Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Who Am I?

Class today lasted a short three hours as Michael canceled our afternoon session. Shannon Lundee ran the morning class today while Michael and Prof. Lamas sat to the side of the room, providing guidance and their opinions when they felt like doing so.
The main theme of today's class was Identity, with subtopics of Assumptions, Stereotypes, Identity Politics, Body Language, Race and Gender, and Intersectional Identities in Context. We first reviewed the reading we did last night on Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw's text, Mapping the Margins, which partially focused on how violence against women is a broad scale system of domination that affects women as a class; also how identity-based politics render an individual's oppression visible as social and systematic oppression of a class/group of people. The review of these ideas turned into a discussion on identity politics, politics of social location, and how Crenshaw says that it is universal but contingent, varying upon decade at the same time.
We then talked about intersectional identities in context at a local and global level. This discussion posed the question of how do race and gender interest in shaping structural and political aspects of violence against women of color? Shannon made it very clear by the end of this topic that we have to understand how people's identities are constructed if we really want to remedy injustices. From here, we entered the subject of African-American males in North American culture and how their identities have been commonly and negatively stereotyped. We learned that according to sociologist Patricia Hill-Collins, the only acceptable form of masculinity in the U.S. is a hyper heterosexual aggressive one. Now, while I agree that this statement is applicable in this country, I am torn because of the many exemptions I have see throughout my life. Even though this may be the general ideology, I know many African-American men who publicly display that they are gay and they are accepted in their communities. There is no doubt however, that any man, whether he be African-American or not, is subject to criticism for their sexuality, if they are not firmly heterosexual. In class we discussed how men that are not heterosexual are seen to have feminine qualities and therefore, since women in general have been seen as subordinate to men, the masculinity of those non-heterosexual men is immediately diminished.

The rest of the morning strongly focused on the African-American male, in North America, and the different role models they have throughout their lives; not to mention how upbringing and their actions control how their identities are formed and how they are perceived by others. I think that in order for equality and justice to make more significant breaks in our society, we should all start thinking about our own identities and how we can break out of our own racist mindsets, whether they are conscious or unconscious. As of now, I don't think that anyone is absolutely judgment free, because without the constant hate and inequality, there would be no "peace" or "equal rights." The only reason that different races even exist, in terms of their respective names, is because they have somehow been categorized by the color of skin. I think this process of categorizing is completely natural, but why do we have to then create a hierarchical order within this system? The problem is not that we notice differences between people; that I think is an instinct that exists in all life forms. The real problem that we need to find a way to reconstruct is that we as humans cannot, or have yet to, carry on the species without an order of dominance within our societies. Power and greed are characteristics of domination that are recreated with the turn of every new rule; so I suppose that of we could identify the sources of those desires, maybe we could began to understand more about the roots of the corrupt society that has been so deeply internalized in our psyche that we have been forced to accept it to simply survive.

Slaying The Dragon

The beginning of my day today seemed like a very other day, giving me a feeling of routine. Obviously, this happens when I wake up, but once given a chance to think, I realize that no routine exists for my days at Penn. We usually have a lecture followed by a lab and then lunch, but today it was different. The day started off with a lecture, two guest speakers, and a really small lecture that Bill managed to sneak in.

To start off the morning, Bill explained to us the Doppler Effect and Doppler Shift. Both happen when an object moves towards or away from you, which result in a change of frequency. Frequency increases at it moves towards you and then decreases as it moves away. Doppler Shift happens the exact same way, but what changes is how the appearance. As it moves towards you the object appears blue, but as it moves away it appears red. Next, Dr. Doug Smith, a neurosurgeon for Penn, talked about the brain’s structure, various types of brain trauma, and the long-term effects of brain trauma. His presentation completely change my views on brain trauma, such as severe rotational acceleration of the head causes more damage than getting hit right in the forehead. Then he went on to talk about how people have tried to cause a controversy of roller coasters and how they cause brain damage. I loved the way how he talked about for this portion because he talked with such a passion, boldness, and best of all he said that those who started this speculation are basically ignorant.
As we waited for our next presenter, Bill saw that we had some time, so he sneaked in a small lecture about rock climbing. He talked about how climbers use friction, normal force, and everything that can give them more friction and safety, such as ropes and chalk. There was a slideshow of his rock climbing experiences that related to the material, but I think he was just showing off how cool he is, so far, he has passed any measurable scale of coolness.
Then the next presenter arrived, Professor Mark Trodden. He talked about modern cosmology, which involved dark matter and dark energy. I was really excited when he started talking because in my high school physics class, there was never the mention of dark matter and dark energy. I was surprised when he whipped his pie chart of what the universe is made up of. Only 4% is atoms, which left a whopping 96% of dark matter and dark energy. What surprised me even more was that we know little to nothing of this 96%. It made me wonder about physics, the more you know about it, the more you realize you know nothing at all.
After lunch, we broke up into our interest groups. I was confident that we were going to have a successful day because everyone knew what they had to do to get the cloud chamber to work. We moved away from the Sun and space as our beta source to radium. Within an hour, we had the cloud chamber working, this time with the added magnet field caused by the copper wire placed above and below the chamber. I felt proud when Craig walked in saying that we have slayed the dragon, accomplished what he couldn’t in college. It was hard to notice at first, but after focusing for a brief moment, the beta particles were curving. Holy cow, we were controlling beta particles in class today, something so small and so energetic, you don’t even notice them in everyday life.
Tomorrow, we will us an even stronger source, which adds on to the excitement and raises the stakes. Our group is destined for success again and we will not stop until we do.

The Men of Today

My day started off with an early trip to the gym. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go, but once I was there I was sure I had made the right decision in going. After an energizing work out, I went back to my dorm room to get ready for the day ahead. About half an hour before class, I met with Chloe for a quick breakfast. We walked to class sipping our coffees, and talked about the previous night's assigned readings.

Today was day two of having Prof. Shannon Lundeen teach the class. Yesterday we talked a lot about how women are treated, perceived, and oppressed in the world, so today was about men. We really only focused on African American males. I remember briefly talking about men from other ethnicities, but it was only to compare them to the African American men. Prof. Lundeen showed us a video that was comparing and contrasting 50 Cent to Barack Obama. I really didn't understand the message of the video, because it was going in so many directions. One direction it went in was that Obama and 50 are exactly the same, they are two very intelligent successful African American males living in world the wasn't made for them. The other direction it went in was that they are nothing alike. 50 Cent had a rough upbringing but he fought through it all to get to where he is, while Barack Obama had everything given to him. Maybe the point of the video was how people tend to make assumptions about others all the time. We did talk about making assumptions quite a bit after that, so that may be the message. Obama is identified as an African American male, but one African American man said that Obama did not represent him because he didn't have a rough upbringing, he didn't know what struggle was, because he is successful, and because he is intelligent. I really did not know how to respond to that man's comments.

The second portion of the class was a field trip, but it was cancelled because of the ridiculously hot weather. So I had the rest of the day to do anything I wanted. After a nice lunch with Chloe and some classmates, I came back to my room. We did have a lot of reading to do for tomorrow, so I decided to get that out of the way. That was followed by a second visit to the gym. I really enjoyed having some time to just do anything I wanted or nothing at all.

Head Trauma and the Cosmos

Incredible as it may seem, we’re already halfway through our junior year of Experimental Physics. Today was quite busy­–two guest speakers in the morning and another afternoon spent with our interest groups. However, I was pleased to feel especially alert all throughout class today, which was probably mostly due to the interesting nature of the morning lectures.

Our first guest speaker was Dr. Doug Smith, from UPenn’s head trauma unit. He discussed the possible ways you could get head trauma, and tied it in to our class by talking about head trauma and rollercoasters. As it turns out, there is no conclusive evidence that rollercoasters induce head trauma, because they only apply forces of up to 5 or 6 Gs (gravity=9.8m/s2) and don’t create rotational acceleration on your head. However, there are plenty of other ways to damage your brain, and as you might expect, playing sports was one of the leading causes. The scariest part of the talk was when Dr. Smith told us that people who have concussions, even mild ones, sometimes show the same type of brain damage that is found in Alzheimer’s patients.

For most of the talk I was really freaked out, because I play soccer and it’s quite possible that I’ve suffered a mild concussion at some point throughout the years and never noticed. I realized, though, that I’m not going to stop doing something that I love just because there is a possibility that I could damage my axons. After all, people get into car crashes far too frequently–we passed a crash scene on the way to ice-skating last Sunday–yet I still drive myself to school every day. If I’m careful and don’t do anything stupid, I can continue to play soccer and avoid axon damage in my white matter. (Fun fact: According to Dr. Smith, doing headers does not cause any neuron loss!)

The second guest lecturer was Professor Mark Trodden, a particle cosmologist. He spoke to us about his research on the study of the universe. A lot of the things he talked to us about were related to my term paper on dark matter, so it was really cool to be reminded of concepts that I researched months ago. He also tied in his research to topics that we’ve been learning about in class, such as using the Doppler effect to examine supernovas and figure out how far away galaxies are and whether they are moving towards or away from Earth.

Today was completely jam-packed with activities, but everything was interesting and both guest presenters did an excellent job of tailoring their presentations to the audience, which I really appreciated. Later tonight I had the chance to relax a little and watch an episode of Masterchef with Clara and Christine. From talking to Christine it’s apparent that there are definitely a lot of cultural differences between the Bay Area and Taiwan, so it was nice to find something as ordinary as TV shows to bond over.

Short Wednesday

Today I woke up looking forward to a wonderful day full of learning opportunities. I got dressed and headed out the door on my way to class. The guess speaker from yesterday would be finishing up her lesson plan in the first part of class.

On our first break my fellow classmates informed me that we would not have a second part of class due to the weather conditions.We were supposed to go on a walking trip , but Mr. Nairn thought that is was too hot , which it was. This meant that after lunch we would have the rest of the day to ourselves.

My friends and I took this as a chance to get to know the downtown area of Philadelphia a bit better. We signed out and hopped on the trolley towards downtown and got off right in front of city hall which is being remodeled. We walked around and shopped for a couple hours , and then stopped at love park for a little while the big water fountain was running.

A Physics Variety Show

This morning, we had two guest speakers as well as two mini lessons.  Bill started the day with a lesson on the Doppler Effect and the Doppler Shift.  Pitch changes as sound moves toward or away from you, and color changes as light moves toward or away from you.  Then, we were joined by Dr. Doug Smith from UPenn's Head Trauma department.  He talked about the long-term effects of head injuries, the different types of trauma, brain structure, and roller-casters.  I was surprised to learn how damaging a simple concussion can be; in some cases it can lead to Alzheimer's. As he spoke, visions of my numerous mountain biking crashes danced through my head.  I enjoyed learning about Biophysics, an up-and-coming field that I may pursue in the future.

Next, Bill talked about the physics of rock climbing. He is a big recreational climber, and many of the pictures in his slideshow featured him.  Climbers use friction, normal force, and lots and lots of ropes to safely scale rock faces.  I couldn't believe how high up some of these climbers can get and I am seriously impressed with their courage.  

Our next guest speaker was Professor Mark Trodden who presented on modern cosmology.  Last year, I wrote a term paper on Dark Matter and many of the topics I researched came up in his talk.  He explained that the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate due to Dark Energy, and what types of research his department does in this topic.  I can never truly wrap my head around how huge our universe is and how much we don't know about it.  The talk was so interesting, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and I really didn't need the coffee I bought on the way to class.

After we broke for lunch (can you believe that all happened before lunch?), we went into our interest groups.  I love my interest group, we are mellow, but productive, and we work very well together.  Today, we gathered data for a photon stream shot through a single slit.  The data was consistent with a particle.  We got to leave pretty early, so I took a leisurely stroll back home, went on a run, skyped with Teddy and his family, and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Fields of Interest

Today started off as any other day: woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off and went from hall to hall trying to find an open bathroom. I then went back to my room to get ready for the long day ahead of me. I stopped by a street vendor on my way to class to pick up a fruit salad. The fruit salad consisted of oranges, watermelon, honeydew, strawberries, cantaloupe, grapes with a banana on the side. I arrived to class with a few minutes to spare so I took some time to eat my food.

Our first guest lecturer was a neurosurgeon from the university. I found this lecture to be interesting not only because I am interested in the field of neurology but also because we were investigating whether or not roller coasters could cause brain injury. I think this was of interest to the whole class because we recently went to Hershey Park and rode roller coasters for a project. At the end of the presentation it was revealed that roller coasters can not cause brain injuries. The only way a person can possibly experience injury is if they already have have an existing condition or problem such as an aneurysm.

The next lecturer was Professor Trodden who was from the university as well. Prof Trodden is a cosmologist just like our lecturer from a few days ago. What I found interesting is the difference between how everyday people view galaxies and how cosmologists view galaxies. To the average person, galaxies are these very extravagant, beautiful, bewildering clusters of stars. To a cosmologist, a galaxy is simply a small box on a screen. It was really interesting to find out how our universe is growing. To every galaxy it seems as if all other galaxies are moving away from it, thus giving it the affect that it is the center of the universe. No matter what galaxy you are in it would seem like you are in the center of the universe.

Tomorrow I have to wake up early to mix up two hundred and fifty pounds of corn starch and water with the other members of my interest group.

Gotta go prepare for an oobleck-y day!