There are many benefits to a block plan, including compartmentalized focus, comradery, and an instructor’s full attention to name a few. One often overlooked benefit is the freedom your class has every single day. Without the constraints imposed by having a schedule that requires many classes on a single day, a course is able to take up whatever time is necessary to achieve whatever it is you’re looking to do. My most recent class, Signal Processing, took full advantage of this. Signal Processing is a course that is almost never taught in a formal university course and is instead typically learned by research professionals during their careers along the way. It essentially is the process of taking any received signal, be it visible light, radio waves, even traffic patterns and tree rings, and analyzing the underlying repeating patterns and their spectra. While the majority of our eighteen days were spent in the classroom, once a week we managed to go to a litany of destinations.
During week one we visited TRIUMF, a particle accelerator facility on UBC’s campus in Vancouver. During the tour we were shown various instruments, including the cyclotron, the device used to accelerate ionized hydrogen to speeds of 75% the speed of light. This was the principle acceleration device, measuring approximately ten meters across, used to feed particles to a wide range of experiments taking place in the facility. My favorite, being astrophysically inclined, was the Dragon experiment which simulates the conditions that constitute supernova explosions. This is done by taking heavy, unstable radioactive isotopes that are typically created inside of a supernova, accelerating them to very high speeds, and slamming them into the less massive nuclei of hydrogen and helium atoms. And this is just one of the numerous experiments at the facility that we had a chance to peek at.
Our second field trip took us to the Spark Museum in Bellingham, WA. Here we were able to peruse the largest collection of electrical inventions anywhere on earth, ranging back to the very first “batteries” (which were little more than a metal rod holding a charge inside of a glass jar) all the way up to the creation of color television along with everything in between. Never before have I seen so many tube amps in one place. There was also a theremin on display, which I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing with. If you’re unfamiliar, a theremin is an electrical instrument which is played without being touched by the musician. A current is run through a few different rods, creating two separate magnetic fields. Both pitch and volume are controlled by disturbing those magnetic fields with your hands, moving them closer and further from the rods to do so. I geeked out a bit to be quite honest.
Last but far from least we took an overnight field trip to the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) in Penticton, BC. Normally not a facility that gives tours, our Tutor Ian Hoffman was able to get in touch with some of the researchers out there and show us around the facility and the different radio telescopes they used.
The science conducted there ranged from observations of Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs for short) to surveys that map the very first neutral hydrogen structures in the early Universe. Our interactions with the researchers also highlighted the fact that a Quest education isn’t classifiable by traditional standards. When I was asked “So what’s your background?” I said I had studied up to Lagrangian mechanics, modern physics and some optical astronomy. He then said “Oh, so you’re a physics major!” “Well no, currently I’m in a signal processing course.” “Ah, electrical engineering then.” “Nope.” I then did what I’ve become extraordinarily accustomed to after three years at this school: I went through Quest’s entire academic structure and explained what my studies looked like within that realm. He still seemed a bit confused but overall I think that he got the general idea that Quest doesn’t fit within the one-word classification scheme most academics have experienced for their entire professional careers.
It’s fantastic to be in an academic structure that allows my classes to take field trips whenever necessary. There’s no chem lab to be back on campus for, no assignment deadline for another class with an unforgiving professor, only the schedule required for the field trip itself. A truly immersive format.