Friday, June 15, 2018By:
Disclaimer: I listened to David Foster Wallace before starting this, so the beginning of this post comes from a different mindset than the end.
This week I find myself staring blankly at a random point at my desk quite frequently. Not because I’m bored and have nothing to do. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty to do. But, I am starting to feel settled and calm having just moved 9.5 hours from home, having just graduated from four years of proving myself to my school, having (finally) fewer reciprocated responsibilities between myself and an authority figure. Things are much more even; horizontal. Yes, Memphis is topographically flatter than DC; however, now I have the head space to question ideas I wouldn’t have had time to even create. I feel like I have learned so much more in the past two weeks of this internship than in two weeks of college. My mentor has been so patient with me while I have these mini epiphanies about all things physics. I have been writing a Physics Buzz Blog post this week about fusion, and for an hour, we just talked about hydrogen. Having such intelligent and patient people to consult when a topic from my undergraduate physics curriculum finally sets in is a great feeling. I feel like I belong here.
I have also taken sometime this week to explore areas of physics that weren’t covered in my bachelor’s degree. My next blog post might be about Pilot Wave Theory, a phenomenon that uses silicon oil to create small drops of water that interact with the silicon oil beneath them and acts similarly to some principles of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is seen as this ring of fire undergrads have to jump through as a litmus test for “how much of a physics-major you are”. But Pilot Wave Theory is a more tangible way to explain some of the hand-wavy concepts of quantum mechanics. Writing about this will be very exciting. But I wouldn’t have learned about this if it wasn’t for my mentor in this internship at APS this summer.
In the vein of learning things beyond the curriculum, I expressed my recognition of having time to genuinely ask questions for the sake of my curiosity to my mentor, and he asked me when Isaac Newton discovered gravity. I didn’t know, and he said it was during the month that King’s College of Cambridge was shut down for the plague [citation here]. What that does mean about our education system(s) that sometimes real learning for the sake of curiosity happens when we aren’t at school?
Not only have I been working hard on this blog post, but I’ve been researching popular websites to see how to revamp Physics Central. PBS is very visually appealing, and I stumbled upon this video. I loved Reading Rainbow as a kid, and this was a really fun summation of many of LeVar Burton’s most influential sayings. Anyways, keep an eye out for changes to the Physics Central website. This will be really exciting!
I don’t think I could have come across a better group of fellow interns. It’s almost spooky how well our personalities fit together. Last night we watched The Incredibles to prepare for seeing The Incredibles 2 in the near future. We talked about the possibilities of the human body given certain super powers. So, could Elastigirl be stronger than Mr. Incredible if she expanded her muscles? Well, it seems like she holds the same mass, but she can manipulate her volume, so that would change her denisty. If she decreased her volume, she would become more dense. So, she could become stronger (maybe) than Mr. Incredible. But when in a ball, she couldn’t do much. Can Elastigirl compress smaller than her “ground volume” (for lack of a better term)? We didn’t think so because when she is at ground volume, she saw her reflection in Syndrome’s lair and expressed a sigh of, what seemed to be, discontent with her figure. If she could compress, why wouldn’t she make her figure the way she wanted it to be? I imagine that would be one of the first modifications she would use her power for.
That was just a snippet of our conversation as physicist analyzing the caveats of superpowers in The Incredibles.
To other undergraduate physicists reading this: Physicists are really cool people. Once you find a group you get along with, you will realize you made the right choice to study physics. It really does open a whole new world to you. So, keep going. It will be hard, but totally worth it in the end.