Adventures in Physics, by Rebekah Hoffman and Erin McGoff, WCA Juniors
Each year, the Upper School Physics Class has a variety of hands-on experiences that enhance their understanding of science. They take the lessons learned inside the classroom and apply them outside of the classroom. From rocket launches on the soccer field to unique and entertaining trips in both Maryland and Virginia, taking Physics at Washington Christian Academy is truly an adventure! Hear from two Physics students about their experiences on two radically different but equally enriching field trips the class took this year.
Our Trip to the National Institute of Standards and Technology
By Rebekah Hoffman
On March 26th, 2012 the Upper School Physics class enjoyed a trip to the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, MD hosted by Jim and Linda Olthoff. To put it frankly, NIST was incredible. I felt rather at home there, and all throughout the day, there was always something new to learn. I never realized how much use there was for measurement before this trip.
The first place we visited was the Solar Energy Measurements room with Mr. Hunter Fanney. As the name suggests, this room was dedicated to solar panels. Customers want to know what they are paying for when they invest in solar panels; NIST is trying to accurately measure their efficiency. They’re building a net-zero house on their property to test using solar panels, as well as implement a few neat tricks: they build the house tightly and insulate it well to keep down heating bills, they install efficient appliances and lighting systems, and they ventilate it manually to ensure the most efficient energy usage. By the end of the year, they should have given as much energy back to the grid as they took out.
Another highlight of the trip was watching several demonstrations by Mr. Richard Steiner on liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is much like dry ice, only it is still in the liquid form, and it is far colder. He dunked a number of things into it to show us the effects of cold on objects. First, he put in a damp paper towel. When he pulled it out, he was able to crush the paper like a dry autumn leaf. This was because cold makes things brittle. He also stuck a balloon in the nitrogen. The cold condensed the gases inside the balloon and caused it to shrivel up. We all got to stick our fingers in for a moment (the liquid nitrogen never touched us because of a layer of air which insulated us), and finally, he took a sip of the liquid nitrogen and spat it out like the flame-eaters at the circus do.
We also visited the Color and Appearance Lab where Maria Nadal explained that ever since global manufacturing took off, people have needed an absolute standard of color. That way when things are assembled out of parts manufactured all over the world, the product would still be all the same shade. The same applies to candies; we like all our blue M&Ms to be the same shade, so we need a standard of ‘M&M blue.’ We were then shown how mixing colors of paint is different from mixing colors of light. When you mix red, blue, and green paint, you get a dark color— nearly black, in fact. But white light is made out of all the colors of light— in other words, the full spectrum of visible light— so when you shine red, blue, and green light on the same spot, you get white light.
The Glass Blowing Shop was another fascinating place; we watched Jeff Anderson demonstrate the process of making glass valves that the scientist at NIST need in order to conduct their experiments. Mr. Uwe Arp at SURF III spoke with us about projects of mapping the radiation released by the sun. Finally, a scientist who had been working on the computer when we came in told us about the scientific satellites NIST calibrates. It turns out that the satellites which measure and map the radiation released by the sun are degraded by the UV light they are trying to measure. So every year NIST sends up a fresh satellite to take the same measurements and correct any errors in the original satellites. That way NIST can warn oil rigs and others who depend on GPS to do their work to not go out on certain days so their measurements will not be skewed (and they end up lost in the middle of nowhere).
All in all, it was a fascinating trip, and I was happy to skip my other classes for the day.
Our Trip to Kings Dominion
By Erin McGoff
On April 13, 2012 the Physics Class headed off on the annual class field trip to Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia to enjoy a day of roller coasters and fun! We all had high expectations for this trip and were not surprised when all of them were met. We went not only to enjoy the amusement park, but also to learn about how physics is incorporated in it.
We were given a packet that included fun facts, history, conversions, questions, and equations we were to complete after each ride. We learned about how gravity, momentum, and kinetic friction were put to work on all the rides. It was very interesting (and maybe intimidating!) to read about the mechanics of the rides and then experience physics in action as we rode.
Once getting to the park, the class split up into three self-made groups, and dispersed amongst the park to take on each and every rollercoaster. Thankfully it was a very low attendance day at the park, so the lines were not long at all. We went on everything from the underground, pitch-black “Flight-of-Fear” to the 305-ft high in the sky “Intimidator”. We waited almost and hour and a half for the favorite “Volcano” coaster that starts off going completely vertical.
Around noon the groups all got out of the sun and met at the theme park’s Chick-Fil-A to eat, and then we continued running around the park, riding and re-riding rides. When it was time to head back, we said goodbye to our favorite adrenaline-inducers and packed in the bus. Northern Virginia traffic unfortunately wasn’t forgiving, but a stop at Dunkin Donuts and Subway made it all better! The bus ride back was filled with laughter, ghost stories, and a few rounds of the alphabet game (which Mr. Smith was strikingly good at).
In general, learning about physics is fascinating. But it’s even more fascinating when you get to go out into the real world and see that it’s not just equations written in a textbook—but laws of nature that we can observe, prove and manipulate. The Kings Dominion trip was not only an adventure, but a great way to learn about God’s beautiful creation all around us.
For more about NIST, visit their website here: http://www.nist.gov
For more about Kings Dominion, visit their website here: http://www.kingsdominion.com/