Monday, July 16, 2012

Recreating Problem-Solving Strategies

This morning we applied our new found knowledge of Mills Creek during a field trip to the local neighborhoods of that area.  After reading what Anne Spirn had accomplished with the middle school students and her Penn students, I was very interested to see how the city was doing now, 20 years after she started her work.  We took the SEPTA over to 40th street where Michael had us first walk down a block and back observing how the shops were set up.  When we gathered back together, we noted that many of the stores were selling knock-off brands, there were small tables selling miscellaneous items outside, and a bunch of the buildings had vacancies on the top floors.  This area was just beginning to get busy when we arrived, but as we moved on into the residential area, fewer people appeared to be outside.

By simply walking down one block, the landscape transitioned entirely from a commercial center to a residential area lined with decaying row houses.  While some buildings were occupied, many were either falling apart or abandoned.  Between some homes lay a vacant grass spot, representative of the common and expected degradation within Mills Creek.  Since the homes were built in rows and the walls connecting them were made of weak material, a regular result of one house crumbling is the natural decay of the entire block within the next 30 years or so.  We witnessed how blocks that were full of occupied homes, have now turned into large grassy landscapes, some of which have been redeveloped.  The dangerous thing about letting these homes rot until they simply crash in, is that the ground is less stable, and therefore less able to provide a long life for the next set of housing set on top of it.  Also, there are many community gardens that have been built on old housing blocks that require mainly its children occupants to take careful safety measures as to not acquire led poisoning from the old paint which now lies within the soil.

Another scary aspect of the redevelopment is one that I read in Anne's article involving the old creek bed.  She and the students discovered that a creek bed used to occupy much of the space that is now covered by playgrounds, fields, and other buildings.  Rather than creating these sites on solid, stable land, developers disregarded the fact that the creek bed was polluted with sewage and storm waste, and they made the decision to just lay on some cement and build a playground.  Unfortunately, many of these areas have caved in multiple times and have a high risk of doing so again.  Even when these occur and people's lives are taken, new grounding is laid over and a new public space is built in place of the old.  It was crazy to walk around the neighborhood because I could actually see the sites that were built directly over the creek bed, as they were surrounded by downward slopes.  I think it is incredibly ridiculous to see these cover ups as solutions to any sort of long-term problems within this area, for the residents lives are only being put at greater risks with each new redevelopment program.

Mills Creek carries a rough history of these environmental issues and I think the best solution to these problems is to continue on doing work in the middle schools to get the youth inspired to make a change in their community.  This area has undergone an extreme amount of stress over the centuries, so it is important that the people who are in charge of creating long-term solutions in that community are familiar with the history behind the contemporary problems.  I believe that this idea is something that needs to be recognized by all communities, because with it, I feel that long-lasting change would arise.

West Philly

For the morning portion of the class we went on a field trip to West Philadelphia! It was really hot, and every step felt like it was my millionth one, but it was worth it! We walked through the neighborhoods, and it was so sad. All you really saw were old beat up abandoned houses. The houses were falling apart, I mean that literally. We also walked through a street market where all they were really selling was a ton of knock offs, but that wasn't what was so surprising about that place. After passing through, Michael informed us that it is the largest underground gun market. Walking through the streets of Philadelphia, I realized that there are so many hidden stories. This city has so much history and I wish I had time to explore it all!

The afternoon portion of the class was divided. First we reflected back on the morning's trip. Michael wanted to know how we felt about it, or if there were any questions we had. Second we talked about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. We watched videos on the aftermath of the storm, and videos of the storm tearing apart the city. While watching the videos all I could think about was, "How does somebody recover from all of this? What about the city? How can you move past it?" Lucky for me, Michael answered these questions, you don't. According to him, New Orleans will never finish recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

I spent my evening at the gym. I had not gone to the gym since Thursday, so I was extremely happy to be able to spend some time there! The only downside to spending so much time in the gym is that I am now exhausted, but a good  night's sleep should do the trick. Goodnight!

Interesting Monday

This monday made the 4th week being away from home. I know my parents miss me and our in dire need of my assistance back home. My aunt shared with me that this was the first time in years that she had to wash her car. Now that I am very settled in , I think its going to be hard to leave , because I have met new friends , and I know that I probably wont ever see them again.

This monday was revolving around the environment . We were going to visit mills creek . Ironically it is  not a creek anymore but is actually a somewhat run down neighborhood. So much so that many of the houses were abondoned, due to the fact that cracks had formed in the foundation of the houses causing them the lean and eventually fall. Although this was in one house, many of the houses are connected, which would cause a whole block possibly to be destroyed.

As we walked down the street , Mr Nairn instructed us to observe differences within the neighborhoods. We all concluded that as we walked down the street it became more residential . Many churches appeared , and the people selling knock off items disappeared . We later learned that 52st, which was the street we saw many of the knock off items , was one of the biggest gun selling spots in philly. I didn't know what to think it , other than why on earth are we here. We later visted many of the farms that are in the area such as Mills farm. As we walked a couple more blocks, I suddenly saw the environment change from predominately black to mostly white. What went along with that was the standard of living. The housed were well taking care , lawns very well cut, and there was more space in between houses. It was very nice to return to somewhat familiar territory because being over in the area seems worse than Richmond , California which I am from. The rest of the day was spent on discussing environment with politics in the cause of the destruction of New Orleans.

Fast Monday

Today, I woke up later than every other weekday, but it was alright because yesterday’s dinner was still in me. Friday, we took data on a Sidewinder, and today, I looked forward to talking about it and getting a better understanding of what I took. Along with that, I was anxious to meet new people, because today, we were getting new lab partners.
Professor Bill started class with a lecture on exponential growth and decay. As usual, he involved as many examples as possible. Population was the easiest one to understand because as the population grows, then there are more people contributing to the birth rate. Another example was about depositing money in the bank and letting it grow off of interest. This followed the same process of as it grows, it adds to its own growth rate. We then talked about half-lifes, which is the rate of decay in where half of the substance decay’s over a period of time.

Instead of there being new lab partners, we broke up into our Hershey Park groups to conduct experiments relating to exponential growth and decay. My group did an experiment, where we filled a PVC pipe with water and then let the water exit through a hole in the bottom. What we were observing was the weight of the system as a whole.  We finished rather quickly, so we were dismissed to lunch early. Instead of going and getting the same food at Houston, I stuck with my lab group and went to a restaurant called The Greek Lady. The food was really good and we were served quickly, which helped a lot because it was about a 15 minute walk. 

The Water And PVC Pipe Lab
For this week, I, along with five other students, will be conducting experiments with a cloud chamber. We didn’t actual start the experiment today like other groups, but were given a background about the cloud chamber. We will be trying to observe beta particles and manipulating their movement by copper wire to cause a magnetic field. I am really excited to start working on this project tomorrow because Craig said that it is very difficult and that in his college physics class they could not get the cloud chamber to work. Since we were only given background information about the cloud chamber, we got our incredibly early. Kim, Michael, and I decided to go play pool, while we waited for everyone else to get out. I was envious of the other groups because they actually started their experiments, while all we did was just hang out. Now I just can’t wait for tomorrow to come, so we get started on the infamous cloud chamber.
Craig Lecturing On The Cloud Chamber

Mathematical Monday

I woke up in a stage of disbelief that I was starting the second half of my stay here.  As if to prove a transition, class was different today.  First, Craig explained the interest groups we will be working in for the next few days.  We got to choose between 5 amazingly intriguing topics that build on what we've learned in the last two weeks.  I had a hard time ranking my top choices and I later found out I will be working in the Quantum Mechanics group.

After that, Bill started a lesson on exponential growth.  As a hardcore math lover, I enjoyed getting back to my roots and seeing physical situations represented by mathematical models.  We then got back in our Hershey Park groups and chose a situation to analyze.  The idea was to gather data on a physical system and see if it fit an exponential model.  My group looked at the decay rate of a radioactive chemical and saw what happens when you roll a container of 200 dice and take out all the ones (over and over and over again).

After an hour lunch break, we broke in to our interest groups for the afternoon.  My group will be going into further depth on the duality of light as a particle and a wave.  It is an extension of the very very very confusing lesson we had last week, but this time with more fun toys and detailed information.  I expect to be confused for most of the next week, but I'm excited to challenge myself.  Quantum Mechanics is an ever-changing field in Physics; it's amazing to be right in the middle of modern science. 


Monday mornings are definitely not my favorite time of the week. After two days of no class, I’ve gotten used to operating at low brainpower until 11 AM or so. Unfortunately, since class starts at 9 AM, that isn’t really an option during the rest of the week. I still managed to make it down for breakfast with Clara, and we got to class with plenty of time to spare.

Bill gave this morning’s lecture, which was about exponential growth and decay. He talked about exponential functions and how they relate to real life topics such as population growth. He explained that when talking about education, the economy, and environmental issues, it’s critical to consider that the rate of the needs of society will never again be as slow as it is right now, because population is growing exponentially. Thinking about it was actually pretty scary, and it gave me a better appreciation of how difficult it must be to attempt to plan for this kind of concern.

We did a morning lab related to exponential behavior, but each Hershey Park group chose a different lab. My group got to do a fun lab investigating the radioactive decay of barium, using an amount of barium so small that it doesn’t register on any of the safety guidelines. Barium was the element of choice because of its quick decay rate, which happens in minutes as opposed to millions of years.

Aside from the exponential behavior lesson, part of the morning was spent on an overview of what we’d be doing for the next two weeks. As we are now upperclassmen, according to Bill, these next two weeks are where we we’ll get to do the “really cool stuff.” Starting this week, the class will split up into “interest groups” during the afternoon. Each group will focus on a different experimental physics topic. This is where we get to feel like real scientists, working in the lab.  I chose the radio telescope group. We’ll work with Dr. Aguirre, who is a radio cosmologist, to build a working radio telescope and examine the waves from sun. Dr. Aguirre is also our guest lecturer tomorrow morning, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about his work.

Oobleck And Other Oogly-Googly Things

I stopped by Mclleland to get breakfast on my way to class then started the trek of about three block to the classroom. I enjoy the long walk in the morning because it allows me to wake up and mentally prepare myself for the day. I arrived to class a few minutes before 9:00 so I went outside to the food truck to buy coffee. This was only my second full cup of coffee in my life, and it was delicious. 

The first half of class was spent talking about exponential growth. Exponential growth is when the growth rate of a value is proportional to the function's current value. To get a better understanding of this, we related it to population growth. The population growth one year depends on the number of people in the population the previous year. Albert Bartlett once said "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is out inability to understand the exponential function." Countries such as China have a huge problem with their population because they have yet to understand exponential growth. After we discussed exponential growth, we were given a half sheet to choose our special interest groups for the next week and our roller coaster groups chose what lab they would like to work on. Mariko, Clara, Jessica, and I decided that we wanted to learn more about radioactive decay. The first experiment we did to observe how radioactive decay involved 200 die. We emptied the die and collected all of the die marked with one dot and continued until we had no die left. When we finished this experiment, we plotted it on a graph and moved on to the next. In the next experiment we just observed how many counts of radioactivity passed through our counter in thirty second intervals. Just like the previous experiment, we plotted this on a graph.

We broke for lunch at noon and were told to be back in an hour. Instead of the usual chatter about physics, lunch today was filled with Jessica talking about how excited she was for The Bachelorette season finale which is airing tonight. We hurried back to class so we wouldn't be late. 

Craig broke us into our special interest groups and I was glad to see the letter "NNF" next to my name. These letters meant that I was in the Non-Newtonian Fluids lab group. In this group we were going to experiment with a substance made of corn starch and water called oobleck. I was vaguely familiar with this substances properties from watching an episode of "My Strange Addictions" where a woman was addicted to eating corn starch so the producers of the show mixed up a batch of oobleck to demonstrate what it does. Oobleck is a very strange fluid. When you run your fingers slowly through the mixture it feels just like water; it you pound your first into the mixture it firms and doesn't even splash. ur job in this lab group is to find out the consistency at which we have the "perfect" mixture of oobleck. We will also mix up nearly two-hundred and fifty pounds of corn starch with water at the end of the week for the class to run across.

Today was an extremely exciting day for a Monday! Mudane Monday's? Psh, never. I am super excited to get to work with oobleck for the rest of the week, I just have to remember to dress accordingly, as working with corn starch and water can be a huge mess.