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Another Semester Ends

May 18, 2008

The Spring 2008 semester is over, the grades are posted. I hear you breathlessly asking, “How did it go?”

Not too badly.

While I only registered for 6 credits this semester (3 lecture, 3 research), I actually sat through 9 credits of lecture. One extra class was by invitation from my research advisor. The other less invited, but he did not seem to mind (after all, I was a more consistent attendee than half the class). The full rundown then…

Senior Research Project – I talked a bunch about my research project here. I did not do any more flux work since my last post, but did continue working on vapor pressures of certain molecules (N2, CH4, CO and a variety of C2H* species) at very low (30-60K) temperatures. I originally was asked to turn in a sort of journal of my efforts for the grade. Before the semester was out, however, Dr. Summers let me know I had already earned an A (yay me!) for my work, but he still wanted me to turn in a paper which might be suitable for publishing on the low temperature vapor pressures. I finished writing that today and will submit it tomorrow for his review/editing.

Modern Physics – This was a very interesting class — a “survey” course (touching relatively lightly on a number of topics) covering special relativity, introductory quantum physics, Schrodinger’s wave functions, perturbation theory and similar fun. My one big regret is that we did not get to the last part of the book, which deals with subatomic particles (quarks and things). That was what I was looking most forward to! The instructor, Dr. Karen Sauer, is engaging and effective. I enjoyed her teaching and look forward to having her again for Senior Physics Lab next semester. The tests were not easy – GRE-based multiple choice plus course-based quantitative questions. No equations were given (just like in the GRE), so we had to memorize all the formulas as well as knowing how to use them. I studied harder for the final exam (5 full days) than I have for any other exam I have ever taken. Result (including her substantial curve to get the class average up to a B): A+ for the course.

Thermal Physics – I just sat in this class, not signing up for it (or talking to the instructor about it) because I was told it was critical for an astrophysics career (it probably is). However, it is not (currently) required to graduate – just one of a list of electives – and I chose to take a second semester of research for more fun. The instructor, Dr. Peter Becker, was not bad, if occasionally a goofball (humor is good, though). The book, however, was horrible. It was written in 1965 and completely unsuitable to today’s education environment – just page after page of text spamming your eyeballs without a gap. I could not take it and did not even crack the book after the first week or so. I still took very thorough notes throughout the semester in case it ever becomes important to me.

Atmospheric Physics – Another survey course! (Don’t we ever get to learn the real stuff?) This one was taught by Dr. Summers and I sat in it at his request. As expected, it was an enjoyable class full of great slides and interesting information about how the atmosphere works.

All in all, not a bad semester, although I started losing the urge to be in school somewhere in April (about par for me). One more semester of undergraduate courses – currently scheduled for Senior Physics Lab and Introduction to Astrophysics, although I may sit in one or more other classes as well again. We’ll see what happens!

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