By Jeffrey Tao
The day began with a fascinating lecture from Dr. Fu about spacecraft propulsion. Among the topics discussed were nuclear pulse propulsion, the Bussard Ramjet, and space elevators. Most astonishing to me was the concept of antimatter propulsion. Although an antimatter-based fuel would theoretically allow for exhaust speed of over a third of the speed of light, the substance currently costs an absurd $62.5 trillion per gram, making it the most expensive material on Earth.
Next, Dr. Fu talked about the annual rocketry competition that colleges across the country take part in. This year, the event took place just weeks before the start of SSP, and Dr. Fu’s team managed to defeat MIT’s team and earn the top score at the prestigious competition. However, because his team had misplaced its results log, it was disqualified and did not actually receive first place.
During a short break between lectures, Fabio gave a demonstration of the heliostat in the classroom. The heliostat works by reflecting sunlight into the classroom via a mirror located on the roof of the observatory and subsequently splitting the light with a prism.
Dr. Fu’s final lecture of the day was about Japanese-American internment during World War II. It turns out that Dr. Fu’s grandparents and relatives were among the thousands of Japanese Americans incarcerated in internment camps across the country.
In the afternoon, we enjoyed a talk on astrobiology from Becky Rapf, a PhD student here at CU Boulder who was part of the SSP class of 2007. The goal of her research was to better our understanding of the origin of life, and she accomplished this by studying the synthesis of double-tailed lipids that resemble the phospholipid bilayer of cell membranes.
The day seemed to be progressing pretty normally until around 9 PM, when a group of SSPers heading to the observatory was greeted by the sound of deafening music and the sight of hundereds of wasted college students casually launching fireworks and riding light-up bikes. Apparently, the group had decided to celebrate the fact that it was Thursday by throwing a party in the middle of an observatory parking lot and yelling “Happy Thursday” at people passing by. However, it wasn’t long before the bikers themselves were greeted by an even louder source of music: police car sirens. As they began pouring out of the the parking lot by the hundreds, a second group of SSPers arrived to enjoy the show. The panicking bikers struggled to get down the stairs to the observatory, and the resulting scene was quite entertaining to watch.
On the OD side of things, a few teams are speeding along and well on their way to finishing the report, while other teams are lagging behind and in dire need of help from the TAs. The TAs have apparently responded by scheduling an evening of “uninterrupted vacation.”