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The Maker Faire September 24, 2011

Posted by peterxu422 in Science, Technology.
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Exactly last week, I attended the Maker Faire in the New York Hall of Science in Queens. The Maker Faire is essentially a large gathering of hobbyists, technologists, developers, creators, inventors, and some big name companies and organizations. It is a fair, so there were exhibits and pavilions set up for the different groups that were being represented. Some of those who were there included Radio Shack, Arduino, MIT Research Labs, City College CUNY, NYU Poly, Engineering World Health, and so many more.

It was a terrific event. Highly recommended especially for youth. There were lots of demos and free activities for kids and adults to really work with their hands. I spent most of my time doing soldering work. Soldering is taking a particular type of metal and melting it onto electronics circuits to both attach components as well as provide a electrically conductive channel between the chip and the component.
Have you ever seen electrical engineers carrying a pen-like object when working with circuits? That’s a very hot device called a soldering iron. Its tip is heated to roughly 750 degrees Celsius and has the capacity to melt a particular type of metal called solder upon contact. Solder is made of Tin and Lead. It melts quickly and conducts well.

I visited a few exhibits that allowed me to solder. I built a small LED clip, a small flashlight, and an Electrical Surgical Unit (ESU) Tester. The ESU project was with the non-profit organization Engineering World Health. What they had was a small kit that consisted of parts. When these were soldered together, they would form a testing unit for electrical surgical pens, which use current to cut open patients rather than a blade. The ESU tested the power of the current. I spent about an hour soldering it all together, and it was major fun. I got a free t-shirt from them for helping them out, because they send these units to third world countries to use. Here is my final product:

Some other highlights there included: A wand controlled robot powered by Arduino

KeyGlove, a keyboard-free alternative to typing, also powered by Arduino

A 3-D Printer, prints real objects!

And Sifted, a new way of thinking about gaming

Perhaps the biggest highlight of my Maker Faire trip was listening to and meeting David Pogue, popular tech columnist for the New York Times and host of the NOVA series “Making Stuff” (See ‘links’ page to get to NOVA’s homepage). His talk was titled the “iPhone Brain Dump,” which he basically talked about some wonderful features of the iPhone. Some of the apps he highlighted included Ocarino, which is a flute-like instrument that can be played by blowing into the microphone of the iPhone. What’s great is that you can listen to anyone else in the world playing with the App. All in all, David Pogue’s talk was wonderful and speaking to him afterwards was incredible too.

The Maker Faire was an incredible event filled with creativity, inspiration, ingenuity, and innovation. Brilliant people with incredible projects gather together to celebrate the act of building something awesome. How great is that?

Blogging: The Cure for Writer’s Block September 23, 2011

Posted by peterxu422 in education.
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Seth Godin: Talker’s Block

Occasionally I may digress from talking about science and instead post/share something that I feel is very interesting or at least somewhat relevant. In this case, I would like to share with you Seth Godin’s blog post on Talkers Block and Writers Block. I found it relevant because he claims the solution to Writers block is blogging, or writing publicly. Please do take a look and consider starting your own blog.

Simple Ideas About The Universe Pt. 3 September 17, 2011

Posted by peterxu422 in astronomy, cosmos, Science.
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Global Warming has been the subject of much talk in the last few years. Have you ever wondered where the idea of Global Warming affecting the Earth originated? It actually came from studying the atmosphere of Venus that led to the consideration that Earth was experiencing a similar phenomenon. I myself, never learned the full explanation as to why this claim is true, but I can certainly use what I already know and surmise a possible explanation. In fact, this is actually the first time I really thought about this, so join me in trying to understand why we can believe Venus exhibits greenhouse effects.

I know there is a relationship between radiation and element types. Most radiation comes in the form of Electromagnetic Radiation. You experience this everyday from the light that enters your eyes (visible), to the inner workings of your microwave oven (microwave), to the warmth that radiates out of your body (infrared). These forms of radiation are waves and they all fall under what is called the Electromagnetic Spectrum. Electromagnetic Spectrum All Electromagnetic Radiation have the form of waves and they have a specific wavelength associated with it that distinguishes it from other types of waves.

Atoms can emit radiation when they’re “excited” or when they receive energy. The electrons jump to a higher orbital in the atom and when they fall back down, the atom emits radiation. This radiation will have a certain wavelength. What scientists discovered was that certain atoms emitted unique patterns of light when they were excited. Therefore, by observing a certain pattern of light emitted from a system, we can determine, more or less, what elements compose of that system.

Scientists are always looking at planets and using different lenses to look at the radiation emitted by them. Taking the ideas I just described, it is possible that in observing the type of electromagnetic radiation being exhibited by Venus, scientists were able to determine what its atmosphere was composed of. According to Wikipedia, Venus’s atmosphere is composed of 95% Carbon Dioxide, the main proponent for greenhouse effects.

At this point, I would like to make it clear that I do not claim this is the way it was originally done. This is merely my attempt at justifying the initial claim using what I know. Nonetheless, I hope this gives you an idea of what it is like to think scientifically. It requires being logical, analytical, and using previously known information. Very often, it also requires thinking creatively, especially when attempting to explain things that are not obvious.

Watch the video below of Astrophysicist, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, answering cosmic questions. Skip to 7:49 for the discussion regarding Venus and Global Warming, but I highly recommend watching the entire clip. It’s fun!

VIDEO: Ask the Astrophysicist: Neil deGrasse Tyson (Questions & Answers)

Simple Ideas About The Universe Pt. 2 September 10, 2011

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There’s a way for you to look back in time. The way you do that is by looking farther out into space. This is possible and the reason has to do with the speed of light (186,000 miles per second). Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This is a law. The speed at which information can travel is restricted by this limit. We see things because light gets reflected off objects, travel to our eyes, which then process that data into an image formed in the back of our brain. So if I stood about a foot in front of you, you see the light reflecting off my face arriving at your eyes at the speed of light. No matter how insignificant the distance is, that light has to travel the distance between us to reach your eyes, and that takes time. So you see me not as I am now, but as I was about 1 billionth of a second ago.

If we take this analogy and apply it to distant objects far far far out in space, we would experience a similar consequence. Cosmic objects many light years away have to travel extremely long distances before the light they emit reaches our telescopes/eyes. The longer the distance, the more time it takes, hence we see that object as it was farther back in time. Though we may not be able to look back at our own past within the planet Earth, we can certainly peer back in time to the far reaches of the cosmos, and even to the instant of the creation of space and time.

It may be very likely that a distant species in a galaxy many light years away are looking at our planet not as it is in 2011, but perhaps as the dinosaurs were roaming the Earth or as the Ancient Greeks were building their civilization.

**UPDATE: BREAKTHROUGH. At the particle physics laboratory CERN in Europe, experiments have shown neutrinos traveling about 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light! The experiment has been repeated and conducted carefully, but confirmation results from other labs repeating the experiment are still being awaited before making a more definitive claim. If this proves to be true, it would be a HUGE discovery for science and may perhaps change some of the ways we think about modern physics, which relied on the postulate of light’s universal speed limit.

VIDEO: How To Look Back in Time, Moonbows, and Ice Volcanoes (Short)

Simple Ideas About The Universe Pt. 1 September 8, 2011

Posted by peterxu422 in Science.
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We are all remnants of star dust. A majority of what you see around you is made of components that once belonged to a star. Many of you may have taken chemistry, whether it was at QC or in high school. For the entire semester, you stared at the mysterious box of periodic table of elements. As you eventually learned, these are the fundamental elements that compose of everything we see on the Earth. But did you ever ask the question where these elements came from? The answer is not the earth, but from stars.

Stars are formed when dense clouds of stellar gas are accumulated by gravity. As the cloud of gas becomes denser, the pressures and temperatures in the center of the cloud rise dramatically and initiate a process called fusion. Hydrogen, the first periodic table element, is the main ingredient for star formation. In fusion, hydrogen atoms gain huge amounts of energy causing them to slam into each other. If there is enough energy, two hydrogen atoms colliding with each other will stick to form Helium and give off huge amounts of energy in the process. Fusion is what gives the sun energy.

The process continues causing more Hydrogen to slam into each other, and eventually causing Helium atoms to slam into each other. This progresses up further along the periodic table and fusion allows the sun to manufacture more elements up until iron. When the star has exhausted all of its hydrogen, the star collapses in on itself, causing temperatures to skyrocket. All of this pent up energy is then released and the sun explodes its rich elemental guts into the universe. This phenomenon is called a Supernova. These elements scatter across the universe to form new stars or find their way to new planets.

VIDEO: Astrophysicist Dr. Tyson Poetically Explains The Origins of the Elements (Short)

How to Get Through Your Science & Math Classes September 5, 2011

Posted by peterxu422 in education, Science.
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Lots of people always complain about science and math classes for reasons such as the difficulty or the amount of work or the type of analytical thinking involved. Here’s a good method to get through them.

Become interested in science. There is no better way to learn science than by coming to class with a natural curiosity. It also helps to understand the context and background of the topic you’re learning, such as who were the pioneers, what were their contributions, what were the issues in the field at that time. You can get a better sense of context by immersing yourself in scientific material. One of my favorite ways to do this is to watch documentaries and video explanations. They are fare more engaging than a written text and the visual images are immensely helpful. This is actually how I got myself interested in science.

Another tip is to do your homework. This is a must, unless you are a genius. There is no better way to understand the material than by doing homework problems. Write out the questions and show your work neatly. You will find that your homeworks become the only study material you need for your exams, depending on your teacher. But from my experience this is often the case.

Finally, use khanacademy.org. This is perhaps one of the best tools ever created. Bless this man who made available a quality education to every child and adult in the world with an internet connection. He is great at explaining things and succinct enough to hold your attention. There is a link to his website on my ‘links’ page. If you do not take my word for it, listen to an incredible story by this fine gentleman. Just one of the thousands of lives the KhanAcademy has touched:

VIDEO: Thank you Khan Academy!

**Updates
A friend, Todd Gaugler, who is a triple major in Pure Math, Computer Science, and Economics at Queens College, kindly contributed his perspective on handling higher-level math courses: “Half of the battle with higher-end math courses is not getting intimidated by professors that work fast and introduce you to a lot of new material/notation quickly.”

Science Literacy Will Empower You September 3, 2011

Posted by peterxu422 in Science.
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You have an incredible tool: the ability to ask a question. But how effectively do you use it?

Many of us have probably had the experience of wanting to ask a question in class but not doing so in fear of looking “slow” or bothersome. But the best way to understand a complex idea is by asking questions, because in asking questions, we get answers. This is an essential quality to scientists and people who are scientifically literate.

Being scientifically literate is not about how much scientific information you can recite. Rather, it is more about your ability to ask questions that will allow you to better understand the natural world. After all, science is about making discoveries, and to do this, one must have a pioneering spirit. One great example of this is last year’s Nobel Prize winners in Physics, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, who won the award for their work in analyzing graphene, a purely two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms that is stronger than steel. Graphene was extremely expensive to create and so acquiring a sample to study its properties was difficult. But Geim and Novoselov figured out a way to easily and inexpensively acquire some. Their solution: sticky tape. Using ordinary scotch tape, and a slab of graphite (pencil lead, which is made of carbon atoms) they peeled layers of carbon off the graphite with the tape until they had only a single sheet of graphene. They discovered this ingenious method during one of their Friday night experiments, where they test random experimental methods regardless of whether they would successfully work or not. At some point one of them must have asked the question whether such a method was possible. Surely enough, it was and it won them the Nobel Prize.

Graphene

Now you may be wondering why science literacy is important. For one thing, it empowers you to learn about the natural world without requiring you to formally study it. The more questions you ask about the world, the more you will get to understand it, provided someone will be able to answer your questions. It also protects you against others who may try to exploit your scientific ignorance. For example, someone may try to sell you wrist bands that they claim will give you extra strength and energy. If you’re scientifically literate, your instinct will be to ask questions such as “What is the band made of? How do they increase my energy? What are the side-effects?” By the end of your questioning, the seller would either have been exposed to be a charlatan based on his answers or you would have made a more informed decision about buying the product by learning more about it.¬†The investigative skills you develop from being scientifically literate can be applied across many fields and can enrich your thoughtfulness. It will improve your ability to gather information and make informed judgments based on that information.

I became a QC blogger because I believed the student body may have¬†appreciated hearing a voice from the scientific community. Science has enriched my life, and I strongly believe it would enrich yours too, even if you do not study it. My hope is to show you a new way of thinking, to provide you an additional set of lens to look at the world, and to nurture your science literacy. Together, we’ll talk about fascinating science, how it relates to your everyday experiences, how it may relate to other experiences, and more. The universe has much to say, and if we all listen, it will be a great conversation. We may not understand everything, but we will find the answers if we ask good questions.

Watch Neil deGrasse Tyson, popular Astrophysicist, for his engaging and comical discussion of what science literacy is. He is one of the most fun speakers to listen to:

VIDEO: Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson On Science Literacy

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