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2008 SPS National Interns
2008 Interns | Past Interns | Internships Home

Paul Abbazia   Paul Abbazia
Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ
Internship: NASA-Goddard Spaceflight Center
• Introduction
• Online Journal
• Final Presentation
Online Journal
Final Presentation Week of July 28, 2008 Week of July 7, 2008 Week of June 16, 2008
  Week of July 21, 2008 Week of June 30, 2008 Week of June 9, 2008
Week of August 4, 2008 Week of July 14, 2008 Week of June 23, 2008 Week of June 2, 2008

Week of August 4, 2008

This summer was certainly an adventure. I made new friends and saw new places. I even got to work on a pretty cool project. I lived smack dab in the middle of ever-so-busy Washington, DC. I worked at NASA with a group of very intelligent people. Perhaps the most exciting part was to be completely on my own entering a new life experience. I go to a local college with about a dozen or so of my high school class mates, so I've always had a cushion of familiarity to fall back on. This turned out not to be a problem; I made some great friends and had a blast during my SPS summer.

I had just finished a tough academic semester, but had already grown bored during my few weeks at home. I didn't know what my summer in DC would entail, but I figured it would be more interesting. Upon arriving at my dorm, I found an empty hallway and a locked room. To my surprise, I had been switched from a single to a triple. I went inside, looked around, and on my exit was ambushed by a group of quite friendly people. Little did I know that these would be the people I'd be spending the summer having fun with, working with, and traveling with. It took us a little while to finally introduce ourselves as SPS interns, ok?

Take this as a guarantee that I can never claim not to be at least a little bit nerdy: I really enjoyed my research this summer. Now I know you're thinking to yourself,  But Paul, how can classifying mineralogy through neutron spectroscopy be considered nerdy?  And you have a good point, after all, I got to learn quite a bit about the interesting and radical subject of nuclear physics, including goodies such as  hydrogen is effective at dampening neutron emissions due to the similar size of a hydrogen nuclei and a neutron.  However, I also learned about that dark side of mathematics, statistics. Indeed, I probably had just a bit too much glee trying to find statistical relationships between neutron emission maps and the presence of different elements on Mars. In fact, I think I may have scared some of my co-workers a bit. Sorry for almost crashing the car, Dan, I tend to get extremely focused when I'm working on something interesting, such as trying to expand the field of neutron spectroscopy so it can be used to find more stuff in more places.

With lackluster cell phone service in the DC/College Park area, I was left with the favored past time of young adults prior to technology, exploration! DC was full of museums to see, and a lot of them are even free. Trips to the various monuments took up quite a few evenings as well. We even got to take a trip to Baltimore. It went so fast, but I'm really glad I got to see so much this summer, and I had a really good crowd to do it with. Kunal, Barbara, Logan, Daniel, Mary, Justin, Megan, Jenna, it was good hanging out with you guys this summer, and hopefully I'll see you all again. Perhaps at Fermi Lab in November. Also, Liz, Fred, Linda, Gary, Tracy, and Kendra, thanks for all your support and organizing that you did.  Julia, Vik, and Anais, thank you for your advice and lunch time chats at work. Tim, Larry, Ricard, Jack, and Ann, thank you so much for acting as mentors and actively working with us. Thank you mom, for reading all the journals and preparing tons of questions to ask me. And thank you to anyone I missed in my absent mindedness. And most of all thank YOU, for reading this journal!

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Week of July 28, 2008

What was a restful weekend led into a very busy week.

I skipped Gary's party on Sunday to do work. Unfortunately, my network access to my school's software had expired, and the free alternatives I found online did not work with my programs. Instead I ended up meandering, and doing a bit of work on my final presentation.

Upon waking up on Monday, I immediately went to work on my presentation. Unsure of when my practice presentation was, I left late to put a bit more work into the presentation. It turns out my presentation wasn't until the afternoon, so I spent the rest of the morning working on it, including making figures and such to go into it. Our bosses gave us constructive criticism on our presentations, and then we spent the rest of the work day working on the presentations. At one point, Julia (the grad student we work with) took Dan and I out for water ice, and after which we stopped by my friend Rich's place and got pizza for dinner. Later that night, we found our way back to NASA and Julia gave us criticism about our presentations.

On Tuesday, we went to ACP for another practice presentation. Gary, Kendra, and the interns gave us criticism on our presentations this time. I was told I needed to add more text to mine to support my images, as well as to clarify what was being shown. When we got back to work, we spent the rest of the day working on our presentations. This proved to be a real crunch time, and we spent until 9PM at NASA. Our presentations received a complete overhaul, and Julia stayed the entire time to assist Dan and I. Afterward, we had dinner at a local diner.

Wednesday marked our return to ACP, but for real this time. We had gotten in late the previous night, so I was a bit low on sleep. Upon stumbling into the building, I practically chugged a cup of coffee. This proved to be a mistake, as I was the second presentation and the coffee made me jittery. Additionally, I put the microphone on the right side of my jacket, so my voice was very loud when talking to the audience and ok when turned toward the presentation. Due to my sluggishness, I mainly read off the slides, facing toward them to avoid the disparity in volume that came when talking to the audience.

I thought the presentation went well. The other interns also did a very good job. Mary and Jenna included audience activities, and I made sure to get involved. I felt it did a good job of displaying the sorts of activities they were involved in. I was glad that many of our fellow coworkers and bosses from NASA showed up for our presentations.
I also got to meet James Harrington for the first time, who is part of the MUSpIN program which sponsored our NASA research.

After work, Julia, Daniel, Vikram, and I went and relaxed by Goddard lake.

Thursday was work as usual, with one major difference. Our bosses took us out for lunch! Rather than our standard fare, eating at the local deli, we went to Ruby Tuesday. It wasn't a burger and fries place like I thought.

And whence came Friday, disaster wrought! I lost my badge before I even got into my building, and spent half the day searching for it. Somehow it turned up in a parking lot halfway across campus. Be it the way the wind blows, it seems fate conspired to make sure I didn't get much additional work done this week besides my presentation.

Oh, you're probably wondering what my presentation was on. I was attempting to relate the Mars Odyssey High Energy Neutron Detector (HEND) data to its gamma ray spectrometer data. The gamma ray spectrometer data has been used to determine the concentration of 6 different elements on Mars already (with possibly more to be determined), and if a relation could be found between these elemental maps and the neutron data, then there would be the possibility to use neutrons to see the presence of different elements. This is important for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission launching within the next 6 months. As part of the President's Space Initiative, it's goal is aid in the future potential of further human space exploration. As such, all the instruments on it were geared for that goal. It includes instruments to study the harmful effects of radiation, the physical features of the moon, and possible landing sites. It also includes a neutron detector due to the ability of a neutron detector to accurately map hydrogen (and most likely water) content. No gamma ray spectrometer was included, so the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) must be used for as much additional science as possible.

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Week of July 21, 2008

Work has been somewhat frustrating this past week. I've been trying a variety of things to try to find a relationship between the neutron defined cluster maps I've made and the 6 previously existing element concentration maps of Mars. I've tried finding mathematical correlations between the data sets, as well as just visually comparing the data. Additionally, I've done some statistical analysis on the clusters per element map compared to the rest of the data set. One such analysis is the T test, which is similar to computing how many standard deviations two data sets are separated by. It tests if the means of two data sets are far enough apart to be considered statistically different. Due to the possibility of error within the measurements, two data sets could have different computed average values, yet have a strong possibility of having identical averages in actuality. The other test is the F test, which tests is the variances of the two data sets are far apart or not. In the F test, it is preferable to have similar variances between the data sets, so that you know that there isn't a particularly high or low value in one data set throwing off the results.

There were some clusters that were picked up as having very different means in certain elements, while having similar variances. Unfortunately, there did not appear to be any features of significance visually in the concentration maps. However, by performing a histogram redistribution of the data, essentially organizing it into percentiles, the statistically significant clusters showed what might be interesting features.

With nothing conclusive in the clustering, Tim wants me to return to correlation analysis, but this time make maps of the correlations between two data sets (one neutron and one elemental). I've previously done this with principal components and elements and at least iron and hydrogen correlated with neutron measurements, but those two are already known to correlate with neutrons. I'd also like to do a linear fit of the elemental vectors among each cluster, and see if there is some linear combination that can be said to span each vector. Since neutron counts decrease based off how they interact with elements, it's possible a decrease in one element and an increase in another could keep count rates constant. A linear combination vector could potentially allow us to see this co dependence.

Last weekend I went to my adviser's 10 year anniversary (as a professor at my school) party. I saw a few of my friends from school and had a pretty good time, though the trip was long. We (Jenna, Daniel, and I) finally saw Batman: The Dark Knight this week. It was a really good movie, though I still wish I could have seen it on the IMax. Unfortunately, most of the Imax tickets throughout even the next week are still sold out. Also, Jenna and I went to see "Not the Messiah!" at Wolftrap. Wolftrap is some sort of outdoor concert venue that wouldn't look out of place in the English country side. "Not the Messiah!" was an orchestral show of music based on Monty Python's "The Life of Brian." The music was both fun and different.

Today, Daniel and I finally gave our tour of NASA to the rest of the interns. Unfortunately, a few of the people who planned to attend, including a couple interns, weren't able to make it. However, we got to see NASA's Information Visualization resources, which comes up with concise and meaningful displays for public consumption. These include things such as hurricane and global warming models that you might see on the news. We also saw the spacecraft warehouse/testing facility again, but got to see a few new things in it, including a somewhat defunct G-force chamber. Afterward, we went to the visitor center and associated gift shop, because NASA needs all the funding it can get.
Now for the weekend, I have to make my presentation for next week. I'll be showing it three times, once to my bosses at Goddard on Monday, at a practice at ACP on Tuesday, and my final presentation on Wednesday. And of course, I don't even have any real results yet. It's going to be one of those weekends.

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Week of July 14, 2008

I've been trying to find correlations between neutron and gamma ray data. Gamma rays have already been used to map out geochemical compositions on Mars, however neutron use has been limited to identifying hydrogen/water. This has involved a lot of image comparisons, along with some statistics. One such statistic is the Pearson correlation coefficient, which measures the degree that two variables correlate, ranging from -1 to 1. 1 is complete correlation, -1 is complete inverse correlation and 0 is no correlation. Unfortunately, this hasn't revealed any strong correlations.

The past weekend, Justin and I went to the Air and Space hanger by Dulles Airport in Virginia. It has aircraft ranging from the early 20th century to a Joint Strike Fighter that's just entering production. It was interesting to see how big and complex aircraft engine got prior to the introduction of the jet engine. The most impressive sight at the hanger was the Enterprise space shuttle. It is the first space shuttle, never actually flown in space, and it is huge! The museum is an interesting look at the evolution of modern aviation from its start until current day.

On Thursday, we had a tour of the Pentagon. We got quite a few interesting factoids about its history, some of the paintings there, and the reconstruction after 9/11. One of the more interesting factoids was that in many of the official paintings from the time, the artist painted himself in the picture. He also had some artistic interpretation of history from time to time.
Later that night, the Dylla's had a picnic at their house. I had a good time there, and by the end of the night Lynda Dylla was spraying us interns with water guns and we were running around having a good time.

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Week of July 7, 2008

This past week has been busy. I've put together cluster maps of the neutron data, along with the combined GRS + neutron data. I've started analyzing the neutron data for relationships with gamma ray data and we are going to experiment with other clustering software soon.

On Thursday, a Russian PI came to Goddard. We had to put together slide shows to summarize our progress. The day ended up as an all day meeting.

The first half of Friday was spent learning about the LRO clean room process. We got to go inside the clean room and get pictures with LRO.

Last Friday was the 4th of July. We watch the fireworks from in front of the Lincoln monument. It was quite an impressive fireworks show, especially through the diffraction glasses I was wearing. By the end of the show, the sky was completely blacked out by smoke. Somewhat ironic to celebrate the past by releasing tons of carbon dioxide and toxic chemicals into the air.

On Saturday Dan and I went to a bbq (or cook out if you prefer) at our boss's (Tim) home. We had a good time, and found out that Tim plays guitar hero. Badly. Also, we had smores and trampled some small children to get our fair share.

And I'm getting this journal in just before closing time, so please don't make Mary yell at me for being late.

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Week of June 30, 2008

Currently, I'm in the process of performing clustering analysis on the Martian neutron data as well. We're hoping to see correlations between the neutron and gamma ray data so that we have the possibility of using neutron measurements to do geochemical analysis in the future.

This past weekend was rather interesting. We left early Saturday morning and went to Baltimore. First we went to the aquarium, which I've been to before but it was still cool to see. The aquarium has a 4D movie theater, which means you get 3D glasses and then they spray you with water, blow air on you, poke you in the back, and fill the room with bubbles.
Afterward, we rode on paddle boats. Jenna and Mary were really excited to paddle, so I rode in back. Megan, Logan, and Kunal rode in a big dragon boat. Justin and Dan tried to ram everybody.

We also saw the Bodyworlds 2 exhibit. It was supposed to have a brain focus, which apparently means putting philosophical quotes all over the walls. It was really cool and we got a taste of what it might be like had we all gone into medicine instead. Definitely not for the squeamish.

For dinner, we went to the Oceanaire restaurant. We made reservations 2 hours in advance. Once we got there, they sat us in a cubby in the back. The average menu item was around $35. Glasses of wine were $50. The bathrooms look like the ones my university's President reserves for donors. There were mouthwash, aftershave, and streamed towels in the bathroom. And I was wearing a monkey T-shirt.

On Wednesday, Dan and I went to the Smithsonian folk life festival. We only saw the NASA section. They had cool things like infrared cameras and space suits. Dan went off and listened to some speeches, and I met a professor from RPI who's apparently made a modification to Bernoulli's equations to allow for the combination of a compressible and incompressible fluid. Additionally, two of my bosses were there at the Mercury MESSENGER table. There was a miniature model of Saturn hanging from the ceiling of a tent, that was still 10x my size. It was also being eaten by moths, but I'm told this is accurate, as the real Saturn is frequently attacked by giant space moths.

I also became a part of NASA history. There was a strangely empty tent entitled "NASA Oral History", with tons of newspaper clippings. As soon as I walked over, some Smithsonian employees jumped on me and made me talk into a tape recorder about my feelings on NASA, its future, funding, purpose, and so forth.

On Thursday, Jenna and I went to a tapas bar. Tapas being the Spanish word for "dinner will consist of nothing but small appetizers." It was for her friend's birthday, but the format of the meal didn't appeal to me. After dinner, we went and saw the movie Hancock. It started out ok, until about halfway through the movie when it turned into a tribute to Will Smith and how nice, heroic, and romantic he is. Blech.

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Week of June 23, 2008

I spent this week trying to replicate previous work done on Mars Odyssey gamma ray spectrometer data. This work involved k-means cluster analysis, a similar type of analysis to PCA. K-means cluster analysis attempts to find groupings in the data. I was able to create a color overlay map for the surface of Mars, indicating which sections of Mars lay within which groups of the (normalized) data.

This week has been pretty busy. On Monday, there was a picnic at ACP. Some of the other interns were giving neat demonstrations of different physics concepts. Justin was showing off some neat ways to play with jello, but it just made me hungry for some. Also, Meagan, Logan, and I attempted to learn country line dancing. My moves drew the attention of the entire crowd.

On Wednesday was the CNSF exhibit. It was a place for different NSF sponsored programs to strut their stuff for members of Congress and show what they've done with the funding. The room was quite hot with all the people in it, so thankfully there were plentiful refreshments available in the corners of the room. After quenching my thirst, I felt quite talkative and was ready to absorb the exhibits around me. Additionally, I received a yoyo, a deck of cards, AND I got to meet Congressman Rush Holt from New Jersey.
Afterward, Fred and Linda Dylla treated us to dinner at a brewery turned restaurant. It was quite an interesting locale, and we were able to sample a variety of appetizers and beverages whilst engaged in conversation. It was very nice of them to take us there. Thanks again you two!

After coming home from work on Thursday, I was greeted by some scary news! Apparently there was a leak somewhere in our residence hall, and GW wanted to move Meagan and Jenna a few blocks away to keep them safe. This would have been horrible for our little intern community, a devastation of our culture and population! Thankfully the issue has been resolved, and instead Jenna and Meagan are just moving to the empty, bigger, nicer room at the end of the hall.

For this week's traffic news, I've managed to significantly cut down on my gas usage by circumnavigating DC and avoiding traffic almost completely. Additionally, Dan and I get to see sub burbs on the outskirts of DC that bare no resemblance to the city. Some are slummy, but some are quite nice with streets that are easy to navigate and free of traffic.

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Week of June 16, 2008

I spent this week reviewing the differences between multiple PCA programs, as well as attempting to analyze the Mars Odyssey elemental concentration data using PCA. The data has many invalid entries in it, and I wrote a program to remove the invalid entries. Additionally, I did a few sample plots using Goddard's PCA program.

Daniel and I were also assigned the task of comparing the thorium and potassium ratios of the moon, Earth, and Mars. Using library resources, we were able to find the average ratios for different surface compositions.

This past weekend we all went to the National Zoo. There were some pretty cool animals there, and we got a lot of pictures. Afterwards, we went to a Tai restaurant in Pentagon City. The food was expensive and tasty.

I'm cutting the journal entry short this week, I've got a pretty bad headache and I'm finding it hard to concentrate.

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Week of June 9, 2008

This week at NASA:
I'm now up to two textbooks from work, gamma-ray astrophysics and radiation detection and measurement.
This week has had the start of us getting used to some of the work we're going to be doing. I did some atmospheric gamma ray absorption modeling. Additionally, a professor from Rowan (my school) arrived this week. Professor Klassen is getting acquainted with the project, and the majority of his research has focused on Principal Component Analysis (PCA). PCA just happens to be what Daniel and I will be working on next week.

PCA takes a coordinate system and attempts to find a relation between the base vectors that define the system. It then creates a new coordinate systems defined by vectors among the lines of greatest variance.

For example, suppose you have 4 lists of data, each representing a different element over a series of locations. Your initial coordinate system is defined by say the Fe vector, Si vector, H2O vector, and B vector. PCA may output four vectors in decreasing variance, with say Fe-Si as the vector of greatest variance, then Fe-H2O, then Si-H2O, then Fe-B. It may be found that the contributions of Si-H2O and Fe-B have a much smaller relevance to the data, so the system reduces to two base vectors, Fe-SI and Fe-H2O. This simplifies analysis and allows classification by the most statistically significant relations.

We're to implement a PCA algorithm in Interactive Data Language (IDL) and, as a learning exercise, replicate the results of PCA analysis from Mars Odyssey.

Non-work related activities:
More traffic hijinx. Firetrucks have pinwheels on the front. Some stop lights in DC have "Do not run this red" signs. Attempting to circumscribe the city to avoid traffic only results in running into more traffic.

And this morning several blocks of stoplights had their power cut. Surprisingly, traffic seemed to flow better, as fear of crashing seems to be effective at curbing aggressive driving. The groups of cars would approach and stop at each intersection. Whichever side had a car move first would then stampede across the intersection, until a driver from another direction was brave enough to creep out into traffic.

Dan and I went to a ballroom dancing class with some of our coworkers at NASA. We felt out of place, but it was fun.
Jack Trombka (one of our bosses) retired this week, only to take up a new position at NASA. We did the proper intern thing and took home the left over party trays.

GW's gym is tiny and cramped. Kunal didn't care for it, but I'm getting decent use out of it. We both run just about every day (usually separately), and it's a good way to see some of the sites in town, as well as to get a feel for the layout of the city.

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As the first week of this internship comes to a close, I'm having a great time.

I'm working on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) at NASA. Well, specifically the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) module, one of several important instruments included on LRO. The LRO's primary mission is to gather data about the moon and space radiation for the purpose of future human space exploration. The LRO is to perform additional scientific exploration as possible.

Neutron spectroscopy observes neutrons emitted by matter that is unable to contain them any longer. Possible causes for this are natural radioactive decay, or energy absorption of a cosmic ray leading to processes that result in neutron emission. The emitted neutrons are high energy particles with low wavelength and are able to penetrate several meters into matter, but quickly lose energy from collisions. This causes the majority of neutrons that are created when cosmic rays reach Earth's atmosphere to decay before coming into contact with the surface. Planetoids with non-existent or thin atmospheres are ideal for observation by a space based neutron detector due to the lack of a significantly absorbing atmosphere.

LEND is the first collimated neutron telescope in space. Collimation is essentially the focusing of a telescope, and LEND achieves much higher spatial resolutions than previous space based neutron telescopes with shielding to block neutrons from out of the Field of View (FOV) from detection. The downside to this approach is a reduction in intensity of incident neutrons on the detector, reducing the effectiveness of a neutron detector in the presence of an atmosphere even more so.

I don't yet have a project goal, but I was given an outline of potential objectives for the summer. I've spent this week doing research, and have kept a (long) summary of the objectives and my (hopefully correct) thoughts on them.

I'm really enjoying the internship so far. All the information I've had to absorb about LEND this week makes me glad I've finished most of my physics courses, quite a bit of topics are touched upon. Even still, I'd like to have a stronger background in chemistry, astrophysics, and imaging for this project, but I'm very glad that I at least have the background that I do.

NASA is a very interesting place to work. While people work hard here and it's very quiet, it also happens to be the most relaxed working environment I've ever seen. I'd describe it as like a college for professionals. It's a big campus, with no supervision, on campus activities on random days, after work activities, and so forth. If I had to summarize it, I'd say the general feeling is that people are treated as if they want to be here doing their work, rather than having the whip cracked. Walking around campus during the middle of the day will reveal many employees leisurely strolling or bike riding through campus.

Driving to work is interesting. People in DC seem to have little regard for traffic rules. 30mph over the speed limit seems to be standard practice, and it's not uncommon to see cars blow right through red lights in the middle of traffic. Interestingly enough, metro buses get police escorts through red lights. I guess they want to give Mussolini a run for his money by making both the trains AND buses run on time.

Dan and I commute to work everyday. Somehow, we've managed to take a different route to and from work almost every day. It can get quite scenic. Also, Dan can't pump gas. We stopped at a gas station and he got out of the car to pump the gas (New Jersey is all self-service so he figured I couldn't do it). Well, after fumbling around for a while, he was still unable to get the gas to pump. Anyhow, with much grace and bravado, I deftly lifted the nozzle, and gasoline flowed forth like so much sweet nectar. Also, everyone was staring at Dan strangely.

I really like the area. Washington DC is a beautiful city, at least the parts I've been too, and just seems so much cleaner and full of life than Philly, New York, or Baltimore. Also, it's really cool to see a public transportation system that works well.

Last night I went out for dinner with my friend who happens to be head of maintenance at GW. Apparently the reason Justin, Kunal, and I were tripled up is not because the rooms are full, but because GW has a policy against letting anyone have a single room who did not pay for it.

I've met a lot of other interns here in DC. Most of them can be described as follows:

  • Come from an Ivy League school
  • Majoring in political science
  • Wears expensive suit/dress everyday
  • Works for free giving tours at the senate 5 days a week, 8 hours a day
  • And pays GW's astronomical housing rates to live here

It makes me really glad to be a Physics major where internships are paid and housing paid for.

Everyone is DC is really passionate about something. Many about politics, Goddard employees about space, and my fellow interns about Physics. It's kind of strange to see so many motivated people.

All the other interns are really nice. I'm having a good time, and we have a lot of fun.

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