On the first day of camp, we were allowed to choose two projects on which we would work for the remainder of the week. Our choices were to build 1) an interferometer, 2) an ECG, 3) a spectrometer, 4) a photon detector that will count individual photons. All of the projects sounded interesting, but I chose the photon detector as my first choice because it aligned most closely to my intended major (electrical engineering), I have a special affinity toward microcontrollers, and it sounded fascinating. I would have loved to work on all four projects, but I had to pick only one for my second project. The ECG very narrowly beat the other two projects in my level of interest. Also on that first day we began our first group experiments: determining the resistance of certain materials and how changing their shape, thickness, and composition can raise or lower the resistance. At the end of the day, we were given an exam, of sorts: given a glob of play dough, and given a specified diameter and length of the play dough, given a certain voltage (3V), and given no other materials, copy the amount of resistance in the professor's clay such that 14 mA was flowing through the play dough. I am very happy that I was the only student who was able to come up with the correct solution. I created a resistor from a sheet of my lab notebook, placed it inside the core of the play dough, and thereby created the perfect amount of resistance to get the correct number of amps through the play dough.
The second day marked the beginning of our splitting up into project groups. At the start of each day we would work with the professor in charge of one of our selected projects, then after lunch we would switch to the professor in charge of the other project we chose. For me, the morning project was the ECG. Dr. Johnson began by reviewing how to use breadboards, create circuits, and how to measure voltages, resistance, and current. Once all of the other students understood how things worked (I was already familiar with these techniques), we began working with an OpAmp (Operational Amplifier) and discovering what it did and how we could alter our voltage and current by simply changing the resistors out. We then adapted it to measure voltage in a solution, and on the very last day, measure voltage across the human body. Working with OpAmps was fortuitous since I had begun studying them and their uses the week before camp began. I enjoyed getting the chance to work with one.
The photon detector project began with helping teach the other students how to solder so we could assemble our microcontrollers and LCD screens and begin working with them. Then Dr. Masters started teaching us to program the LCDs to show whatever text we wanted, to count up and down, and to use a pulse-wave modulator to make LEDs change as the counter went up or down. We also learned to make a photon detector using an oscilloscope, a backwards infrared LED, a power supply and a resistor. With the oscilloscope we were able to watch as each photon hit the LED and made a small spike on the oscilloscope. I loved this project! In fact, I am continuing to work on it even though camp is over. I am planning to expand on the readings displayed by the LCD screen taken by the LED.
The third day was continuation of the two projects, in addition to an extra challenge at the end of the day. We were to match the salt content to a variety of power drinks. To do this, we had to determine the conductivity of salt dissolved in water using a multimeter and OpAmp given various resistances. The one that was most conductive (most salty) was the drink that had the highest salt content on the label, and so on down the line. We were divided into two teams for this challenge. The other team only used one resistor in their tests, and they were certain of their results. I wanted to confirm our results so our team used multiple resistors to test each result. Our team won!
The rest of the camp was spent finishing the two projects.
With such awesome projects and helpful professors, it was impossible to not have a great time at the physics camp! Many thanks to the professors: Dr. Masters, Dr. Grove, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Wang, and Dr. Millspaw!