Posts Tagged ‘Caltech

15
Sep
10

Better (or Stranger) Refreshments With Zone Refining

Friends, I always manage to do this by accident. You, having psychological and gustatory urges which I can only imagine, may find that you will want to do this same thing intentionally. -This- is zone refining.

You may already know that, if water is chilled very slowly and uniformly, it may freeze uniformly, suddenly and thoroughly. The freezing point is very precise. It is also different for other substances. Mixtures of substances which freeze differently – such as water & sugar, or water & food coloring, or water & carbon dioxide – will not freeze uniformly. Such mixtures can *un-mix*.

The first time I saw this un-mixing was a delightful surprise. It was delightful because it was unexpected and because I recognized it immediately. The venerable Scientific American magazine had taught me about the phenomenon of zone refining.

I had been eager to chill a bottle of Manischewitz wine, one day during college. I put in in the hall freezer in the Alley 5 kitchenette of Ruddock House. Then I forgot about it.

No, I didn’t really forget about it. I merely remembered it later than I had intended to remember it. It was a stunning sight – a 3/4 full squarish bottle which now had a fairly clear chunk of ice perched over a much smaller amount of concentrated wine. My exclamations brought a few Trolls to the kitchenette doorway. They were happy for me. There was some discussion of the potential of the liquid to offer an enhanced drinking experience.

That discussion, as dorm discussions with random Trolls often do, diverged toward other subjects. ‘Stud‘ offered his opinion that “Three quarters of a lethal dose of anything is a great high.” My retort – that three quarters of a lethal dose of concrete would be really hard to keep lit for smoking – was met with Stud’s expert correction: “You don’t smoke concrete, dummy – you shoot it up.”

Most recently, I did it again with half a bottle of Pepsi. Vitamin P keeps me going, as it did during performances of Stone’s Throw Dinner TheaterOklahoma!‘. It needed some fast chilling one night, and a preoccupation with my role resulted in a chunk of ice and Pepsi syrup. Yum!

Freezing doesn’t strictly require a colder temperature than for liquid. Either (depending upon pressure) can exist at a phase-transition temperature. When a liquid mixture is cooled slowly, it will cool even more slowly at this phase transition. The movement of heat that is cooling serves to make liquid become solid, leaving no extra movement of heat to lower the temperature. Take a look at this phase diagram for water. The ‘mp‘ dot is the melting point (freezing point) that we usually think of – normal pressure, 1 atmosphere. ‘mp’ belongs to both liquid and solid.

Various substances have very different phase diagrams. Here’s Uranium Hexafluoride, the form of uranium that is convenient to use in processing nuclear reactor and weapons fuel. (I would offer a phase diagram for Pepsi syrup, but it doesn’t seem to be available.)

A liquid mixture will have its minute constituents freezing at their individual ‘mp’s. For Pepsi, water freezes at a higher temperature than (prior to) the syrup, which has sugar, flavoring, and coloring. The very transition of water from liquid to solid prevents (temporarily) the temperature from getting low enough to freeze the syrup.

This stuff has seemed understandable to me for over 40 years. I do wonder about one thing – can I circumvent laws regulating the distillation of alcohol by using zone refining (of Manischewitz wine, no less!) instead of differential vaporization (a ‘still’)? Do I need to alert regulators to this potential loophole?

27
Mar
10

Why I Have Always Wanted To Be A Teacher

One of my earliest friends at Caltech, Dr. K, gave me some excellent advice. After I described some of my twisted history from Caltech, he told me that I needed to write an essay on Why I Have Always Wanted To Be A Teacher. Being the open-minded procrastinator that I am, his advice languished on my frontal lobes for months. You may now witness my active response to his friendly and expert advice.

I am the son of a man who loved Science. Dad had an inquisitive and creative mind. Recreation and work were intertwined in his mind, for no recreation could go unstudied, and no job could escape at least a small exploitation for pleasure. It was unavoidable that I would be introduced to Great Wonders, by reading the perpetual supply of National Geographic magazines, by watching the great and beloved ‘Mr. Wizard‘, Don Herbert, or by faithfully reading The Amateur Scientist in ‘Scientific American‘ every month.

I have always loved Science and found joy in discovering nature.

School did not provide the stimulating experiences that I had at home. My classroom experiences were generally frustrating, especially for being a child who tried hard to behave well and as expected while other kids disrupted class.

I can make a difference in students’ experiences as a Teacher.

Several Teachers, in a few special moments that demonstrated their love for others and their ability to teach more than an academic subject, touched my life. My 4th-grade Teacher gave me a simple reassurance, something no other Teacher had devoted one minute to, that saved me from a debilitating personal shame. My 8th-grade Journalism Teacher, in a triumph of practicality over dogmatic control, used my sotto voce whisperings to admonish noisy classmates on the proper way to talk in class. My Senior English Teacher came to my defense when classmates protested my use of a word that they did not know. They complained about the ‘egghead’ vocabulary that ‘no one’ could know the meaning of. She told them that they were the ones who needed correction, and that they should take the opportunity to learn. She told them that I would not have used a word without knowing its meaning. Then, she trusted me enough to put me on the spot and asked me to define the word I had used.

My classroom experiences occasionally included valuable contributions to my life from Teachers.
I want to be like them.

My excellent public-school performance, dandy SAT scores, and guidance by Dad in writing college applications led me to attend the California Institute of Technology – Caltech. This was big-league stuff, a very selective admission to a great incubator of Scientists. I wanted to be a great Physicist. I discovered, through difficulties in college, that I did not yet have the discipline needed to achieve significant things in Science. I also was experiencing a period of spiritual growth, which gave me a heightened concern for the education of the general population, as compared to the education which advanced students experienced. I became determined to contribute to the advancement of Science understanding for the great majority of students who would not become Scientists.

Science research does not need me. Science education needs me.

Caltech did not appreciate my newly-asserted attitude. Caltech liked (oh – I checked: they still do) to quote Theodore Roosevelt, who, in an address at the Throop Institute (later Caltech) on March 21, 1911, called for “the one-hundredth man … with … cultural scientific training …”. They actually take that to mean Science first, culture second. That is fine, but it did not match my goals. When my academic struggles re-occurred, I had the privilege of meeting with the Academic Review Board. They were dis-impressed by my goal to teach, and I was offered an explicit and involuntary opportunity to study elsewhere.

Elsewhere was home. I returned to Springfield, attended MSU (then SMSU), and did what I could to end the agony of college. That meant taking the path of least resistance – a Physics degree. It also meant that, with a newly-acquired fiance, I did not have vast credentials to acquire the necessary employment to provide for The Kids’ Mom. I finagled a job as Test Equipment Technician at the Zenith TV factory. This evolved, in successive steps on the path of least resistance, into an Engineering career.

It was an accident of my life’s history that I did not start my career as a teacher.

The years as an Engineer were not devoid of contact with teaching. The Kids’ Mom was a Teacher (and a mighty good one). I provided occasional help for her preparation for Math and Science classes. Also, as occasionally happened in college, someone (often a co-worker) would need tutoring.

Tutoring, and helping a little with class prep, were too-infrequent
and eagerly-sought opportunities to teach.

Tutoring was strangely unsatisfying. No student ever needed to be tutored twice. Typically, they would seek tutoring while struggling with C‘s and D‘s. After a tutoring session, their test scores would raise by two or three grades – to A‘s and B‘s. They felt comfortable with the material and could handle it without further help.

I can accomplish the ultimate goal of teaching: teaching students to teach themselves.

One of the terminal conversations that I had with my last Engineering boss included a very brief discussion of mentoring. I suggested that my skills and experience were being misused, and that I could, as a minor element of my work, convey my skills and experience to other Engineers. That suggestion was not received favorably. The expedient of assigning me to plug some leak in the dike was judged to be necessary and a 100% full-time commitment.

The biggest disappointment from my Engineering career is that my employers placed no value on mentoring, and refused to devote resources to perpetuating experience and knowledge.

The Little Red-haired Girl has been amazingly supportive, despite the equally amazing frustration of the situation, during my hiatus from employment. She has listened patiently while I re-examined the prospect of becoming a Teacher. She told me “Go for it“. I love her for that. I also love her for being a Teacher – a person who was truly born to teach music. It makes me feel good to be close to such a fine Teacher.

It may not be a coincidence that both The Kids’ Mom and the Little Red-haired Girl are Teachers.

I have recently begun helping in several Middle School Science & Math classes for a few hours a week. It’s a good thing.

Today, Ms. C let me play Teacher. Her 6th-grade Science class got a short presentation on applications of quartz and other piezoelectric materials. It’s a big and noisy class (usually), but they were all quiet and pasted their eyes on me for 10 minutes! They eagerly asked interesting questions and they were interested in each other’s questions.

Today, I tutored a student, ‘Bob’. Bob has certain personal distractions that interfere with learning. I can see that there is progress despite the difficulty, and that my little academic assistance may make it a bit easier, some day, for Bob to overcome the distractions in life.

I have always wanted to be a Teacher because I can do it well, I can make a real difference, and I care about the people I teach.

07
Feb
10

Boom! Goes the Dynamite

[Thank you, Brian Collins, sportscaster profundo of Ball State University.]

As you read a previous episode, “All Up Mount Wilson – All Down in the Family“, Part 3 of a series {secretly} titled ‘Jim, you ignorant troll – A chronicle of my life’s moments of stupidity’, you may have learned to expect a tale of Jim’s fallibility. The title (A chronicle . . .) does, technically, leave room for my experiences with the failings of other people. These episodes are as delightful to me as Part 3 may have (must have!) been to you. This episode, Part 4 of the series, has been a source of savory recollection for many years.

Caltech on-campus undergraduate student houses (7 then, 8 now) have governance and traditions which are partly Greek fraternity, partly explosive creativity, partly outlet for tension, and partly denial of reality, with a dash of Honor Code. The best element was Alley Challenges. The four Old Houses, built in lovely California Mission style, have numerous short branching hallways – known to Techers as ‘alleys’. This slang was retained for the New Houses, where alleys were designated as segments of relatively long hallways. Alleys often had distinctive characteristics, such as ‘Pot Alley’ for Orthodox dopers. Houses also emphasized some characteristics, with Fleming being the jock house, Ruddock the Glee Club house, Blacker and Ricketts were badminton houses, and Dabney Eats It. Alley Challenges provided an opportunity for friendly (?) competition and a subtle mixture of clever intrigue with silly diversion. Each house had unique ways of managing Alley Challenges. They were exclusively intramural, operating only within the monastic realm of an individual house – until a certain fateful day of my freshman year.

→ Hey! Swing low, sweet chariot->

28
Jan
10

All Up Mount Wilson – All Down in the Family

For a young man, leading an independent life and enjoying a glorious southern California summer, the Voice of Experience speaks softly. Pain and Abasement choose to use less-subtle expressions.

My bicycle, a Raleigh Supercourse, had been a happy companion for months. I found that it had such superb traction that I could corner a narrow, smooth, concrete sidewalk so well that I could drag a foot pedal if I weren’t careful. Free rides downhill, purchased with large denominations of worthless Jim-sweat, blasted me with eye-wincing winds and the zinging clicks of the coaster gear. It was the perfect time for a new and bigger adventure.

The Caltech Christian Fellowship provided a few graduate-student friends, fellows whom a mere undergrad might otherwise only know by way of envy. Ray (was that his name? the years know – I no longer do) was a smaller, but well-conditioned guy. He suggested that we go on one of the more popular bike excursions – a trip to the top of Mount Wilson.

→ Hey! It isn’t all bike riding, d.a.r.n. it

09
Jan
10

A Bicycler’s Thanksgiving

Hey, what an opportunity!  I had a new bike – a large-frame Raleigh Super Course, and my Uncle Bill and Aunt Betty were living in Tustin, California (near Disneyland, boys and girls).  A 45-mile ride would be just the thing for a Thanksgiving visit with them and cousins Tom, Susan, and Nancy.  I hit the streets from Ruddock, my student house at Caltech (the California Institute of Technology). → Hey! Impending Disaster Looms




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Basic Understanding

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- Edward R. Murrow

Intellectual Property Notice

All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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I use Wrinkled brand skin conditioner to keep that worldly-wise, I-have-put-up-with-more-crap-than-you-can-dish-out, old-codger look.

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