Author Archives: erinvruss

School update

So far, school has been kicking my butt. Not academically, really, but it’s been… interesting. I started out at a community college, so switching to UNLV was a bit of a culture shock. For the first few weeks, I thought I hated it there, but I’m settling in, students are dropping classes (so it’s less busy), and I now have a routine. I’m thinking of doing A Day in My Life post on Livejournal, with tons of pictures, so when I do I might copy it here. I feel bad that I’ve been mostly ignoring this place, but I’ll try to post more often.

I was very disappointed to find out that the class I was looking forward to the most, Projects in Observational Astronomy, had been canceled. The professor said that she hopes to offer it next semester, but I’m skeptical. Only me and one other person had registered for it, so I don’t know if she’s going to get enough students for it. I’m taking Spanish in its place, which might be helpful in the long run (there is a lot of astronomy work in Latin America), but I really wish I had gotten to take that class.

Meanwhile, I’m taking Calculus I, Computer Science I, Spanish and Chemistry II (which is at my old community college). For next semester, I’m trying to figure out if I want to take Organic Chemistry… because right now, chemistry is by far my favorite class. The lab is so much fun, and my instructor is fabulous. It also helps that my lab partner, who’s been a friend for years, is a chemistry major and his excitement is infectious. We often hold up our test tubes exclaiming, “SCIENCE!!!” We wind up being the last to finish most of the time because we take our time and just enjoy it.

I’m trying to get into a couple of clubs here… most notably the Health Physics Society and Chemical Interactions. I also just joined the Practical Electronics Club, which sounds really awesome because they fund your random electronics projects with student government money, and it’s usually a 100% return. I’ve been wanting to get into Arduino programming, because the boards really aren’t that expensive (only about $25!), and the club might fund the rest. We’ll see. I’m already busy with school work, and I’m aiming for all As this semester because I really have no excuse since I’m not working.

But today, I need to play some Skyrim. I just finished my first two exams (in math and chemsitry), so I think I deserve to slay some dragons for a couple hours.

xkcd's Relativistic Baseball

xkcd has been my favorite webcomic as soon as I discovered it many, many years ago. Nothing else ever comes close, and nothing else makes me laugh as hard. And now it looks like there’s a new section called “What If: Answering your hypothetical questions with physics, every Tuesday”.

Did I even need another reason to adore xkcd? No. But oh my goodness, I am so happy right now. I’m this close to actually setting my alarm to remind myself each Tuesday.

So, above is the first installment, explaining what would happen if someone could pitch a baseball at 90% the speed of light. If you need convincing to click through, here’s a spoiler: it involves a mushroom cloud. (Since I’ve never been much of a sports fan, this is how I feel every baseball game should end, but I digress.)

The Higgs boson(?)

The news has been flooded with articles saying that the Higgs boson, or “God Particle”, has been found by CERN (or at the very least, their findings are 99%+ in line with what the Higgs would look like). This has been a hot topic for years, but what does this finding even mean?

I wanted to share this little video partially because it’s cute, and is presented as a cartoon. But this video, made by Fermilab, should probably have been the one called The Higgs Boson for Dummies.

So far, my favorite blog entry or article on finding the Higgs is by Phil Plait on Bad Astronomy:

Two different detectors at the LHC both independently found a strong signal between 125 and 126 GeV at about the 5 sigma level – that means they can claim a 99.9999% confidence this signal is real! This means they found a previously undiscovered particle which, as it happens, is within the range of mass the Standard Model predicts for the Higgs particle! That’s what that plot above shows: a bump in the energies detected, and it’s seen so strongly that it can be called a discovery.

So it looks like this has physicists and astronomers bouncing up and down with glee, but technically the Higgs hasn’t been found yet. A new particle has been, but we need more proof before we can really say it’s really the Higgs.

But to me, that’s not really the point. My favorite quote from Phil’s blog entry was this:

The discovery of this new particle, and the vast potential it has, was all because we’re curious. This huge machine, the LHC, was built solely because we wanted to find things out, and some people had the vision to fund it and build it. When we wish to explore, when we wish to see what’s over the next hill, wonders unfold before us.

EARTHEREAL: Because space time lapses never get old

I came across this incredible video by way of Kuriositas, a blog that highlights the weird and wonderful. Put together by Adonis Pulatus (an award-winning time lapse photographer) from photos taken by the International Space Station crew, it’s definitely one of the cooler videos I’ve seen in a while.

For the longest time I gave up on science. My first degree (an Associate of Arts) is in History, but I decided it wasn’t exactly worth it to continue studying, because I mostly just wanted to study ancient civilizations such as Greece and Rome, and I wouldn’t get much of a chance to do advanced study until grad school. I didn’t exactly have much of a choice when I chose that major.

A few years ago, I was planning to major in engineering, because it was the closest degree at my college that would get me on the road to physics/astronomy. I decided around that time that I would just go for it — my childhood dream. I remember staying up late as a kid (when I wasn’t supposed to), flipping through the colorful astronomy books I got at the library. As I got older, I did more advanced research and read a lot of pop science books.

So, I was an engineering major. For one semester. I didn’t even get to any engineering courses, because during Calculus, my job gave me an ultimatum — either transfer and work full time (during the hour my math class was) or lose my job. This was in 2009, when the economy was still at its worst, so I dropped calculus and kept my job. I haven’t been able to take it since, but will finally get to it in the fall semester.

I switched to a history major because of my second, competing passion — ancient history, particularly war history. Plus, most of the classes were online and I wasn’t willing to quit school entirely.

But now that I’m switching to physics, I already have all the prerequisites done. Now all I have left are science and math courses. It’s going to be a very interesting (and frustrating) three years, but I’m excited about it and can’t wait to start my classes in the fall. I’ve never considered myself a patient person!