Tales of This Summer

Room with a View

I’m at MIT this summer! It’s awesome. I can see the Charles River out  my bedroom window. That’s awesome. I’m taking sailing lessons (triply awesome). But I have not written of my adventures yet!

I have a new phobia of pop-top cans. (not awesome.) It was Friday morning and we had just finished a grueling 20-hour journey from Georgia to Massachusetts. Although I only drove a couple of those hours, I was totally worn out. I grabbed a can of Campbell’s soup, pulled the tab…there was blood everywhere. I lost gallons of blood, but knowing I only had mere moments before I lost consciousness to blood-loss, I acted calmly. “Get me a paper towel” I told my younger sister as I washed my wound. “And get Mom, I’m about to faint.” “Joanna, just get a band-aide…” “Shut up! I’m going to faint!” Anywho, I spent the next three weeks feeling faint whenever I changed the band-aid…and the past couple of weeks showing it to anyone who will look. Look at this scar! I can regenerate! It’s awesome!”

I rode public transportation solo for the first time a week ago. I planned to attend a party thrown  by a friend who lives on the other side of Boston. It was out of biking range but I could take the bus and the subway. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Charlie card, and while I could buy them at Star market, the website claimed the stores closed after 7. (Lies!) “No problem, I’ll just bike over to the subway station to buy a card” I looked for it for a while. After finding the station, I considered giving up the project, but I’d come so far! No, I was going to do this. Getting off the train, I noted that this wasn’t a very nice neighborhood, and I quickly set off in what I thought was the correct direction. “Hey, look! The street just changed names, and I haven’t found the cross-street.” I walked in the other direction. “Heh, heh, heh, now isn’t that funny, the street changed names again!” I then called my friend, who instructed me to walk to the *other* end of the street. After some maneuvering, I eventually found the house. By this time, the party was long since over. But I got ice-cream, and soothing photographs of water, and a summary of the pantheon of Middle-earth gods and genealogy. I also got a bed for the night. But I think I speak reasonably when I say that I am NEVER doing that again.

4th July in Boston

Living in Boston has been an experience. I have heard that Bostonians are rude. I’ll have none of that! Bostonians are kind and considerate…they’re just aggressive. (They invented America! Yah hear?!!) The people at MIT have been very kind and very good at explaining things from first principles. But the nice isn’t exclusive to MIT. The second time I rode the train solo, there were all sorts of tough-looking people on the train. One such person, who was sitting with his own group called over at me. “Hey! I like your shirt!” (Said shirt has “study” written across the chest and has earned me both positive and annoyed comments) “Uh, thanks?” “Yeah!” he said, “I think everyone should find something and just study it.” Yup. Just don’t talk trash about the Red Sox. Don’t do it. (Wearing Yankee’s apparel counts as talking trash.)

As for life in the lab, things have been fairly quiet. Professor Ross’s group, in which I am working, researches how to customize magnetic nano structures. Our research will eventually help to make really tiny memory and logic devices. This is important, because as computers continue to shrink, their components will soon be on the molecular-size level. A very simple example of a memory device in a computer is the electronic flip-flop which is used for counting. You know that computers operate in 0’s and 1’s (or on and off states). If we have a line of magnetic pillars and we turn the magnetic direction of one of the pillars from the “off” to the “on” direction, maybe we can make the next pillar to turn from off to on when the first pillar turns off again. Maybe we can make a third pillar turn from off to on when the second pillar turns off again, which would allow us to count in binary. (001 is 1, 010 is 2, 011 is 3, 100 is four, 101 is five, etc.)

MIT building 10

My project is to figure out how reclined octahedrons’ (diamond-shapes that are lying down so all you see is a triangular face) magnetic dipoles (Magnetic dipoles are like a tiny chunk of magnetism.) behave differently than the magnetic dipoles of standing octahedrons, and how the properties of different materials change the behavior of the magnetic dipoles. In particular, we have been studying what happens to the magnetism when the pillars get squeezed. To do this, we grow the crystals surrounded by a piezoelectric (which expands when current is run through it, and squeezes the pillars) Another thing I, personally, hope to discover is why the octahedrons sometimes lie down and sometimes stand up.

First, I have been modelling these things, I am writing input for an object-oriented micromagnetic framework software and it models the magnetic dipoles. (Translation: I write something that looks like code, and the computer draws me a picture of which way the north and south poles of a magnet are pointing.) So far, I have only drawn a single octahedron. There has been lots of geometry involved. Who knew you could mess up basic geometry so many times? Secondly, I’ve been testing samples of standing octahedrons because the reclined ones do not seem to be growing under the conditions the group thought would work. (For the curious, we have been using a silicon substrate covered with a layer of yttrium doped zirconia, which is covered with a layer of CeO2 which is finally topped with BiFeO3 which acts as piezoelectric and surrounds the pillars which are made of either CoFe2O4, Fe3O4, MgFe2O4, or NiFe2O4.) I’ve been using a vibrating sample magnetometer and a Hi-Res X-Ray Diffractometer.

Currently, I am looking for literature values of saturation magnetization, anisotropy, and exchange energy which I need for computer models. I am also scheming on how to best make an array of these things. (As I use it, an array is a group of objects arranged in rows and columns). I also need to learn how to properly translate the data from the VSM and HRXRD. Yay.

After all that lab work, I visited the Hyannis beach this Saturday. The sea is really salty. I though that perhaps it was a pleasantly salty, but it’s rather disgusting. It really burns when it gets into the eyes. Despite all this, waves are crazy awesome. I love waves. Waves are like wind, only waves can actually bodily move me. I’d take a day at the sea over SixFlags any day. However, I should probably mention that I have not swam at the beach for about fifteen years. I should also mention that I when I went to SixFlags a couple of years ago, I discovered that I don’t like most rollercoasters. The beach is still really awesome.  Kalmus BeachShell Art


Just Good Enough


The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of amazing, challenging things to learn. It’s a little bit intimidating. I don’t feel that I’m learning as much as I ought or being as diligent as I ought. And every time I turn around, I read about a famous person who went to Princeton, or taught here, or dropped out. And I don’t feel like I can measure up. But then I remember it’s not a competition. It’s a collaboration.

There will always be someone smarter than you. This can be depressing, but I look at it another way. There is no smartest person. Unless someone out there has already written my thesis (which might have happened already) each person brings their own unique blend of interests to the game. And each person comes to the game at an entirely different point, meaning that everyone has something different to work with. Even if someone has already written my thesis, and done it better, I can always build on their work and, with the help of their work, learn more about the subject than anyone else has ever known. Being of average intelligence also means that there will always be people with whom I can collaborate so I don’t have to solve all my problems myself.

Besides, I’m not here to be smart. I’m here to bring glory to God. And maybe I can do that by bringing my own perspective to the collaboration I hope to have while I’m here. If I can do that, my work will good enough. Would it sound more impressive if all my work was done Imagesolo? Sure. Will I get further if I talk to people from different backgrounds and expertise? Definitely. You don’t want the success of a “collaboration” riding on your shoulders. Trust me. And if you surround yourself with people who are smarter (even if their smartness makes you feel stupid) you will get actual collaboration.

Just a thought. It’s beautiful here.

Things I’m Learning about Learning

I’m spending the summer at Princeton with a lot of really fun people. But where I’m learning isn’t as important as what I’m learning, and I’m learning a lot. Or at least, I’m trying to learn a lot. There is much I do not understand, and much of what I am learning (and relearning) is unrelated to what I’m studying.

1. Stop faking. If I pretend I know what is going on when I don’t, I put myself at a disadvantage. People will assume that I understand, and later, it will be harder to ask for help. I’m going to try to ask more questions. They can’t answer them if someone doesn’t ask them.

2. Ideas are everywhere. Other fields I don’t know much about have really good ideas. A lot of people are just happy to explain what they’re doing. It doesn’t count as plagiarism or stealing if they help you apply their idea to your own field. It’s called collaboration.

3. Literature is important. Scientific papers reveal what other people have already tried to do, and can provide ideas as well as warning. Brevity and clarity are important. Operating manuals for machinery are pretty boring, however.

4. Have fun. One of my supervisors recommended a voluntary project in addition to our assigned project. People who enjoy what they do tend to be better at it. It has to be voluntary. Relaxing without an extra project is also useful because it allows me to be more productive during work times than I would be if I worked all the time.

This “genius millionaire playboy philanthropist” sounds suspiciously like Buckaroo Banzai.

5. The Curve is steep. It’s really hard to absorb physics (and chemistry) on the fly. So I don’t beat myself up that I don’t ask more questions, that I find user’s manuals boring, or even that I’m scared and out of ideas for a side project. Or that when I relax, I spend hours reading web comics. People do not change in a day, but day by day. Likewise, a discipline is not conquered in a day. Unless you’re Ironman.

Maria Hill: When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?

Tony Stark: Last night.

~The Avengers(2012)

Notes on Journaling

Journaling is one of those things at which I am really bad. This past week, however, I brought a notebook on our last biennial family reunion, because if there is one thing I am worse at than journaling, it is remembering specific events and ideas. I did not want to forget a thing. During the course of recording things in my notebook, I had some thoughts on writing about life in general. The words “journal” and “diary” signify very different things, at least in the sense that I use them.

A diary is a log of the most significant events of the day, and, perhaps, one’s feelings about them. I have never understood why some boys want to steal their sister’s diary besides the obvious purpose of tormenting her. Apart from that this theft is an over-popularized stereotype, the diary is actually very dangerous to one who reads it, because one might begin to agree with the writer once one has seen their point of view. (Experience prevented me from reading someone elses’ a diary more than once.) The diary, then, sometimes works like the point of view gun, which, incidentally, prevented the earth’s destruction. Diaries are dangerous. I do not diary since I tend to ramble, and also because my entries make me depressed when I read them later. I do, however, journal.

I see a journal as a scrapbook of newspaper-style columns, quotes, notes, addresses, and sketches. (Think Amelia’s Notebook.) It is a book of thoughts I

I did say "scrapbooking"

Pictures get journaled too.

would like to save. This blog is something of a public journal for me, although I generally do not research enough for my posts to qualify as “newspaper-style.” In my “formal” journal, I log a little; but when I do so, I am verbose, so I do not do log often. One of the most freeing things about journaling is that one can skip days. Granted, diaries allow skipping days in too, but since journals are oriented toward saving important thoughts not recording important days, it doesn’t matter how many important days one skips in a journal as long as there are no important thoughts happening. Anyway, one or two words can record important ideas, while details of important events need a few more. (Journals don’t tend to have as many embarrassing details in them, either.) Journaling eliminates the trying to-catch-up-and-failing syndrome. However, unlike a diary, one must have a journal on hand at all times, or else a good head for remembering things. If I was good at remembering things quickly, I wouldn’t be writing them down.

Finally, I like writing both journals and diaries for the same reason my sister cited some years ago: I can write what I feel and no one can read it or make me be quiet, but I have another detail to add: when I write, I can create a new world that I can understand and maneuver in the midst of one I cannot and, eventually, use that world to understand my own.

Update: This post by the Anchoress inspired my return to journaling last year and summarizes my definition of journaling.

Sweat Is Cool!

It is rather hot out. This observation, and others like it have taken up approximately thirty percent of my brain power this past week. The other seventy percent has been taken up, in large part, by the heavily Walter Scott–C.S. Lewis–Steven Moffat inspired story I have been writing. (It is so good to be out of school!) Seeing as I plan to be spending the remainder of my time before my summer job begins, outside, I thought I would post some of my thoughts on the matter of heat, mostly on sweat.

1. It is possible to become acclimated to the heat. However, there also seems to be a gene that determines one’s propensity to feel the heat. A down-side to becoming acclimated to any temperature however, is that one’s internal thermostat is regulated by that temperature. Thus, any temperature very much lower, no matter how high the acclimated temperature, feels very cold. The opposite holds true for people from a cold climate.

2. A thin film of sweat and dead skin forms on the surface of the skin. However, after coming inside, it forms a sort of gel-like consistency and does not evaporate or disappear until one takes a shower. I realize this is a disgusting observation. However, for some reason, I find it immensely interesting, especially in light of this post, which mentions that there is a thin layer of water molecules on natural surfaces. I also wonder whether this layer could be utilized to form some sort of natural barrier to mosquitoes.

3. Hot weather is more conducive to sloppy dressing in the normal world, and elaborately beautiful dressing in the fashion world. For example, I recently learned that if I am to wear a dress well I must possess coordinating accessories. Accessories are hot. However, if I simply wear a nylon soccer shirt and jean shorts, I can blend into the masses of normal people who do not accessorize. Hot weather also leads to sweaty shirts and mussy hair. (Yay!)

4. Dogs do not appear to sweat. (much) The chief reason that fans are so useful is that they move the air around, displacing the humid air with

not-so-humid air, which in turn allows the sweat to evaporate off our skin, absorbing its heat of vaporization from our skin, cooling us. Yet dogs enjoy sitting in front of fans, and my dog was actually cooperative when I clipped her hair this last hot week. I can think of one reason for these phenomena: the fan also displaces the hotter air surrounding people and animals; thus shorter hair–or crew-cut hair–allows more cool air to get to the skin. The heat probably also exhausts dogs to such an extent that they are beyond struggling against the clippers. Though they do not sweat much through the surface of their skin because panting is their heat-coping mechanism, laying in front of the fan allows them to get cooler air over the tongue.

5. Heat, or perhaps changes in the humidity, seem to release certain scents. A good example is the smell of hot tar. Recently, the local Aldi repaved their parking lot, and, I realize this is common, the smell was really strong. It became notably hot this week, and, while my parents were out, I opened all the windows and turned on fans. That evening I smelled the scent of cinnamon and allspice very strongly. It was the scent of my mother’s reed diffuser, which she got for Christmas and which I had stopped smelling months ago. Finally, and perhaps most disgustingly, my sweat began to stink. My sweat has never stunk. I have been able to wear antiperspirant for days before it broke down. Perhaps it is something to do with getting older, sweating more, or spending more time outside. Perhaps the heat and sweat flushes out the glands in our noses, giving us a hyperactive sense of smell. Finally, perhaps the heat speeds mold and decay and the evaporation of those surface water molecules bearing smells.

Perhaps I should take a look into the chemistry of sweat. Today in a human physiology textbook, I ran across the idea that humans do not feel the actual temperature, but the difference from their recent temperatures. I like the idea that it is all relative. Within a certain range, the human body does not have to lower the temperature of the body by much, only making the body feel cooler works. I also find it fascinating that the body has its own coping mechanisms, although I wonder why dead skin and salt is involved. Perhaps this is so the ratio of salt to water in the body remains the same and avoids a sort of salt-sea phenomenon, or maybe this is because all the water in the body is salt water. Anyway, sweat is cool.

Thoughts? Exclamations of disgust? Comments?