Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happy Birthday

It really doesn’t feel any different when you turn another year older. Even though today was my 17th birthday, I felt like it was any other day. At least, I would have felt as if it were any other day except that my friends took great pains to ensure that today was fun and special for me. When I got back from class, Christine and Clara had sneakily decorated my room with birthday balloons and streamers. They both got me birthday gifts, which was really sweet of them. The girls, Cameron, and I went to dinner at Tandoor, an Indian restaurant in the Home Area. After dinner we went back to my room for birthday cake, a gift from my RC. I am so happy and grateful that my friends helped make today special for me.

Class started off a little unusually; instead of an hour-long lecture to begin the morning, we went outside and played with oobleck. Although this might sound like an elementary school project, there are researchers at UPenn who are currently studying oobleck and other non-Newtonian fluids. We got to run across the oobleck, which was fun until our feet got stuck.

Our guest speaker for the day was Dr. Mark Devlin, a cosmologist at UPenn. He works on a project called BLAST, which sent radio telescopes into space via balloon. Radio telescopes get too much interference from the atmosphere, so he used NASA balloons to take the telescopes above 95% of the atmosphere to get clear readings. He used the data taken by BLAST to learn about the formation of galaxies. Our past few guest lecturers have had similar themes of astronomy and cosmology, although apparently the two groups of scientists don’t always get along well. I thought that I might get bored listening about the same general topic over and over again, but instead I found that the review helped me gain greater understanding of the subject every time.

I did notice something interesting when I reviewed my notes for the guest lecturers–everyone who we’ve spoken to so far has been male. I have no problems with our guest speakers; they’re all at the forefronts of their fields and they’ve all given excellent presentations, but I did think it was worth noting. Even by looking at my fellow students it becomes obvious, as there are 11 girls and 26 boys. Especially after taking Women and Leadership at Brown last summer, I’ve tried to be more aware gender roles, and it appears that physics isn’t a field that has a lot of women in it. However, I know that the rest of the girls in my class are brilliant young women who are passionate about various aspects of physics, so I hope that within the next decade or so that ratio will change.

Today was the final day to work on our interest group projects, so we took our radio telescope outside to look at the sun. Of course, the day we need to take data is the only day this week that it’s foggy. Thankfully, we were still able to get some readings and we’ll analyze the data together next Tuesday. It’s been a great opportunity to work with Dr. Aguirre and the members of my interest group and it’s convinced me that I should definitely consider undergraduate research opportunities as a major factor when looking at colleges.

Our elaborate-looking set-up, which is mostly courtesy of RadioShack
I had a wonderful birthday, thanks to my friends and a fun day in class. Although this is the third year I've spent my birthday away from home, I haven't felt the loss of it. Today was truly a happy birthday.

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