Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Nature On A T-Shirt

Today, my head exploded. It wasn’t because we were playing with TNT in lab. In preparation for the CERN announcement tomorrow, Bill decided to teach us the basics of particle physics. We learned about different kinds of elementary particles, and I figured out that a lot of the stuff they taught us in middle school was not exactly right. For example, atoms are supposedly made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Apparently, protons and neutrons are actually made up of quarks, which is a word that I’ve heard of before but never really understood exactly what it meant. Of particular importance to us was the Higgs boson, a particle that would help prove the standard model of elementary particles. CERN has been doing research on the Higgs boson, and we’re all super excited to teleconference with them on Thursday. Although particle physics was almost totally new to me, I really enjoyed the way that my professor infused each lesson with humor. This morning, he described physics as trying to get nature so that it fits on a T-shirt.

During lunch, I went back to the quad to figure out what went wrong with my PennKey. Apparently, I just had the password down wrong, which is frustrating but at least there isn’t anything seriously wrong with my computer. Eli Lesser helped me make up a new password, and I was so grateful for his time and patience. I’m completely not a computer person, so sometimes even the simplest tech things confuse me. I can now post my blogs from my own computer, ensuring that Eli has something to read before he goes to bed. (Thank you so much, Eli!)

In the afternoon, we learned about refraction and total internal reflection. We never covered this in high school so it was fun and slightly confusing, but suffice to say we were playing with lights, lenses, and lasers. We would never get this kind of opportunity at ECHS for fear that people would blind each other, so this was really exciting for me.

Later this evening we hung out with Mr. Lawrence, as he had to stop by to give the Social Justice folks their books. We chatted with him about our studies, and he told us about the plan to go to Fourth of July celebrations as a cohort tomorrow. It’s super exciting to be in Philadelphia for the Fourth, as this is the place where everything really happened! We’re going to go to Independence Hall to hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence and see the parade, and then later tomorrow night we’ll go see the fireworks. I expect them to be spectacular, and hopefully I can get some pictures, although it’ll be quite dark so I’m not counting on it.

Every Tuesday night we have floor meetings with our RCs, and tonight was our first one. We talked about various activities for this week, including the mandatory trip to New York City (!!!) and the weekly Friday movies. Most of my friends, including the Penn Team and my roommate, Christine, signed up to go see Ted. I was talking with Christine about movies and she said that in Taiwan, there are assigned seats for movies, just as if you were going to the symphony or something, whereas here it’s open seating. It was a perfect example of how something so ordinary can change in little ways from culture to culture, and I look forward to many more such experiences in the next few weeks.

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