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MIT student blogger Anna H. '14

Tales From Turning Twenty by Anna H. '14

They range from "a little peculiar" to "utterly bizarre."

A week ago today, I turned 20. It occurs to me that something weird has happened every day of my 20-year-old life so far (not sure whether this reflects a general trend in my life, or is just a phase) so here’s an outline, with more detailed stories below. Peruse at your leisure.

Bizarreness from 1 (a little peculiar) to 10 (utterly bizarre)

Wednesday Oct 31: I turned 20

^ Definitely a 10.

Thursday Nov 1: I learned from Alan Guth that “you don’t have to have a fantastic amount of energy to create a universe.”

^ I’d give it an 8. Maybe even a 9. That’s pretty mind-blowing, though not as mind-blowing as the fact that I am now TWENTY YEARS OLD.

Friday Nov 2: I found myself sitting in the kitchen at 6am, one hand writing an equation to show that the Heisenberg operators for position and momentum obey an analog of Newton’s second law, the other hand stirring a vat of soon-to-be chocolate-cinnamon mousse. That night, I put on a dress and makeup and did my hair, slipped my feet into high heels, put on a backpack, walked down one flight of stairs, took off my backpack, and worked on a Junior Lab paper for three hours before changing back into casual gear.

^ That was up there. 9.

Saturday Nov 3: I ended up in an ambulance, then at Cambridge Hospital, then listening to a nurse say “puff our your chest like a girl puffs out her boobs” to help my friend pop his arm back into its socket.

^ A 9, until the nurse’s comment made it a 10.

Sunday Nov 4: I wore pajamas for literally the entire day, locked myself out of my room, and measured muon velocity to be 0.98 times the speed of light – exactly what we hoped to get.

^ 1, 3, 8 for the J-Lab miracle.

Monday Nov 5: I got a letter from my insurance company asking me for my retirement date.

^ Um…that was pretty weird. 4.

Tuesday Nov 6: I voted in the presidential election for the first time!

^ More awesome than bizarre, although it’s bizarre to think that I am now old enough to do that. 5.

Today: I went to the wrong classroom for my linear algebra exam. Also, it’s snowing.

^ 6. and 8. Didn’t see that coming.

Wednesday, October 31

Left my room at 12:05am to go to the bathroom, and found a birthday present taped to the door: a montage of pictures from Santa Fe, New Mexico, from a friend with whom I share a love of The Land of Enchantment. With it, a note to have a happy birthday. Was very impressed with said friend’s punctuality.

Sometime between 12:30 and 1am: finally went to bed.

Alarm rang at 6:30. Immediately got up, because I didn’t want my last action as a 19-year-old to be a lazy one. Got dressed, and was treated to pancakes by my friend Sophie.

Turned 20 at 7am.

Half an hour after turning 20, I was in an office opposite the Junior Lab facility, standing next to a projector screen and cursing Hurricane Sandy for postponing my oral exam to 7:30am on my birthday. My professor wound the timer, said “go” – and it began. I described how my partner Eric and I measured the brightness temperature of the sun at the 21cm wavelength of the radio spectrum. It went well – because it was my birthday, and nothing can go badly on your birthday. I forgave Hurricane Sandy.

The rest of my birthday: grocery shopping, a run, Quantum lecture (to which Eric showed up dressed as a top quark – it was awesome) and a trip to BU to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail with their astronomy club. That night, French House baked me a cake, threw a squishy “happy birthday!” hat on my head, and invited my friend Sam over to celebrate. I failed at blowing out the candles, and Sam made fun of my limited lung capacity.

After that, I hung out with friends in New House 3. At midnight, they celebrated one of their resident’s birthdays – and I very literally passed on the birthday hat.

Thursday, November 1

At 3:30pm, I met with Ed Bertschinger, the head of the physics department here, to chat about our mutual interest in astronomy outreach and how to successfully incorporate outreach into a scientific career. Turns out that he’s one of the nicest human beings on the planet. He gave me some pointers for people to talk to and summer programs to investigate.

At 4pm, the two of us walked over to 10-250 (a big lecture hall) to watch the inventor of inflationary theory (and my advisor) talk about…inflation. It was as packed as I’ve ever seen it.

Notable quotes:

“You don’t have to have a fantastic amount of energy to create a universe.”

“[referring to the existence of the multiverse] Martin Rees said he would bet his dog’s life on it. Andrei Linde said he would bet his own life on it. Steven Weinberg, ever the voice of reason, said that he is so confident that there is a multiverse that he would bet the lives of both Andrei Linde and Martin Rees’ dog.”

“The good news is that life goes on somewhere in the multiverse.”

Friday, November 2

On Thursday night, I had two tasks: 1) finish my Quantum pset, and 2) prepare for my Friday menu. I’m on French House’s Friday cooking team, which means that I spend two hours every Friday making (and about half an hour cleaning up after) dinner for our living group. On this particular Friday, it was my turn to chef, and I had come up with a relatively elaborate menu. I paid in sleep for not doing any work on my birthday (a girl’s gotta have principles, okay?) – and while I won’t tell you exactly what time I went to sleep (my mom reads this blog) I will tell you that my menu was a great success: mushroom/ricotta/spinach/pepperoni calzones, two salads, and chocolate-cinnamon mousse with cherry syrup. Om nom nom.

After cleaning up the dishes, I went back to my room to dress up. In a nutshell: I had a Junior Lab paper due the next day, which meant that I couldn’t make it to the evening’s Class of 2014 semiformal. Not to be put down, my friend Sophie and I decided to dress up anyway – dresses, makeup, the whole shabang – and had our own formal event. In the floor lounge. With our laptops.

Oh, J-Lab. What have you done to me?

Saturday, November 3

At around 11:30 Friday night, my friend Lucas convinced me to take a much-needed break from writing the J-Lab paper by playing Ultimate Frisbee with other residents of New House.

It is physically impossible for me to say no to Ultimate Frisbee, so I bundled up and joined them on Briggs field. We were still playing at 1:30 or so, and had agreed to only play for ONE MORE POINT, when one of the freshmen went down under a collision – his arm had come out of its socket. I called the ambulance. The rest of us huddled around and told silly stories from our own injury histories, trying to keep the kid entertained, while Lucas ran to meet the ambulance. I volunteered to accompany the freshman to the hospital, so found myself in the ambulance a few minutes later, with Lucas’s cellphone and ID card (I hadn’t brought my own.) Fifteen-ish minutes later, two of the others, arrived at the hospital, having woken up their GRT and asked for a ride. Only two of us were allowed in the actual ward, so Dan waited outside. Lucas and I made the most of our senses of humor while our team-mate popped his own shoulder back in.

The night went from a little surreal to Freaking Weird when the nurse described the method to pop one’s shoulder back in: “puff your chest out,” she said, encouragingly, “like a girl sticks out her boobs!”



No comment.

Sunday, November 4

Eric came over, and we worked on J-Lab for a couple of hours – our experiment was to measure the speed of cosmic ray muons at sea level. At first, we kept getting an answer several orders of magnitude lower than what we wanted, which was very sad…but after realizing the error of our ways, recalculated the speed to be exactly what we expected.
Ladies and gentlemen: relativity works.

Monday, November 5


Tuesday, November 6

At noon, I washed silicon microsphere solution and microscope residue off my hands, threw on a scarf and a hat, and rushed across Killian Court to vote for the first time. A girl standing on the steps of the Student Center held a “VOTE TODAY!” sign, and yelled “HAVE YOU VOTED YET?” as I went past - I passed a friend as I entered Kresge Auditorium, and we exchanged congratulations for voting for the first time.
I waltzed up to the table, gave my name and address - and was told that I was at the wrong table. Oops. Let’s pretend that didn’t happen. I waltzed up to the CORRECT table, gave my name and address, and received a voting sheet in return. I bubbled in my choices using my bubbling-in expertise from all those years of standardized testing, and wore my “I voted!” sticker around for the rest of the day - and felt very grown-up. - Today

I woke up without my alarm, and it was sunny outside. That is always a bad sign. Convinced I’d slept through the test, I shot up, snatched the clock off my bedside table, and almost sang with joy when I saw that I had, against all odds, actually woken up before my alarm went off. I arrived in the lecture hall 10 minutes early, and there was still no one there – so left to get a snack. When I returned, I was out of breath (there was a long line!) and only 30 seconds early – but there was still no one there, except a lone technician wrapping up some lighting cables.

Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I’m dreaming, right? Someone please tell me I’m dreaming.

Technician: “I guess there’s no class today! Hah hah!”
Me: “I…I guess so.”
Technician: “Lucky you!”
Yup. Lucky me.
Silence. Mind racing, I put my wallet away and zipped up my backpack.
Me: “…Would you happen to know where everyone went?”
Technician: “What?”
Me: “Like…what classroom?”
Technician: “Oh…no, I don’t.” He was no longer laughing. “Is there a test today?”
Me: “Yup.”

With that, I shot out of the room like a burning crucible once shot out of my hand in 10th grade chemistry class (good times) and into a computer cluster. I logged on, checked the class homepage, and saw that the exam was actually over in Walker Memorial.

aaaaaaaaaaaand that, boys and girls, is why you should always double-check where your exam is. Backpack flapping and two coats, a hat, and a scarf tucked under my arm, I threw dignity to the wind and sprinted to Walker. I rushed up two flights of stairs, entered with an echoing crash, grabbed an exam packet, and ploughed through the exam with my pulse racing. I finished with ten minutes to spare.


In other news, I just got a text from my friend saying that it’s snowing. So…with that new, bizarre piece of information, I’m going to go outside and find out what the deal is.