||Friday, July 31st
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I loved this internship. I loved living in DC, I loved working on Physics to Go, and I loved living with physics nerds just like myself. I got a lot out of it, professionally and personally, and I suspect that what I learned will continue to have an impact on me for some time.
I’ve lived in a city before, and I hated it. I thought I would hate living in DC. But I got used to it. And then I started to like it. I don’t like driving, so being able to take the Metro every day was awesome. I’m used to stepping outside and being nowhere, but you step outside the dorm in DC and you’re…well, you’re at the nation’s capitol. There is so much to do and see and experience in DC that even after a whole summer there, I’m not done with it. I’m going to miss walking around monuments at night, going out to restaurants and bars, and hitting the museums on weekends. It’s a place of constant tourist distractions, and I got to be a resident tourist.
I’ve always been drawn to science, especially anything to do with space. (I blame my parents, who got me into Star Trek at an alarmingly early age.) I love learning new things and applying what I know, especially like I did in Science Olympiad in middle school and high school. But science is far from my whole life. Luckily, one of my physics professors, Dr. Cathy Mader, recommended that I apply for this internship. I had suspected that perhaps combining my interests was the best possible career for me, but there was no way for me to know. How does an undergraduate get that sort of experience? Turns out it’s through this internship.
I got to use my knowledge of physics and writing every day while working on Physics to Go. I was never bored. Putting together features for the homepages was similar to working on a newspaper, which I loved doing in high school—except it was better than that. The subject matter was always interesting, and the knowledge that someone out there might learn from the material I was assembling for them was hugely rewarding. I learned so much with every homepage I made—about the subject matter, about professional concerns such as copyrights, and about writing concisely to get the point across. And there was even free hazelnut coffee not twenty steps from my desk. This position was perfect for me. I’m so glad I had this opportunity, and I’m very grateful to all the people involved in both encouraging me to do it and putting it together for all of us SPS interns. Thank you for a fantastic summer.
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I’m writing this final entry from my quiet living room in West Michigan, with Food Network on TV and the doorwall open to the serene sunny woods on the hill—and writing a little late because I had to dash off to an Indian wedding in Chicago over the weekend—so I’m feeling far removed from my last week in DC. Indeed, I can hardly believe I was at ACP exactly a week ago, working on the galaxy issue of Physics to Go. It’s probably not a true statement that the last few weeks were the busiest of my life, but it certainly feels that way, based upon what a blur they are in my memory. But here we go. The last journal entry.
I had a quiet final weekend in DC. I’ve now seen all the free museums that I wanted to see, but should I return I still need to check out the Newseum and the Spy Museum. Wait. Darn it all—I still haven’t seen the modern art gallery next to the main National Gallery of Art building. What can I say? There’s just too much to see in DC, even if you have a whole summer.
On Monday we went on a fabulous tour of NIST. In the morning we saw the NIST Center for Neutron Research, which was amazing. We were led around by a well-informed and dynamic guide through the massive room crammed with whirring equipment for research in industry and physics that Penny from Big Bang theory would find interesting. I think I heard Laurie whisper “This is so cool!” about ten times that morning.
After the NCNR, we visited the museum, which had a lot of focus on measurement standards and such. I was very excited to see old versions of the kilogram and meter, because I’m a nerd like that. At the end of the museum tour we went outside to an apple tree grown from a cutting of a tree from Isaac Newton’s apple orchard. Our own tree, Daniel, managed to get some apples down for us. It was like tasting the bitter, grainy fruit of knowledge. Unfortunately, I didn’t get smarter afterward, or have any huge realizations. Maybe if the apples had been ripe....
In the afternoon we got to see what was going on in laser cooling world. That was my favourite lab, coated in drooping, tangled wires and filled with tables of optics equipment. Again, we had a fantastic guide who explained what we were looking at and what they were doing with the research. Having guides who know what they’re talking about makes all the difference in tours like this. Laurie and Brad did a fantastic job putting this tour together, and it was a great (if tiring) day.
The Dylla’s party was picturesque and enjoyable. Our hosts were charming, the food was excellent, and the company was distinguished. I had dinner with the new executive officer of APS, Kate Kirby, and we had a great conversation. It was a very pleasant evening.
Tuesday was my last day working at APS. I wanted to finish off the whole homepage on galaxies, but I only got halfway through with it. I was able to wave goodbye to everyone at the August birthday bash, which was convenient and kind of sad. Physics to Go’s homepages are happily finished through September 1, and more issues are in the works. I’m glad I was able to contribute to the website, and it looks like I’ll be able to do so more in the future as a consultant, which is very exciting for me.
On Tuesday night the group went out to our favorite pub, Froggy Bottom, for one last hurrah. I’ll miss a few people in this group, but luckily we’re all Facebook friends and I’ll be able to keep up on their adventures and successes in the future.
Wednesday was the debriefing day. We all went to ACP in the morning for donuts and a chance to give some feedback about the program. I spent the rest of Wednesday packing and cleaning, and I flew home on Thursday. The moment I got home I had to unpack my bags and repack them for Chicago. I lead an exciting life.
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It’s good to be back at my desk at APS. It’s not even 9 in the morning and I’ve already watched as one of the accountants was almost brained with a giraffe.
This was a full, exhausting, nonstop week of insanity. Luckily or unluckily for me and you, I took four pages of notes during the AAPT conference so I could remember it all.
Friday and Saturday were mostly uneventful, except I got to rediscover some nice restaurants in DC that I had gone to last year during my time at Goddard. (Straits of Malaya: So delicious, it’s suspicious.) I also went to the National Museum of American History, and I would love to go again when I have more time and it’s not so crowded. I saw about half of it and I want to see the rest, it’s a cool museum with thoughtful exhibits.
The AAPT meeting was at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which meant a Northwest flight to Detroit for Mary, Leslie, Scott, and myself. We took the metro to the airport at 7 in the morning on Sunday, lugging suitcases and poster tubes along. The flight was uneventful (definitely the best kind of flight) and my relatives from Detroit met me at the airport. It was great to see my aunt and cousins again after all this time in DC. We had a nice lunch before my aunt dropped me off at the hotel to get ready for the poster session in the evening.
The poster session was fantastic. The four of us had a lot of traffic. I had a lot of good conversations with students and teachers interested in using Physics to Go. A group of students and one faculty member from China were particularly interested in the site. I’m not sure why they liked it so much, but they asked if they could link to it from their university website, which was pretty exciting. I handed out loads of Physics to Go bookmarks, so hopefully people will remember the site and visit. I also spent some time talking to Lyle and Matt about the site design—it was convenient, as my poster has a large screenshot of Physics to Go on it. After the poster session, we headed to the exhibition hall and talked to some of the people in the booths. At some point we went to dinner and Mary spilled her whole glass of water all over half the table. It was a good evening.
On Monday, Mary and I took the shuttle bus from the hotel to U of M, getting there just in time for the 7 am “first timers” breakfast. It was a good idea to go to that, not just because of the free bagels and fruit, but because I got a sense of the sessions and talks I should attend. After the breakfast we went to a session regarding the teaching of physics laboratories. At this point I realized that I had forgotten something at the hotel and I had to dash off to catch the last morning bus back.
Good thing I did. Kendra and I left the hotel at 11. I got on the bus and some older man sat right next to me. He began to speak to me:
Old man: I’m sitting next to a young woman.
Me: Um. (I look around and see an older lady on his other side.) Which one of us?
Old man: You’re both nice young ladies.
Old man: I won an award, you know.
Kendra: Oh yeah?
Old man: I’m speaking tonight at 7:30.
I was a little unsettled by this until we learned that the old guy was John Rigden. Actually, I suppose I’m still a little unsettled by this. However, we did have a nice conversation about Feynman and Rabi on the way to campus, and I can say I’ve met John Rigden. (But I didn’t go to his speech.)
For lunch, Mary and I went to the Young Physicists Meet and Greet. We sat with the same Chinese students who liked Physics to Go. We ended up having a fantastic hour and a half-long conversation about the differences in education and lifestyle between China and the US. Both of our parties seemed to know most of the information about the other, but it was still cool to get a firsthand account.
After lunch, I went to a session on student issues with problem solving. Then I went to a half an hour talk on car size and safety—basically, they found that people in small cars are exposed to much more risk on the road thanks to people who unnecessarily drive huge, lethal trucks and SUVs. It was a bad idea to attend this talk, as I now have statistical reasons to be terrified of driving my tiny car. When this talk was over, I headed back to the problem solving session to listen to a few more ten-minute talks.
Late in the afternoon I went to my favorite session of the whole conference. The topic was women in physics, and each of the three speakers had been invited to give a thirty-minute talk. Each talk was very thoughtful and not overly feminist in any way. Like the hearing I attended a few weeks ago, they gave me a lot to think about.
Tuesday (almost 900 words and I’m only on Tuesday, good gravy) was another full day populated with thought-provoking talks and conversations. First thing in the morning, Mary and I went to two presentations about textbooks and how they can mislead students. Then we waited around for a speech at 10:30, eating scones, drinking coffee, and talking to a girl whose metal working art was inspired by particle decay. The 10:30 talk, given by the Klopsteg Award winner Lee Smolin, had many interesting ideas in it. He thinks we ought to teach students quantum mechanics first, before Newtonian mechanics, because right now potential physics students are bored by the intro classes and go for majors that seem more interesting. I admit I wish I had taken classes in this order, not that it matters now. After the speech, we went to a panel on the concerns of grad students going into Physics Education Research. Even though I probably won’t go into PER, it was still a great thing for me to attend, because I absorbed a lot of general grad school advice that I haven’t heard anywhere yet. Then, most of the people at the grad student talk went to lunch. Our table had a lively discussion centered on what everyone intends to do in the future and the research they were doing. It was a good networking opportunity.
After lunch, there were more award talks. One high school physics teacher gave an excellent speech on her experience. She advocated all-girl and all-boy groups for lab activities, because that way the girls actually get to touch the equipment and learn something. She also mentioned the story of a troublesome student who one day ran up to her and shouted, “I hate you!” The student elaborated to the poor, confused teacher, “I see physics everywhere now, so I hate you!” There was another talk after this one about the use of technology in the classroom. Then they handed out the rest of the awards, one of them to Bruce Mason, the director of ComPADRE, so that was pretty neat.
After the award ceremony, Lyle came up to me and said, “So is your poster up?”
“Poster?” I said, a squeak in my voice.
“The poster for the session tonight?”
“Tonight? What session tonight?”
“You’re in the program for 8:30.”
“I thought Ed was in the program.”
“Yes, but he’s not here. He said something like, ‘Oh, Raina will be there.’”
“Okay,” I said. “I got this. Does he have a poster?”
“I think he wanted to use yours. Yours is good enough.”
And so we had to dash back to the hotel so I could retrieve my poster. After putting it up, I found Kendra in Mary in the room for the session I had intended to attend before I had to dash off. But the session was over. So we just hovered in the room for a bit before dinner.
After dinner, I went to my second poster session. I ended up enjoying this one more than the first, so I’m glad it was sprung on me. A lot more physics teachers were around at this one, so I acted more like a used car salesman to promote Physics to Go than a student presenting their summer project. I had a lot of good conversations with physics faculty members from across the country, including Erin’s advisor from McDaniel. When things started dying down, I packed up my poster and took the bus back to the hotel.
Wednesday was a fun day. First I went to a plenary about Frank Oppenheimer. Then I went to a session on diversity in physics, where I watched Ted Hodapp, Gary, and Kendra speak, so that was pretty cool. After that, my aunt picked me up and I spent the rest of the day visiting family before going to the airport. Our flight out was delayed by an hour thanks to medical problems on the flight before ours, so we didn’t get back to DC until 10.
Thursday was yet another long, crazy day. All of us (except for Erica! We missed you!) headed out to NASA in the morning. I’ve decided that it’s a good idea to visit Goddard once a year, because you get the scoop on whatever cool thing is going up next. Last year GLAST launched in June, and LRO was going through testing; this year it was all about the James Webb telescope. We got to learn about the Visualization Studio, and we got to suit up and visit a clean room. We also went to the testing building, where we saw parts from Hubble and all the shiny machines strewn throughout. Brian, Daniel, Erin, and the other NASA interns did a great job putting the tour together, it was a lot of fun.
Today we had a bit of a scuffle over some content on Physics to Go. No worries, though. I’m also putting together a page on galaxies, and I’m tweaking the August 16 issue a bit. For the rest of my time here (a whopping two work days, as I’m visiting NIST on Monday) I’m going to try to finish up that galaxy homepage and do some cataloguing of worthy pages in the old issues that aren’t in the collection yet.
This got long, didn’t it?
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I cannot believe this internship is almost done. I still have loads of work to do for Physics to Go and so much more to see in DC, yet here I am, writing my third to last journal.
On Monday, the reality of the upcoming AAPT meeting hit when in the afternoon Mary informed me that she had put together her poster that morning. As for myself, I’d been lost in the world of putting new websites into Physics to Go. So, in the afternoon, I had to switch gears and come up with a poster. This was made difficult by the fact that Physics to Go decided to go insane on us. Ed and I couldn’t seem to edit any pages going into the collection for much of the week, which meant my work days were punctuated with many panicked emails between us and the webmaster, Lyle. (Turns out many of the problems came from the fact that I was not yet a “trusted” contributor to the site. Oops.) We’ve also been talking a lot about the new site and some of the new features on it. It’s a lot of detail to hash out, but it’ll be way cool when the new site is up.
Tuesday was a very exciting day. Mary, Brian, Erin, and I went to a House Science Committee hearing on getting women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. There were so many times when I wanted to jump up and say something, because obviously the topic is quite relevant to me. I saw Erin and Mary nodding and shaking their heads a lot, too. The guest speakers included people like the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Committee included a representative from Michigan (hurrah!) who is a physicist (hurrah!). Everyone made a lot of good points, and it gave me a lot to think about. After the hearing we headed back to ACP, and I continued to fight with the website and try to work on my poster for the rest of the afternoon.
I finished up my poster on Wednesday (after a few too many obsessive-compulsive hours of adjusting text boxes and fonts) and met with Kendra, Gary, Mary, and Scott to go over all of our posters. They all look great and we’re going to have a fantastic poster session on Sunday.
Thursday was all about getting the poster printed. In the morning, Ed had a few more edits for me to make. After that, Kendra and I made three trips out to Kinko’s to order it, see the proof, then pick it up. By some stroke of luck, because they were out of matte paper, they printed it on glossy for the same price. It looks so sleek and professional. And I somehow managed to put up most of the new homepage throughout the day.
Today I have to finish yesterday’s homepage and put up another one. I feel like I have loads of random loose ends to take care of, too, with the AAPT meeting and such. I’m really looking forward to it. I want to go to almost every single talk there, and I think our poster session will go really well.
That’s all I have, except I have to say I’m going to miss working at ACP. Yesterday I had free food in the afternoon. Today there was free breakfast in the lobby. So please excuse me while I enjoy my delicious pain au chocolat.
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The fact that presentation day is now over has pretty much erased the rest of the week from my memory, but I will do my best to recall if I did anything else mildly interesting for your reading pleasure.
This weekend was a lot of fun. Friday night I just hung out at the dorm and had a nice, quiet night in. A lot of the other interns were gone, so it was just me, Brad, Daniel, Jose, and Erica around. It was different having a smaller group for a weekend, I enjoyed it. On Saturday, Daniel, Brad, and I discovered Ben’s Chili Bowl, an interesting local site with amazing chili dogs. After lunch we headed to the National Art Gallery for my second visit there. I was glad to finish the museum off, as I didn’t see everything last time.
On Monday I worked on my presentation. I had a pretty good working presentation by the end of the day.
On Tuesday I spent some time in the morning going over details of the interact page with Ed. I think we just about have the specifics hammered out. I also spent some time cataloguing pages for the volcano homepage coming up. Then I rehearsed my presentation for a bit. Then in the evening I probably made a foolish decision by going to the midnight release of Harry Potter. I was not alone in my insanity, however; Mary, Erin, Laurie, and Daniel also wanted to be sleep deprived the next day for our practice presentations. The theatre was packed. The line went around the block. There were people with scars on their foreheads and capes and wands everywhere. (I believe it was the first midnight release I’ve gone to without being among the costumed folks, so I felt rather lame. I can’t believe I forgot to pack my cape for the summer.) The movie didn’t start until 12:45, which was really annoying, and we didn’t get back about 4 in the morning. I think. Details are fuzzy.
Wednesday was the practice presentation day. As I sat there listening to all the fantastic presentations, I thought of more and more stuff to say until I ended up abandoning my original script. This was a terrible move. On Friday, today, I stuck to my script and I think it went very well. I got a few great questions after my talk, and lots of positive comments after, so I feel good about it. I’m very, very glad it’s over with.
Now I have to start thinking about the AAPT meeting. But before I do that, I intend to have a fantastic weekend.
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This week was pretty crazy. I had a lot of fun this weekend, especially on the Fourth. I watched the fireworks with Daniel and Erica at the Lincoln Memorial, which was a great experience made even better with the presence of SPS diffraction grating glasses. Erica brought a stack of glasses, so we handed them out to the kids around us. You know those chemistry movies from the 80s that begin with a synthesizer tune and a dark background with spots of rainbows flying at the viewer? That’s what the fireworks were like with those on.
On Monday I continued the quest to fix dead links, a quest I did not finish until Tuesday afternoon. Then I turned my attention to the quasicrystal issue I’d been working on before I started going through the old archives.
Wednesday and Thursday I worked more on the quasicrystal and volcano pages. By Thursday afternoon, both were complete enough to start uploading. So that’s what I’m doing today. I’m also busy with the new site design. I have no idea how all of this is going to get done today, so I’m going to cut myself off and get back to work.
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It’s Thursday, but it’s Friday. So I’m writing my journal entry.
Why is it Friday, even though it’s Thursday? We have the day off tomorrow. A three-day weekend in DC for the Fourth of July. How awesome is that?
A brief word about the Fourth of July. I’m reading a book right now by Bill Bryson called “Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States.” Bryson delves into both history and quirky etymologies, which is great because my knowledge of American history ends at high school civics class. Anyway, he has this to say about July 4:
“That we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July is a small historical curiosity. America did not declare independence on July 4, 1776. That had happened two days earlier, when the proposal was adopted. The proceedings on July 4 were a mere formality endorsing the form of words that were to be used to announce this breach” (Bryson 46).
Every other Wikipedia page regarding the time period or the Declaration of Independence seems to fight with each other over which day was more important, July 2 or July 4. I’m going to go with the book in my hand on this matter.
Speaking of books, mine is not going so hot. I’m supposed to hit 3226 words today for JulNoWriMo. I’m on 702. While I admit I usually stumble across the 50,000-word finish line with about ten minutes left in the month, this might be my most grim start yet.
Anyway, this week was pretty cool. On Saturday, I accidentally ended up in the Caribbean Carnival parade, along with Erica, Erin, Laurie, and Brad. I have no idea how we managed this. We were walking along, enjoying the booming music coming from the floats, when all of a sudden there was no fence between us and those floats. We did escape the parade a few minutes later, but it was, shall we say, surreal.
On Sunday, we went to the flea market at Eastern Market. It was sort of interesting. There were delicious crepes there, which inspired us to make delicious crepes later.
I’ve barely worked on new issues of Physics to Go all week. I’ve been trying to maintain the old ones, instead. On Monday, I started going through the old issues to find dead links. It took an alarmingly long time, because so many were dead. I would say about 10% of all links through Issue 61 are dead. After that, everything was shiny. That’s the problem with a collection of online resources, the internet is always in motion. Sometimes the links were altered just a tad because the main site has changed things around, but other times the page we want is just gone. After hunting new links for Issue 2 (out of 75 issues) for an hour, then doing the same with Issue 4, I realized that it might be best to find all the links that need fixing first before I fix them so that I don’t end up despairing over an unknown workload. So passed the rest of my Monday.
Tuesday was a full day. I continued my quest to find dead links, and was given the additional task of naming the issues. (They used to only have numbers, which isn’t terribly helpful to the casual reader.) In the afternoon we met with Leslie and her outreach crowd on the other end of the floor to discuss Twitter as a means of publicizing Physics to Go. Twitter is a confusing beast to those who haven’t used it, so the confusion of the editors of Physics to Go about the whole thing was pretty understandable. But, we’re going ahead with it now. After that, the web guru Lyle Barbato sat down with me to think of ideas for Physics to Go’s look. I was amazed when he returned half an hour later with all of my suggestions implemented. The new site looks totally different with just a few minor changes. I’m very excited for it to go up, but it’ll need some more tweaking yet.
On Wednesday, the new homepage about atmospheric scattering went up. It’s cool because we have pictures of Earth’s sky and the Martian sky side by side. I wrote a blog post for Physics Buzz a while back and it was posted, which was pretty exciting. I also started the Twitter. We have 27 followers already. (Including Blueshift from the Goddard Space Flight Center. There is nothing cooler than being followed by NASA.) Everyone should follow Physics to Go here: https://twitter.com/PhysicsToGo
Today, Ed and I discussed goals for the rest of my internship. Basically, I have a lot to do. So I’m going to go do it. Happy Somewhat-More-Important-to-our-Independence-Independence Day!
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If this journal entry seems disconnected from actual thought, relevance, and sanity, it’s because I watched Transformers 2 last night and now my reality is distorted.
This week passed quickly. On Saturday I went to the National Building museum with Brian, Laurie, Erica, and Scott. It was surprisingly good. I expected it to be boring, but there were several interesting photography exhibits. I especially liked the Architecture of Authority exhibit, it was a neat exploration into psychology. I think it must have been Saturday night that I went to Year One, but it was so bad that I’ve edited most of my memory regarding the movie, so I’m not sure. And that’s it for Saturday. Sunday was pretty quiet, I just went to the National Gallery of Art with my museum buddies, Brian and Laurie.
Monday…was kind of miserable. I had a great day at work. I finished up another homepage so we’re now ahead through August 1st. I just love being so on top of things. But in the evening I found out that people had died on the metro earlier that day. The pictures on the news of the things I see every day…tin can cars, beige plastic seats with cheesy vinyl cushions, the poles you hang on to when there are no seats left…seeing all that twisted and lying on the ground outside the train in two overused stock photos brings it closer and makes it impossible to stay separated from the accident. We were all out at a burger place, half watching the news, half having fun. At least, I think everyone else was having fun. I was on the train. Maybe you wouldn’t have died, but maybe you would have lurched forward and banged all your teeth out on the seat in front of you. Maybe you would have slammed your head on a pole and had a concussion, throwing up constantly while rescue teams moved as fast as they could but not fast enough. Maybe you’d be pressed to the ground by someone so hurt they couldn’t move, groaning and sobbing and screaming. Or maybe you would have died. And then the body count on the news would rise again and you remember that all this did just happen, and you can see it perfectly, because you see those chairs and those cars every single day. Transportation accidents are the worst way to die. Everyone was just trying to get home. Probably hungry and tired. Probably didn’t have much planned. It was Monday.
On Tuesday I concentrated on pinning down sites to feature for new homepages. I’ve helped finish all the homepages that Ed had mostly started, so I’m kind of floundering with new topics now. It’s hard to know what’s going to work best for different features, and figuring out pictures is challenging because you need to get permission to use them. Luckily, we are pretty far ahead, so we should easily be able to get permission for the pictures we have in mind. I think we have some good stuff with quasicrystals and volcanoes coming up. Stay tuned.
Wednesday was pretty cool. It was the first day of the ComPADRE meeting. I was kind of put on the spot with the whole Twitter thing as a way to publicize the collections, but hey, if I contributed something that would be awesome. In the afternoon session, people were really interested in what we interns had to say, and again, I hope I was able to contribute something.
Thursday morning the ComPADRE meeting came to a close. It was great to be included and to attend a meeting like that. In the afternoon I revised my project abstract for the AAPT meeting. It’s funny how you always spend more time editing than writing. That’s me, anyway. But I’m happy with the final product.
I’m supposed to start writing another novel in a month next Wednesday. I’m not sure I’m up to it. I’ll probably start and see if it’s possible in this crazy environment. I typically don’t get home until 6:20, and then something is usually going on, so I don’t know when I’ll find time. When it’s not possible, I’ll probably put it off until the last week of July and write forty thousand words in a few sleepless days of ignoring everyone. So I’ll be reporting how that goes next week.
I’m planning on leaving a little early today to avoid craziness on the metro, so I’m going to stop writing now and pound out another homepage. Now that I know the ropes, I feel like I can go even faster than I have been going with this, so I’m going to try to write a whole page by the end of the day. Just to see if I can. Prepare to learn physics, world.
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Mary just fell out of a bus.
Overall, I think that’s a fair summary of my week.
This weekend I worked on my play quite a bit. I didn’t have much else to do.
On Sunday I went to the Gay Pride festival with Brad and Daniel. I guess I should have gone to the parade instead, because the festival wasn’t that interesting. Mostly people were sitting at booths trying to raise awareness about things that anyone at the festival would already be aware of.
No, I don’t care that I’m ending sentences in prepositions. Prepositions haunt me. They appear in every brief I write for the website, the grammatical equivalent of gum stuck to my shoe, following me, clinging to me, and everyone but me knows they are there, until someone mentions them and I spend ages working through the stickiness to get rid of them. I spend most days choosing the right words to get them out, to eradicate the wordy garbage so that I don’t sound like your typical unreadable physics textbook. So I refuse to apply the necessary thought to get them out of my journal entry.
That bizarre rant aside, I do think things are going well with Physics to Go. This week I got to see my work on the homepage for the first time. I spent twenty minutes that morning checking every link to make sure it was perfect and that everything worked (and fixing the picture link that in fact was not working). I’ve also put up the July 1 feature, so the homepage is taken care of through July 16. I’m trying to put together a page on the Intertropical Convergence Zone for July 16. It requires so much explanation that it’s hard for me to simply post a link instead of going on about Hadley cells and the Coriolis force. But it’s getting there.
On Monday, I started using Twitter to post all the cool sites I find that probably won’t end up on Physics to Go. So if you want to learn cool stuff as I find it, follow me here: http://twitter.com/festephysics. I have 62 followers already, so I’m pretty excited about it.
Monday night was fun. Mary, Scott, Erin, and I went out to dinner and to see the Navy Jazz band play at the Capitol. They were amazing, of course. Watching night fall over the city from the Capitol building was pretty neat, too.
Tuesday wasn’t that interesting.
I don’t think Wednesday was interesting, either.
Thursday was interesting. I had lunch with former Physics Today editor Gloria Lubkin to discuss my possible future in science writing. It was informative and gave me a lot to think about. Science writing isn’t a growing field, so I shouldn’t actively consider it, but if I get the chance I’d still love to go for it. I love writing. I love science. Doing both seems logical.
Thursday night, Erica, Scott, and I journeyed to find an elusive coffee shop with free wifi. For some reason, we trusted that Scott knew where it was. Today, my shoulder is still stiff from lugging around my obsolete Dell as Scott led us down one long road, called the coffee shop when we ended up in a dark residential neighborhood, shook his head, and led us back up the road, only to repeat the process in a different direction three times in a row. That said, the coffee was amazing.
Today started with Mary falling out of the shuttle. That’s all that’s happened today, so I’ll end my journal now.
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Well, I had a very theatrical week.
Saturday was packed with excitement. We went to the zoo in the afternoon. I swear the pandas could have been fat guys wearing panda suits. They were so humanlike, except for how their mouths go through bamboo like a wood chipper massacres saplings. I kept imagining somehow being stuck to a stick of bamboo and being drawn onward until my arm was gone, like some deathly conveyor belt James Bond might face. Who knew quietly dining pandas could be so terrifying? In the evening we went to dinner with the SPS executive board. It was nice to get a chance to meet them, and I think everyone had a good time.
I spent Monday quietly panicking about the Employee Appreciation Picnic on Tuesday. Gabe at APS somehow convinced me that playing violin with him would be a good idea. (Turns out it wasn’t.) I did end up playing a solo of sorts at the picnic. I didn’t see trails of blood leaking from any ears afterward, so it couldn’t have gone that badly.
Tuesday evening was the most interesting this week. We went to see a play called “Legacy of Light,” an uplifting play about Emilie du Chatelet and a female astrophysicist in the modern world. Physicists here at ACP acted as consultants for the science monologues, which was a neat point of interest. Talking to the playwright afterward was a great opportunity. I thought Emilie’s character was brilliant, someone with whom I could identify, and Voltaire up in a tree with Olivia the spaced-out astrophysicist was a fantastic scene. There were a lot of great moments from beginning to end and some hysterical one-liners, especially from Voltaire. It was nifty how she tied physical concepts into action on stage and into the dialogue. Basically, any play with pre-Revolutionary France and physics in it is going to be made of win, so I recommend it. Thank you so much, Jack, for putting the event together for us.
On Wednesday, I got to learn what Erica, Scott, and Mary have been up to while working on the SOCK. They’ve been creating an exciting outreach activity with Galileo’s rolling experiments for elementary school kids, which we tested out yesterday (Thursday) at a local third grade classroom. I was impressed by how excited the kids were about the activity, and especially impressed with how well Erica and Mary interacted with the kids. I myself haven’t been able to interface with kids since first grade, so I often stood awkwardly to the side, checking that my tiny bottle of Purell was safe in my pocket. Still, it was a lot of fun, and I think we managed to leave the kids with something to think about. And maybe when physics comes up later in their school careers, they’ll fondly remember rolling stuff down a ramp instead of thinking that it’s too hard for them to even consider doing. I appreciated being included in the outreach excursion, and I hope I can participate again sometime.
Overall, Physics to Go has been a great experience for me so far. My summaries of websites still tend to include too many prepositions, but I’m catching on. I like being able to work on many future homepages at once. When I get bored with atmospheric scattering, I can visit the Islamic art world for a while. As readers can probably tell from just two journal entries, the more random the things I’m learning, the better, so I’m happy with the variety of homepage topics. Ed has also asked me to look ahead to an edition for next December featuring galaxies, so I’ll be working on that soon.
Wow. This got long. I’m going to stop now. On to week three!
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I don’t think any interns in the history of interns have ever been treated as well as the twelve of us. I felt more like an arriving foreign dignitary than a new intern on our first day, which involved a fun and informative orientation until two in the afternoon. And everyone in the office wants to talk to me. I expected to be ignored, but that’s not the case at all. I’ve been touched by everyone’s genuine interest in getting to know me and concern for my well-being. I meant to say so at the APS June birthday bash, when I was put on the spot to give a speech, but unfortunately my heart rate and IQ switch places when I address large groups and I forgot to thank everyone here. So let me do so now: Thank you, everyone at APS and the ACP, for being so welcoming.
Meeting my fellow interns last weekend assuaged any uncertainties I had about living here this summer. We went out together on Saturday night when most of us had arrived, and it was like we’d all been friends for a while, not like we’d only met hours ago. It’s a vibrant, friendly, intelligent group, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Working with Ed Lee on Physics To Go has been a fantastic experience so far. I think he’s a great mentor with a lot of experience and good ideas. We worked together for much of my first full day on entering sites into the catalogue and writing informative but short briefs on resources. I think working on the site reminds me of working in a newsroom, which I love doing, so I feel comfortable with it already. So far, I’ve helped put together the July 1, 2009 homepage (it’s on the Crab Nebula, so check it out…who doesn’t love massive star death with shiny leftovers?) and put some new resources in the database. I can tell that I’m going to learn a lot from this internship—not just about the possibilities of a career in physics outreach, but about physics. I’m constantly learning new things as I find more resources and write briefs about them for the homepage. Just today I’ve learned about everything from the Chaco Canyon observatory of the Anasazi to how one pretends to demonstrate the Coriolis force for a crowd of tourists. While I’m of course against spreading the foul lie that water in our sinks and toilets is dramatically affected by the turn of the Earth, I admit I’ve filed this demonstration under “tasteless SPS party tricks” for future reference.
I’ve learned other things, too. For instance, I’ve discovered that I become ill after drinking the decaf hazelnut coffee in the pantry. At first I thought I had whatever plague Scott and Leslie came down with this week (their symptoms included fever, nausea, and, according to Scott, mild blindness), but I felt better again after an hour. Then I had another sip and felt ill once more, which I have to say is not the best condition to be in when you’re looking for (legit) Coriolis force demonstrations, usually featuring merry-go-rounds and other spinning mayhem.
More seriously, this has been a brilliant week. I’m living with amazing people and working in a great environment on things I truly care about. I’m not sure what’s more important than helping to get physics out there in the world. Research is equally important, of course, but whenever I tried to discuss my research last year, conversations didn’t go very far. In fact, this is what happened at the 2009 Hope College Research Celebration:
Lady: So what do you do?
Me: I worked with normal radio pulsars. We’re trying to determine if they’re standard candles. The first step was to constrain their beaming geometry, which we believe is a core beam surrounded by a hollow cone coaxial to the magnetic--
Lady: Have you ever been to Florida? They launch the rockets in Florida, right?
My point is that expanding the frontiers of knowledge is important, but if what you’re doing is so out there that only a community of a few hundred knows (and cares) about your research, it’s not terribly rewarding. Knowing that I’m putting together resources for a general audience who wants to learn is meaningful to me. I’m grateful for this opportunity to explore another aspect of the physics world, and I can’t wait for the rest of the summer.