beginning of this entry, time doesn't really fly.

Well... maybe it does, if one second per second counts as flying.

Friday, June 3rd

I just finished my absolutely last undergraduate physics final on Thursday in Thermodynamics, and had just enough time to pack my closet and hop on a train to DC and start my 9.5-week adventure. So far? Awesome.
After two days of schmoozing and resupplying ourselves, all 10 of us interns traveled to the ACP building in MD for our orientation. We finally put faces to the people we communicated with, got to learn a lot about what they do, what we’re expected to do, and what we’re expecting they’re expecting us to do. We also went home with some wonderful ‘goodies’ like diffraction glasses (which I did not take off for most of the day, and still walk around in, looking at rainbows everywhere) and the GalileoScope. We have to find time and a clear night to test it out properly now.
Overall it was a great first day, and at its end we each went to our respective departments to get started. Anish, Erin and Amanda are together in the second floor (in the SPS/AIP) while I’m on the fourth (in the APS), so we get to commute together and see each other every day for lunch.
APS outreach group and particularly the PhysicsQuest project is amazing. I get to design extension experiments about Thermodynamics and heat. Good thing I just finished that exam on Thursday! Heat seems to follow me around. But I am happy about that, I love the subject matter and I am very excited to turn my theoretical ideas into practical experiments that can actually work in the classroom and at home.
Of course, that turned out to be easier said than done. Reality? Not like theory at all. Forget undergrad lab where everything is laid out in steps – I need to actually design these steps now from scratch. And apparently, there are no spherical chickens walking around people’s kitchens, so experiments that totally work in theory (and calculation, and force-diagrams, and graphs and discussions) can utterly fail in reality for the silliest things sometimes. Sure, you could, in theory, compare the density of boiling water to that of ice-water by measuring the level of a floating item, but can you do it without boiling your fingers? Not as easy anymore. Also, just in case you’re wondering, some plastic cups melt with hot water. I have tested this hypothesis without even realizing I posed it. I assure you, it’s verified many times over. I was already notified that these are all expected here, and it seems they’re a sort of ‘rite of passage’ in the department, so I guess there’s a bright side to the fails.
So, yes, work is very challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun. These are exactly the things I love doing in Physics – on one hand, find the greatest and most engaging way to demonstrate a physical phenomenon, and on the other make sure it’s accurate, it works, and it’s kid-safe.
I already have two experiments I’ve tested and written up, so I think that’s a nice accomplishment for the first week. Becky needs to go over them both, so I can’t really be sure they’re good just yet, but I think I’m getting there. I have two more demonstrations that I’m about to test and I am pretty sure will work. Of course, I was also pretty sure the boiling water one would work, too, and that ended up failing. Also, the ice balloons? Not a good idea. Live and learn, though. Live and learn.
Until next week: Vini, Vidi, Physics.

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Name Moriel Schottlender
City College of New York (CCNY)
Internship: PhysicsQuest
Follow SPS on: Twitter Facebook YouTube Photobucket The Nucleus Email and Share
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