I first visited Stanford University in California when I was in 3rd grade. As we got inside, starting from the oval, the palm drive and on and on, the small girl in me was simply awe-struck by the appearance of the place; it resembled those doll houses that I used to play with. I have always lived in a fantasy land and will continue to do so. Hence I found myself in Stanford; the place appealed to my senses.
So when someone told me about the the SPCS workshops, I decided that I was anyhow going to get to that place. Also, one of my close friends (Lajja) had actually been there and her stories of the workshop got me more and more engaged. I gave my PSAT, then applied in the Coalition app, and weeks later, to my immense delight, I was accepted for the Biomechanics and Biofluid Dynamics workshop with a 100% scholarship.
Now when from the airport I actually reached Stanford, I met Esteban who helped me carry my huuuuge bags to my room. Little did I know that he would turn out to be one of my TAs, and my most enriching company there. I was in Kappa Alpha, then a candy-themed place, with two other groups- Computer Simulations and Sociology. I met my roommates, who greeted me with so much warmth. So I was late, and we rushed to the Barbeque Festival-cum-Welcome Dinner. Hmm...
In the first week, we had classes with Dr. G (extremely sweet teacher) who explained to us that we had to do, one, basics of BMech and Bfluidyn (self-created short forms, like the other groups had too), two, journal club, and three, self-designed projects with Insecta and Plantae.
We got a lot of theory part done using slides, blackboard, papers, really amazing discussions, and from the book “Cats’ Paws and Catapults” by Steve Vogel. We got a lot of homework too. It was an entirely new field with a new perspective of looking at biological designs. It very nicely involved the interdisciplinari-ness of physics and math and a little chemistry with biology. All of us used to keep pondering over topics and ideas and then ask our TAs (Esteban-Mechanical engg. Student and Sharon- Bio student) and Dr. G about them. Answers led to more questions, always.
For the journal club, we essentially had research papers assigned to individuals who would present these to the entire class in the way they wanted to, and then have discussions and furthering them. I had a paper on “Surface Tension propulsion of Fungal Spores”. I was deeply appreciated for everyone for my drawings and presentation.
As for the projects, we did quite too many. The specimens included butterflies, ladybirds, cockroaches, spiders, mosquitoes, dragonflies (we caught from the lake), maple seeds, leaves and the materials to work with were a smoke machine, lighter, cardboard wind tunnel, putty, high fructose corn syrup, laser, thermocol, our phones and computers. We did things like how the streamlines of wind move around the flapping wings of the butterfly, how different fish body shapes affect their swimming strategies, how viscosity affected walking of insects, how inclination affected cockroaches’ ability to escape danger by flight, how amputating different limbs affected locomotion etc. Our main project, however, was on maple seeds (helicopter seeds). We recorded the helical trajectory of the seeds with a makeshift setup from 2 dimensions. We needed accurate measurements of pitch, deviation from mean line, angular velocity at different points, radii etc. for which we had to include a scale into the slo-mo video-ing, which was already a huge task. Next we sliced the videos online, then studied them using xyz softwares and came up with a large set of readings using which we tried to deduce the equation of the deviated helix (Esteban was a special help with rotation tables and data compiling). On the last day, we presented our findings and also discussed previous researches on helicopter seeds. Sir was impressed.
Every day we used to get a complex physics problem to solve from Esteban and a biology HOTS question to think about. It was fun.
We did a lot more activities. We had carnivals, henna fests (I being from India was a pro at this and did henna designs on almost 13 full hands), doughnut decorations (I made personalized ones for our house with their name initials on), bottle decorations, fountain hopping, tie-and-dye t-shirt making (Jenny made one for me...so sweet of her!), watching movies, campus photo-shoot competitions, drawing/painting on canvas. Every thursday we had food from outside restaurants, and once they got something from the Indian restaurant too. We had a discussion over the Indian influence in Stanford’s traditions. We also had a bonfire night with marshmallows and hershey’s and crackers (I had never heard of these before), and also that memorable talent show for which I used to practice in the mornings. I have posted videos and pictures from everything.
Every night we had house meetings where I was mostly late due to a prolonged jet lag. In those meetings the TAs read out the days comments and compliments from the special red box, and I did get a lot on the talent show dance and the henna day. On the last night, we got ice-cream from Dots (amaaaazzziiinngggg!!!!!!) and the next morning a quick American breakfast and a warm see-off. (We cried, I mean, literally!) I still miss the rich chocolate milk shakes and puddings and rice-crispies and brownies and melons and pancakes and pizzas of Flo-Mo!