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I feel that the internship program is a valuable experience for undergraduates. It puts the work environment for scientists in a realistic perspective. I met a lot of great new people and made a lot of contacts with professionals in my field. It has helped me see that I can live and succeed as a scientist. I would never have been able to see so many exciting things in one summer without the help of the Society of Physics Students.
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Our last week in DC was spent tying up loose ends and having fun. We had a great tour of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. We saw a neutron experiment lab where we learned about how they use neutrons to study different materials. We also visited the NIST museum. My favorite part, though, was the laser cooling lab. Their laser cooling system was setup very similar to the one I worked on at Rowan University. The difference being that theirs was actually up and running. We could actually see the cloud of cold sodium atoms being trapped by lasers and magnetic fields. I guess it was so interesting to me because I have studied it before, and I actually knew exactly what was going on.
After our NIST tour, we hung out at a bookstore for an hour until we could go over to the BBQ at Fred Dylla’s house. Fred Dylla is the Executive Director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics. I had a great time at the BBQ playing horseshoes and croquet, beside the obvious enjoyment of good food. Many of the friends and employees of AIP came to dine with us, including a Nobel prize winner.
Wednesday, we had a meeting at the American Center for Physics to discuss the good and bad of the summer internship program. We were tasked with helping the program be better for the next group of interns who come to the program. After the meeting, we were free to go home.
I didn’t go home right away. My mom and my friend from NJ came down to sightsee on Thursday. We took a boat tour of the Potomac, and visited the Old Post Office Pavilion where we took an elevator to the top of a 300 ft clock tower. I think I had my fill of DC monuments for a few years. Now, I’m back in NJ; ready for a new school year.
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My supervisor and I came across a snag in our research project this week. It turns out that the bands of invalid data in our maps is caused by something that the initial High Energy Neutron Detector (HEND) team did to the data. Tim, my supervisor, is going to send them our maps, and ask them to explain what is happening. Unfortunately, that same team is extremely busy right now with the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) which went into orbit around the moon a few weeks ago and they are still calibrating. It will probably be a while before we hear back from them. In the meantime, there is nothing for us to do but wait. My project is on hold until further notice.
Yesterday, we had a tour of NASA with all of the summer interns. We first went to the visualization studio which was really neat. They do all of the animations, simulations, and computer generated models for NASA. Our next stop was a clean room where we learned about micro-shutter arrays which will be used on the James Webb Space Telescope. We had to get dressed up in bunny suits and go through the air shower before we entered so that we don't drag contaminants into the lab. We also got to see a bunch of parts from the hubble telescope which are being examined for meteoroid damage.
I finished reading “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and started reading a book called “Early Bird”. It's the true story of a guy who decides to try out retirement at the age of 28. He moves into a retirement village in Florida where he makes observations about life after a career. It seems to be an entertaining read.
My roommate and I played pool again last night. I only wanted to play a couple games, but we kept winning and people continued to challenge us. We ended up playing about 12 different pairs of players until we lost our first game at about 1am. I was more relieved than upset. I was considering throwing a game so that I could go home and go to bed.
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My supervisor hasn't come into work all week. He gave me a couple jobs to complete while he was gone. When he explained them to me, I doubted that I would finish any of them because I had no idea how to start. I had to figure out what was causing lines of invalid data along the latitude lines in our program. I printed out the code because I was tired of staring at a computer screen. It was ten pages long! I began by searching for any parts of the code that I didn't understand completely. Then, I went back to the computer and started taking out each questionable part and ran the program again. I did this all day Tuesday until I found the source of the problem.
By Wednesday, I had completed all of the tasks assigned to me for the week. Now that I've located the source of the problem, we can try to correct it. I need my supervisor to help me do that. So I had a lot of free time yesterday at work, and I have nothing to do today. My mentor will be back on Monday, at which point we can hopefully finish this project. Everything goes a lot faster when he is here. The work that takes me a week to do, he can do in an hour. I guess that's the difference between someone with 2 computer science degrees and someone who's only taken an introductory programming course.
I got a few new books last weekend to entertain me on the commute to work. I started and finished “Starship Troopers” in 2 days. (It's a long commute.) A great book which is nothing like the movie. I'm now reading “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”.
There's only one more full week of work for me here at NASA. I think everyone is ready to go home.
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Final presentations are over! They went pretty well. The hardest part of last week was practicing our presentations in front of our supervisors on Tuesday. Since they know every detail of our project, they can correct us and critique us on everything we say. So we had to be extra careful to do everything right. Wednesday, we practiced in front of the other interns, which was much easier, but took so long. We were all very tired by the end of the day.
On Friday, we gave our actual presentations. I edited some of my presentation before Friday to make it as understandable as possible. The last thing I wanted to do was bore everyone with technical jargon. I think it went well. There were about 50 people there from various institutions to watch us present. It was nice to be able to mingle with new and old friends.
My roommate, Scott, and I visited some cool monuments this week. We got to take pictures on a giant Albert Einstein statue, at the FDR memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. My favorite is obviously the Einstein memorial. Not just because he was a physicist, but because you can climb on him. When we found the statue (it's a little hidden), there was a man dressed in a polar bear costume dancing in front of Einstein. There was someone else there filming him dance, but we never figured out what they were doing.
Scott and I also started playing pool together at night. While playing as a team, we haven't lost yet. I wouldn't consider us exceptionally good players, but we have been pretty lucky. We'll see how long our winning streak lasts.
For the next 2 weeks, I have to keep working on my project. Hopefully, we can work out all the details and make our results publishable.
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This week was great. We finally got results from my project, and they were very good. There’s still a lot of double checking and investigating to be done, but we are pretty confident that we’ve confirmed evidence of hydrogen under the lobate debris aprons (LDA) of Mars. It was pretty surreal how we came to that conclusion, mostly because I actually contributed a worthy idea. After weeks of confusion and feeling incapable of supplying any original thoughts on the project, I finally understood one thing which made all the difference.
My supervisor and I were running the program similar to the way he had run it before. Again, we got disheartening results. He began to explain how research is often hit or miss, and we missed. I proposed running the test again, but with data from a detector that collected neutron counts of a lower energy range. He said it couldn’t hurt, and he ran the program again. This time, the results showed that if we picked a spot on the LDA and said there is hydrogen there, we would be right 92% of the time. These results were a lot better than we expected.
This is a very significant find. With ice in the mid-latitude region on Mars, there is a higher likelihood of using it as a resource for future missions to Mars. It could also be a source of biomarkers which would give evidence of past or present biological life on Mars.
I can’t get too excited though, because we still have to figure out a few technical details. Hopefully, everything else will work out, and we’ll be able to publish our results.
Outside of work, life has been pretty exciting, too. We watched the fireworks in front of the Washington Monument along with thousands of other people. It was cool to watch the fireworks through diffracting lenses which added rainbows to our view. We also went to Great Falls and saw the waterfalls.
The summer is flying by. Only 3 weeks left. We give our final presentations this week so I am super busy. At least, now I have an exciting discovery to share with my friends and colleagues.
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Apart from being sore all over, my week has gone pretty well. I've been going to the gym with Jose everyday. There is a gym on Goddard's campus. It's fun to exercise after a day of staring at a computer. I have been studying my supervisor's program code all week. I found a website that has good tutorials for IDL programming. I feel like my internship is 5% physics and 95% computer programming. Every research scientist needs to know at least some programming, and the more the better so I guess I'm learning something valuable.
We attended a lecture from one of the research scientists who is performing an experiment with a neutron detector and a gamma ray spectrometer. The experiment is unique and very interesting. They put 10 tons of granite in the middle of a field which is a safe distance away from everyone. Then, they place a neutron generator on top of the granite along with the neutron detector and gamma ray spectrometer. Because granite stays very dry, they know that there is little to no hydrogen in it. They can then test their detectors to see if they accurately detect the presence or absence of hydrogen. Along with the lecture, we were brought out to the test site to see the granite and some of the instruments. It was nice to see the start of such an exciting experiment.
I'm excited for this three-day weekend because we are going to see the fireworks at the National Mall. It's supposed to be really crowded, but at least it's within walking distance. We wanted to ride the elevator in the Washington Monument, but tickets were all sold out. Probably because it's a patriotic holiday. We also plan to see the Great Falls Park in Virginia. It should be a good weekend.
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In our fourth week here, we finally got access to computers. We will just now start to do our research projects. Everything we've done until now has been background research. Yet, even with computers, we haven't been able to do much this week.
After getting my computer set up, the IT guy left without giving me a username and password. So it wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that I could login to it. Then, my supervisor, Tim, gave me a flash drive containing the data files which I will use to analyze the lobate debris aprons on Mars. I put them on my computer, but found that most of them were blank files. He didn't seem to believe me when I told him that the first time so I spent the rest of the day trying to use these mysterious, blank files. The next day, I told him again, and he came down to see for himself. He came to the same realization that I had; the files were blank.
So he sent me an email with a link to the official data site so that I could extract the files myself when I got into work this morning. When I tried to extract the files, only half of them had data; the rest were blank. An error said that there wasn't enough space on the device, which I thought was ridiculous because there is nothing on my computer, and the file was only 1.6 GB. So I told Tim, and he checked and found that the network directory was 100% full. He had to delete some files, and I finally got the data on my computer.
All this time and trouble, and I can just now use the neutron data to do my analysis. Now, comes the hard part. I am expected to recreate a program that Tim, a computer scientist, made without success, except I'm supposed to find his mistake. That's not going to happen. My plan for the summer is to learn as much programming as possible, but I'm not going to create a better program than my supervisor. I imagine my program will produce similar results to his.
There was a science jamboree at Goddard yesterday. Every sector presented a poster of their work. I picked up a few posters and pamphlets.
Outside of work, not much happened this week. A bunch of us went to see transformers last night. That was pretty good. Everything just keeps moving along.
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I learned this week that anything that flies will get delayed. On Sunday evening, our flight to Florida was delayed. Luckily, the airline put us up in a nice hotel for the night; however, we had to get up at 4am to catch our new flight. We got the earliest flight time possible because we didn’t want to miss the meeting of LRO scientists on Monday at the Kennedy Space Center.
The meeting went from 8:30am to 3:30pm, but we only made it there at 2pm because of our travel delays. Even in that short amount of time though, I could see the way that professional scientists interact with each other. On Tuesday, we attended another meeting of just the LEND (Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector) staff. There were scientists from the University of Maryland, the University of Arizona, and Russia. Each person presented a powerpoint slideshow that explained their past, present, and future research. It was a very open meeting where everyone could ask questions or express doubts whenever they arose. It was a great experience for me to see that these scientists were human and not omniscient geniuses.
We had a great dinner with our supervisors on Monday at a steakhouse. It gave us some time to talk about our lives outside of work. Some family members of our supervisors also came with us.
On Tuesday night, we attended a reception for all the LRO staff and their families. It was nice, but it got very crowded so we left a little early. While there, I got to see the head of the LRO satellite mission. He had a lot riding on this satellite. I’m sure no one was more relieved to see it launch than him.
The space shuttle was going to launch on Wednesday morning at 5:40am. We left our hotel at 4:15am to get to a good spot right across the water from the launch platform. We got there early, but there were already about 20 people there waiting. We could see the shuttle lit up on the other side of the water. It was the perfect spot to watch the launch. Too bad the shuttle got delayed because of a leak in the hydrogen tank. We went to IHOP instead.
LRO was supposed to launch on Wednesday afternoon, but because of complications with the space shuttle, it didn’t launch until Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately, we had plane tickets back to DC for Thursday morning. The director of SPS told us to find a way to extend our stay because it would be a shame to miss the launch. So I got plane tickets for Saturday in case the satellite was delayed until Friday.
We watched the satellite launch from a pier off the beach. From where we were, the satellite was looked like a really bright yellow star moving up the sky. We could only see it for about 15 seconds before it disappeared in the clouds. Then, about 15 seconds later, we could hear it rumble like thunder. The sound lasted for at least a minute. It was neat to see something that had enough power to leave the earth’s atmosphere.
Since LRO launched on Thursday, we had all day Friday to do whatever we wanted. We went back to the Kennedy Space Center and looked at all the exhibits. We watched an IMAX movie about the International Space Station and took a bus tour of the various facilities at Kennedy. It was an inspiring trip which was well worth the effort.
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This week was full of surprises. It started on Saturday when the director of SPS, Gary White, asked me if my supervisors were taking me to see the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launch in Florida. I thought he was joking, but after making some arrangements, I am going to Florida on Sunday. Jose, Daniel, and I all work on a project related to LRO, and we are all going to Cocoa Beach for 4 days. Monday and Tuesday will be spent in meetings and parties with the LRO and LEND (Lunar Explorer Neutron Detector) crew. Wednesday we’ll watch the launch, and Thursday we’ll fly back to DC. It should be a great experience to see my first launch.
On Saturday evening, all the interns went to dinner with the SPS executive committee at a neat restaurant called Buca di Beppo’s. I sat with a professor named Steve Feller from Coe College in Iowa. He’s a nice guy with very interesting stories. He’s also a glass expert and a baseball fanatic. The best part about him was his Brooklyn accent. It reminded me of the Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, who taught physics with an entertaining Brooklyn accent.
Jack Hehn from AIP (American Institute of Physics) took us all to a play called Legacy of Light. It was an interesting look at a French female physicist from the 1700’s. While her story was told, there was a simultaneous story about a modern couple trying to have a baby. The play mixed humor, history, and physics into one. After the play, we talked with the playwright about her experience in fusing science with performance art. I think we all had a good time.
At work, we presented our summer research plans to a group of about 6 scientists at NASA. They were all very supportive. One of them has been with NASA since the Apollo missions. They introduced him as the Godfather. He was still interested in our projects, even though he’s technically retired.
Our supervisor, Tim, wanted us to come up with a secondary project to help us better understand some aspect that interests us. I chose to study the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) mission. LRO will be going up with this companion satellite which will drop a heavy impactor into a permanently shadowed crater. The object is to send up a plume of dust which will be analyzed for the presence of water.
I haven’t yet been able to start my main project because we don’t have computers to work on. I’ve been doing research all week on my own laptop, but I don’t have access to the programs or data that I need to start my project. Once we get back from Florida though, we will be able to get computers and focus our attention on getting results.
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The first week of my internship has been very exciting. Saturday and Sunday were spent getting to know the other interns and the transportation system around DC. We had a good time at the Smithsonian and the Washington Monument. All the other interns are really nice. We have a lot of things in common so it’s easy to be friends.
Orientation began on Monday. We were introduced to a bunch of the faculty at the American Center for Physics (ACP). They were all very accommodating. Before lunch, we were asked to roam the office and introduce ourselves to random staff members that we found. I was lucky to meet Jerry Hobbs. Jerry was very friendly and offered to take us to the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) the next day.
Tuesday was supposed to be my first full day work day at Goddard, but instead I skipped work to go to CLEO with Jerry and another intern, Jose. We had a great time at the conference. Jerry explained to us a lot about the different kinds of lasers and their uses, as well as the history of the companies that make them. Jerry is geared more towards the industry side of optics, and as such, he knows a lot about why different companies are successful or not.
Jerry also introduced us to a lot of people in the optics community. We met editors of scientific journals, others who worked for Goddard, and knowledgeable salesmen. Because the optics community is so small, Jerry said we will definitely see familiar faces throughout our careers. That being said, I spotted my quantum mechanics professor and introduced him to Jerry. It is a small world.
At this conference, it was free to see the exhibit room only. While we could not see any speakers, we learned enough from the exhibits. From one table, I learned about water jet-guided lasers which can cut very precisely into hard materials. At another table, I learned about various pulsed lasers which are very powerful. At yet another table, I learned about tables…optical tables.
Even with Jerry and his friends explaining new concepts to us, there were still unfamiliar terms which left me a bit confused. I really felt like I should study more about the different techniques and purposes of optical experiments on my own. Luckily, I came across an exhibit which was giving away free copies of a “Photonics Handbook” and a “Photonics Dictionary”. The photonics handbook is probably the best introduction I have ever seen to complex topics in optics and lasers. The book alone was worth the trip.
Wednesday, we went to Goddard and were introduced to various projects and asked to create a research plan for the summer. I have chosen to work on a project started by my supervisor, Tim McClanahan. The main purpose of my research is to find water on Mars outside of the polar regions. There is evidence of it in areas called lobate debris aprons (LDA) which surround certain mountains. It’s thought that these LDAs are glaciers covered in rocks and debris. I will be searching for geochemical evidence of this using the data from the High Energy Neutron Detector which was on the Mars Odyssey satellite.
I expect to learn a lot this summer. I’m happy to have this opportunity.
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