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My Adventures with Dr. D
On my 12th birthday, my parents surprised me with a gift that would change my life. It was a 4”, fully-automatic, reflective telescope, complete with built-in software to help you navigate the the skies. Needless to say, I had no clue how to use it.
Luckily, I have a few contacts, and so after calling someone, who knew someone, who knew a guy, etc., I found a person that could help. His name was ‘Dr. D’, and little did I know what I was in for.
The first time I met Dr. D, it was a cold and overcast evening – probably the worst possible weather for looking at stars! However, by the time we got my overly complicated telescope up and working, the skies had cleared-up a bit.
After calibrating the telescope, we casually looked at a few stars. Sure, they were colourful and shimmering and brighter than anything I have seen in the night sky. Yet after looking at about a dozen, I was starting to lose interest. Then, something extraordinary happened.
As we turned the telescope towards the southwestern sky, we zoomed in on what we thought was a very large star. As I peered through the eyepiece, I suddenly noticed that we had stumbled upon something completely different. A ring, pure yellow and bright, surrounding a solid sphere – it was Saturn!!
For the next hour we charted its course across the sky, constantly adjusting the telescope in order to keep up with it. I was amazed at how quickly it actually moved, and how clearly you could see the planet and its moons.
Soon it was getting kind of late, so we decided to wrap things up and head our separate ways. Nonetheless, I was already hooked on stargazing, and so Dr. D and I agreed to meet in a week to see what other scientific adventures we could get into.
Cadbury and the Chocolate Nuke
The next time I saw Dr. D, he and I were hungry. We were hungry for an experiment, and we were, well, literally hungry. After some thinking, we decided to combine the two, and that’s how we decided to attempt ‘The Great Light Speed Chocolate Experiment’!
The purpose of the experiment was to determine the speed of light using only a microwave, an equation, and — most importantly — CHOCOLATE! Here's how it works:
A large bar of chocolate is put a microwave for twenty seconds so that it doesn't melt entirely, but only in some places. The melted indents in the chocolate represent areas where the microwaves hit the chocolate most intensely.
As you can tell by their name, 'microwaves' travel as 'waves' of energy. These waves pass in and out of the chocolate, heating it as they go. By measuring the distance from one hot spot to the next, you can tell how long the waves are.
Now here's the tough part: Thanks to Einstein’s formulas, we know that the speed of light (c) is equal to the wavelength of a microwave (?) multiplied by its frequency (f) (i.e. c = ? * f). Ergo, if you know the frequency and the wavelength of the microwaves used, you can calculate the speed of light very quickly.
Fortunately for Dr. D and I, the frequency of the microwave was printed right on the back of it. From our melted chocolate, we noticed that the hot spots were all equally about six centimeters apart. Bada-bing, bada-bang (and a bit of math), we calculated that speed of light was roughly 298 900 000 m/s (= 0.061m * 2450 MHz). Considering that the actual speed of light is 299 792 458 m/s, this was extremely close!
By the time the calculations were complete, most of the chocolate was gone. Dr. D. had a tummy ache, the microwave was filthy, and I was bouncing off the walls on a sugar high. In other words, the experiment was a brilliant success!
My First Lesson in Homemade Rocket Construction
After nuking the chocolate bar, Dr. D and I continued to meet and do experiments over the next few weeks.
One night I got bored and decided to give him a call. A couple hours later, Dr. D rolled up in his ‘magic school bus’, parking it right on top of my bicycle in the driveway.
Bursting in through the door with a crazed look in his eye, he says, “Hey! Let’s build a rocket launcher!”
Being somewhat more level-headed than Dr. D, I knew that these days you can’t just walk into a hardware store and ask for the ‘Rocket Launcher Department'. Clearly this project was going to take some work.
Going from hardware store to hardware store, we slowly gathered up all the parts we’d need. The launcher would be composed of ABS tubing held together with plumbers’ glue. The rocket fuel would be alcohol-based hairspray, while the actual rocket would be made from leftover tubing.
After cutting and gluing pipes for an hour, it was already late in the evening by the time the experiment was all set up. Outside it was cold and windy, so we put on our windbreakers and gloves and headed out to the park to test our contraption.
On the way, Dr. D started telling me a story about a friend of his who made a similar rocket launcher and as a result nearly became deaf. After hearing this, I quickly decided that Dr. D should probably fire our rocket first, while I waited a comfortable distance away just in case the whole thing went 'KABOOM!'
I was nervous. Many of my other experiments with Dr. D had not always gone so well. For example, a simple acid/base Ph test a couple weeks before ended up stinking up my whole room for a week. While an experiment with a rocket powered model car literally blew up in our faces. As I waited for Dr.D to light the fuse, I couldn't help but worry a bit.
Dr. D filled the chamber with hairspray, and I began the final count-down. In my head, I kind of half-expected it to fail, and pictured Dr.D running around the field on fire. Part of me wondered why I never thought to bring a fire extinguisher. In any case, at least I had my cell phone in my pocket for a quick 9-1-1 call.
"Three… Two… One…. BANG!!!!"
All I saw was an orange, brilliant fireball streaking through the night sky. Part of the homemade rocket had caught on fire, and we watched it fly about the length of a football field. Amazing!
After a few more trials, we finally managed to launch the rocket without having it catch on fire. Unfortunately, right about when we figured this out the ignition switch go so covered in hairspray that it stopped working. The rocket launcher was done, our hands and heads were frozen, and it was time to head home.
In a way, I was glad the rocket launcher stopped working. At the very least, it meant I could go inside and get warm. At the very most, Dr. D would not set himself on fire. That's what I call a 'win-win'.
The Toronto Islands: the Final Frontier?
Now that the school year is coming to a close, I will soon be off to camp for the summer. Dr. D and I will part ways, though not before one last adventure.
Tomorrow, he and I will jump a ferry boat over to the Toronto Islands. I got a text from him yesterday saying: "Got the map! Buried treasure! Meet me at the ferry docks at noon!" My guess is that Dr. D's traded in his lab coat for a pirate patch. Either that or he thinks he's struck oil.
One thing is sure: no matter what happens, and no matter where we end up, adventure is guaranteed. And that's good enough for me.