Exchange – Week 5

Week 5: September 19 – 25.

Week 5 marked my one month anniversary in the US. Although a standard school week here at Penn is left busy with lectures, homework, and sleep, I was still able to get out and about to explore Philly, and spend time with friends.

Freshman and Friends

For those that don’t remember, Freshman and Friends is a weekly event with the Christian Union, where we spend time eating a meal as a community, and play some games. It was lots of fun, and I wanted to share a photo here:

Liberty Bell

On Saturday, some friends and I head to three different museums in Philly. Our first stop was to the Liberty Bell. Before reaching the bell, there were heaps of different photos and artefacts about it. I probably should have paid more attention, because I still don’t know much about the Bell at all, but luckily everything is only a Google search away.

According to here, the bell’s significance comes from a few places. First, in 1776, the Liberty Bell’s ring from Independence Hall alerted the citizens of Philadelphia to come and hear the Declaration of Independence for the first time in public. It’s significance also draws from it being used as a symbol of unity following the Civil War, and the bell even travelled around the US in an effort to reunite the country.

Also, for those that remember from the Week 3 blog, you may have noticed a huge bell LED light appearing in the stadium. This is no coincidence – it’s the logo of the Phillies baseball team:

Science History Institute

The next stop was to the Science History Institute. The museum itself wasn’t that big, but at the time of writing, entry is free, so I’d suggest stopping by if you’re a science nerd like myself. The exhibits were really informative, and they had heaps of artefacts from centuries gone by!

In particular, one of the exhibits I resonated with most was on three-dimensional modelling of chemicals. This is a field I’m interested in, and I spoke recently with some supervisors and colleagues from the University of Sydney on some work I’ve been doing on 3D modelling of chemicals in Unity, with applications for virtual reality.

It was fascinating to see the range of methods to visualise 3D molecules. From simple craft tools (wire, cork, toothpicks, clay)…

Getting crafty to visualise 3D molecules.

… to intricately placed plasticine sheets to observe the 3D structure of the myoglobin protein.

3D structure of the myoglobin protein.

The 3D structure of the myoglobin protein above was created by a British biochemist named John Kendrew. It was created by first performing crystallographic studies on myoglobin. These studies then yielded electron density maps, which Kendrew then sculpted into plasticine sheets. Stacking the plasticine sheets on top of each-other, the stack of transparent sheets allow viewers to make out the myoglobin protein structure, as seen in the image above.

Similarly, Al Tulinsky’s lab at Michigan State University used electron density maps to model the protein chymotrypsin. However, unlike Kendrew’s plasticine sheets, Al Tulinsky’s lab used a wooden frame and grid of iron rods with models of molecular components, to create this massive 3D representation of chymotrypsin:

3D structure of the chymotrypsin protein.

Now, for those that don’t find this stuff interesting, thanks for baring with me, I promise this is the last one!

I found this exhibit funny, because it is such as inventive way to teach chemistry! In the late 1800s, some science writers would use fairies to explain chemical bonding. Taken from the description on the exhibit information board, “The three fairies… represent the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in a molecule of water; they’re holding hands to illustrate the chemical bonds that hold these atoms together.” You can see this to the left of the image below.

(On the left) An oxygen fairy holding the hands of two hydrogen fairies, to symbolise a water molecule

National Constitution Centre

The last museum we visited was the National Constitution Centre, which is the only museum in the world solely about the US Constitution. It was a great cultural experience! I personally knew that the Constitution was important to Americans, but I didn’t know much about it, or the history surrounding it’s creation.

The highlight of the trip was the Freedom Rising live theatre production. Freedom Rising took place in a 360-degree theatre, describing the history of Americas fight for freedom from the British, and the establishment of the US Constitution. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures 🙁

Afterwards, we walked around the many different exhibits. Here is a photo of me running for office (and rocking my Parramatta Eels jumper in anticipation of their first premiership in my lifetime):

I also posed with some of the 42 bronze-statutes of the United States Founding Fathers, the people attributed with laying down the framework for which the US was built:

Overall, it was a great day, and I enjoyed spending it with these legends:

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