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2012 SPS National Interns
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Name Ryan Barley
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Internship: AIP Center for History of Physics
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Hi, I'm Ryan, from Westfield, Massachusetts. I just graduated from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts with degrees in physics and English and a minor in mathematics. While I was there, I was a tutor for the intro physics and math classes and also the editor of photography and science writer for our college newspaper, The Beacon. This past spring, I did real science writing for the magazine Photonics.

I am also coming to D.C. fresh off of my trip to Socorro, New Mexico to observe the annular eclipse at the Very Large Array with Professor Jay Pasachoff from Williams College, I'm hoping to help analyze some of the temperature data taken with the VLA in my free time this summer.

In my spare time, I like reading pop sci and sci-fi/fantasy as well as basically every other kind of book, playing video and board games and pretending to play the guitar.



Name Ryan Barley
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Internship: AIP Center for History of Physics
Follow SPS on: Twitter Facebook YouTube Photobucket The Nucleus Email and Share
Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8
Week 9 Final Reflections

Week 1, June 8, 2012


Getting here was a pain. As I was doing my last minute packing on Sunday morning, I suddenly realized that my flight was not at 12:59; in fact that is when my connecting flight left New York City. My flight from Boston departed at 11:00. It was almost 10:00. My girlfriend quickly called me a cab, I ran out the door, rushed and terrified that I would miss my flight. Luckily my cabbie had no regard for either of our well-being and I made it to the Delta gate with fifteen minutes to spare. Though, of course, diagnostic problems kept us at the gate for another twenty minutes, and thunderstorms kept us grounded at Laguardia for an extra hour. Eventually, though, I made it to DC, decided the Metro system was stupid, and made it to check-in, which was much further away from our rooms than I had anticipated. Going to school in an area that features small, compact liberal arts schools has left me unprepared for a university whose campus spreads across city blocks, and the hoodie I had chosen to wear was not doing me any favors.

My roommate, Thomas, and I happened to be at check in at the same time, a bizarre coincidence as he was driving in from Minnesota, but he recognized me before I recognized him and we left it at that, until I met him for real at the City Hall. Then we met the other interns and went out to dinner at T.G.I.Fridays to get to know each other better. I feel as though we fell in with each other quickly enough. I know that I was surprised to be making friends so quickly.


Orientation: our first trek to the ACP building in College Park, an inconvenience for the NIST and Capitol Hill interns, but a good practice run for those of us working at the ACP. It feels like there is a lot less to talk about on Monday than there was on Sunday, as the morning was filled with standard introductions, meeting with some of the more important people at AIP, and introducing ourselves to everyone several times. Where it differed from standard orientations is the lunch with Dr. John Mather, the 2006 physics Nobel Laureate (on whose project my astronomy and introductory physics professor worked). That lunch stood out to me, because it was not often that one gets to sit next to a distinguished scientist who is genuinely interested in talking to you.

The afternoon was spent taking a tour of the Center for History of Physics, where I was placed with Dr. Greg Good, the director of the center and my mentor for the program. He also showed me the Niels Bohr Library, which was amazing, and luckily where I will be spending most of my research time. I will be working on two exhibits to start, one on Rutherford and one on the Edge of Space, both of which are currently incomplete. Then I will be starting to build a foundation (i.e. gathering resources, doing preliminary research, drawing outlines) for two other exhibits, African Americans and Women in physics. After our tour, Dr. Good said that I was free for the rest of the day. I took that as time to start reading the first of the Rutherford books he gave me, Rutherford and the Nature of the Atom by E.N. da C. Andrade, a physicist who worked with Rutherford when he was at Manchester. The book is full of anecdotes and selections of letters Rutherford wrote, and I am already getting a sense of who he was.

After work, I did not feel like cooking or grocery shopping, and knew someone else would feel the same, so I waited. Then Binayak, Thomas and I went to dinner at Roti, which was a neat Mediterranean fast foodish place that was basically a reskinned Chipotle.


Tuesday I started work in earnest, and by that I mean I read as much as I could about Rutherford. I dug deeply into the Andrade book, and also started looking at the oral history transcripts that the Center has collected. I will be using these to illustrate the online exhibits with voice clips from scientists like Chadwick, von Hevesy, Gamow and Bohr talking about Rutherford and how his work affected them and physics itself. I love reading a lot, so this is sort of an ideal day.

I left a little early to try and go to Goddard Space Flight Center where they were having a little event for the transit of Venus, but it was overcast and I thought it would be more practical to go home and watch the NASA livecast from Mauna Kea. Afterward, most of the other interns got together to go get frozen yogurt, which seems to have been something of an obsession based on what I’ve heard about last year’s interns.

I’m okay with that.


With Wednesday came more reading, but with more emphasis on the oral histories. I have started identifying a lot of good quotes from the transcripts and am getting ready to pull the actual audio. In the morning, Dr. Good and I had a discussion about history, what I’ve read so far, and ideas about moving forward. It lasted about two hours, and was amazing. I love history, and I love talking about history, especially when it is with someone I stand to learn a considerable amount from. I have now finished my first book, and have a better idea of who Rutherford was, and how he interacted with those around him, and our discussion reflected this, as well as his chemistry Nobel and his relationship with his wife and family. I am seeing a lot of parallels with Bohr, as Rutherford is very much a father figure in his laboratory, fostering relationships with his students and lending encouragement, which Bohr would later emulate at his institute in Copenhagen. The next book is more about the general history of the atom.


Thursday was interesting, especially due to the cultivation event that we interns were invited to attend at Dr. Marc Brodsky’s apartment in Dupont Circle. The event was a way for AIP to reach out to donors to encourage them to give great swaths of money to the Center for History of Physics. I spent most of the day reading about a few of the people there, as they had oral histories in the transcript archives. They were quite interesting and gave me conversation fodder that I could use at the event to small talk. Too bad I am dreadful at interjecting myself into conversations and introducing myself! Most of the people that I met were a direct result of Kendra or Dr. Good introducing me, which I think is also good. I did get to talk with Dr. James Stith who was very fun to talk to, and has done a lot of research into physics education. If nothing else, this was good practice on approaching people. Afterward, the group walked back to our lodgings and had a late supper at Froggy Bottom, a Vientamese-ish pub near the dorm.


The plan for Friday is to leave work early to go to the Einstein Fellows Reception near Capitol Hill. The fellowship is for outstanding teachers who wish to participate in public policy. I believe the reception will be a poster session demonstrating the work they have done in Washington. 

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Week 2, June 15, 2012

On Saturday, Binayak and I went to an Irish restaurant near Chinatown to watch the Germany vs. Portugal Euro Cup game with my friend from college Darsa, who is working on her PhD thesis at Goddard. The food was really good, and now I know where to go for a Full Irish in the city. Then we walked around the mall and had a rest in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Sunday, several of we interns headed to the Natural History Museum, which is one of my favorite kinds of museums - biology is my second favorite science and there’s always so much to learn. That night, we all chipped in to make a pasta dinner and ate together, watching more Macgyver.

At work this week not as much happened. I think I got into the swing of things at the Center for History. Most of this week was devoted to reading and rereading transcripts of oral histories in order to pull out good quotes to use in the exhibit. Then, later in the week I started taking the digitized versions of the actual interviews and listening to them to find those quotes and turn them into voice clips.

The most interesting thing that happened was on Wednesday morning. Melissa and Meredith were giving their first SOCK demonstration to a third grade class, so Matt and I came along to assist them. The demonstrations went really well, and the girls were really in their element in their gravity is like spandex demo, but it took me a few minutes to really feel totally comfortable with the kids.  Afterwards, we sat down at the tiny desks for a pizza lunch with the teachers, who seemed to be very glad to have had us. Then Gary took us for ice cream and a debriefing, so that we could improve the demo for the next classes.

This weekend, we went to the National Zoological Park on Saturday.  It was really cool; I hadn’t been to a zoo since I was in eighth grade (although many of the animals were sleeping and hidden). We made it in time to see a giant octopus being fed, which was pretty awesome. Afterward we went to get Ethiopian food, which was so delicious. Then Sunday, Binayak and I met up with Darsa to watch another Euro Cup game, this time Germany vs. Denmark at a German restaurant near Union Station.

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Week 3, June 22, 2012

This was another fairly slow week, so I guess it would be easiest to talk about it all at once instead of day-by-day. I’ve been reading a lot of oral histories, letters and other first-hand accounts of Rutherford’s career as head of the Cavendish laboratories, since most of the content for the period before then has been organized and written. I have also started writing little biographies on some of the big players who worked there under Rutherford, people like Hans Geiger, James Chadwick, Peter Kapitza, etc. Next I hope to work on writing the actual relevant content for the project, tying together everything I’ve read this week.

Outside of work, we went to a Nationals game on Tuesday, everyone who went seemed to have a good time, but I was kind of bored with it. They fill in the boring, standing around parts with commentary and replays on television, so it doesn’t seem so slow. I’ll take soccer over baseball any day. Thursday I headed up to Goddard after work to watch my friend Darsa play in her soccer league’s championship game. Tonight, we’re going to the sculpture garden to check out the Friday night jazz concert, which should be fun. I guess that is most of what happened this week, I’m afraid the days I’ve spent lost in books and transcripts isn’t as exciting to write about as other things might be.

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Week 4, June 29, 2012

This week was fairly good. I got a lot of writing done on the Rutherford slides. I paid special attention to the letters he wrote his wife and mother. I tried to reconstruct their relationship based on these documents; I wanted to figure out what kind of person Rutherford was in the home, outside of Cavendish. To this degree, I also looked at his hobbies and the things that kept him busy outside the lab: Driving his car that he bought with his Nobel money around, playing golf with his son and law and other lab workers. It’s interesting still to see how he picked out a few successful pets, and also kept himself surrounded by a wide variety of specialists. Rutherford kept not only experimentalists, but theoreticians, mathematical physicists and chemists on hand to make sure he had their expertise and counsel.

Outside of work, we had a sort of sending off for Binayak Monday, because he was heading back to New York. We went to a Nepalese restaurant in his honor, and it was fantastic. I think that’s really all that I did this week, I have made myself a schedule to try and follow to prepare myself for the GREs, and it involves a lot of studying that I am trying to keep structured. That means sometimes I have to pass up socializing, and that is not a lot of fun.

Friday, though, we hosted the SPS Executive Committee at ACP, and gave the non-ACP interns tours of the building. I met a lot of new people myself, despite working at ACP, and there are a couple that I definitely want to get back in touch with that might be able to introduce me to some physicists in Rochester. That evening, we went to see the Music Man. I am always surprised when I see plays executed in a non-traditional stage space. The show was amazing, and the only thing I was disappointed with is nothing to do with their performance. I saw the show last year in Cedar City, Utah and the library scene blew me away with its choreography and blocking. This show had a lot to live up to for that scene, and a lot less to work with. It was still great, though. 

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Week 5, July 6, 2012

Though this workweek was shorter with the interruption of Independence Day, I feel like I am getting more done. Greg is back from Manchester, so I can talk to him when I have questions more easily, and there is a bit more structure going on with my work. These are things I appreciate. Otherwise, I have been working on the same sort of thing, except now I am trying to synthesize the content I’ve been writing down the past couple of weeks into an actual narrative, something I hope to be done with next week.

Outside of work, things were fairly exciting. Thursday morning brought with it the new results from CERN and FermiLab, there is definitely something Higgs-y in the 125.6 GeV range, just like predicted. Even though I sort of hope it is the Higgs, because that would be pretty monumental, a strange Higgs would be way more exciting for the theorists and people who want to get their advanced degrees in theory (like me). Otherwise, I suppose we would be pretty well set with the Standard Model and have to find new interesting stuff to mess around with.

On Wednesday, I met with Darsa at the Archives to watch the parade with her. The heat was getting to me, so I went and sat under a tree and watched and listened from there while she chased her friend’s brother-in-law’s marching band down the entirety of the parade route. Afterwards, we tried finding somewhere open for lunch that was also relatively inexpensive. We wound up at a Potbelly’s, which was a pretty good choice (though from reading Matt’s journal, it seems like heading down to the Folklife vendors would have been even better). Then, dying from the heat and feeling sick from constantly hydrating, we collapsed on the Capitol lawn for the concert and fireworks. The fireworks were especially cool because Jon went back for the diffraction glasses, which were fun to share with the non-physicists with us, but the people around us weren’t too great.

Thursday, I headed up to Greenbelt after work so that Darsa and I could get some dinner and then go to a lecture and open house at the UMD observatory. Unfortunately, that was cancelled due to extenuating complications of all the power loss last week, so we just got some cheap Chinese food and boba tea and I went home to do some studying. 

Friday has been pretty good so far, we participated in a sort of focus group exercise to see what SPS should bring to the fall congress re: merchandise, and I got a ridiculously sized sandwich. That's basically enough to make my week by itself.

I’m not quite sure what the plans are for this weekend yet. But I’m going to stop by a Japanese market on U Street to get some curry powder, so that maybe I can make Japanese curry for everyone Sunday for family dinner.

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Week 6, July 13, 2012

I feel like as the weeks are getting on, I'm doing less and less cool stuff. I've been trying to buckle down and study hard, I want to take my generals shortly after I get back, so that has cut in to the amount of time I am allowing myself for going out and sight-seeing, etc. Also, I've been sort of overwhelmed by trying to find a job and an apartment when I get back. I'll be moving pretty far away, and that by itself is stressful without compounding how I'm going to get myself and my belongings there.

However, I feel like I'm making advances for the exhibit, but time is running short and I'm afraid that I worked too slowly up until now. I'm certainly not going to get much more than Rutherford done, not the Edge of Space or anything like that. What I am finding some success with is the synthesis, I have been revising and re-revising some stuff I wrote on Rutherford's overseeing of the CavLab, and I think it is going well. I have also been brainstorming activities to go alongside the exhibit, simple stuff like making a cyclotron out of some wire coils and a hoola-hoop, building a cloud chamber, etc.

Looking back on my week, I really did nothing outside of studying and apartment hunting. Well, I did find out that Whole Foods sells some pretty awesome Korean burritos.

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Week 7, July 20, 2012

The most important update for this entry is probably that I won’t be homeless when I return to the Northeast. My girlfriend and I found an apartment in Rochester, where she’s starting medical school, and signed a lease on Saturday. Now, it’s time to find a job. I’ve spent a lot of time this week redoing my resume, since I forgot to put it on my new computer when I got it; so all my important files are in storage. I’ve also been trying to make connections with people in Rochester. I reached out to one person online, who mentioned he worked at the University of Rochester, but his only openings were recently filled. He gave me his email address though, and put me on file. It looks like if I want to get a job up there, I need to learn how to do database/IT stuff. I can program, and am competent in a few languages, but I really only have experience building toys, not utilities. I could build you blackjack, space invaders, or an invincible tic-tac-toe game, but I haven’t had experience with anything practical, like data mining or script automation. There’s always something new to learn.

In the world of Rutherford, I’ve shifted my attention away from the man himself, and have been looking at the ramifications of his experiments. A lot (if not most) of modern physics is directly influenced by Rutherford’s discoveries. I’ve been trying to focus on what I think are the most important, or the most far-reaching consequences like nuclear medicine, which was essentially founded by one of Rutherford’s students at Manchester, Georg von Hevesy. Other fields effected by Rutherford’s discoveries are high-energy physics (taking its start with Cockcroft and Aston’s accelerators), and, of course, The Bomb. That part will be brief, probably mainly talking about what Cavendish was doing to contribute to the war effort. Greg thinks we’ll have a test site up in time for my final presentation; I am trying to make sure that he’s right.

On Thursday we had the intern barbecue at ACP instead of the Dylla’s house. The cold noodle salad was bizarrely good, and it’s weird that that is the thing that stood out to me. I enjoyed talking to Stephen Benka, he seems pretty eccentric, but is genuinely amusing. After most people left, I went to John Mather’s table just to listen to their discussion, and Allen, Matthew and I managed to get our copies of The Very First Light signed. That was one goal for the summer complete.

Outside of work was just a lot more studying and resume building. I made curry for just about every meal this week, but I ran out of rice so I tried it with spaghetti. Huge success. Friday night Melissa, Tom, Binayak, Jon, Marissa and I went to see The Dark Knight Rises, it was pretty awesome, and it was great to have Melissa to geek out with about the comics. Saturday, Darsa and I went to a Joss Whedon double feature at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse. It was fun to watch the movies with the really big fans. A lot of people dressed up for a costume contest with varying degrees of success. I also started a book Greg gave me by Spencer Weart, the former director of the Center for History, on the history of global warming. It’s a very good read, and, I think, very convincing when you see how the scientific consensus developed.

I’ve been using the Stanford iTunes U/Youtube lecture series as a way of studying for the physics GRE, and I found another series from Berkeley that takes the online university idea a step further.  They are putting up a lecture series on quantum computing that anyone can follow along with, and to reinforce what is being taught, they have quizzes and homework assignments to do each week. At the end, provided you’ve passed the course, there is a certificate of completion, as well. I think this is a great idea that I’ve only really seen incorporated by the people at the University of Reddit site. I just wanted to share it with whoever is reading this.

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Week 8, July 27, 2012

Presentations are fast approaching. Greg thinks we should try to get a test site up in time for the presentation, so I need to really focus on getting content made to get thrown online. I think I can get this done in a couple of days. I will go back to focusing on Rutherford at Cambridge, since that is what we have media for. This week, though, was more about putting together information for the same slide about the ramifications of Rutherford’s work. I finally finished the section about nuclear medicine, and the work of Von Hevesy and John Lawrence. The coolest thing I’ve learned from doing that is the story of Hevesy’s first experiments with heavy water. He andMoseley had an idea when they were at Manchester together regarding how long it took for the tea they were drinking to pass through their bodies. So, once heavy water was developed, Hevesy mixed some in with his tea, and did tests to see how many days his urine remained slightly radioactive. This is the first mention that I am aware of that involves people ingesting radioactive materials for science. They had done it with rats and plants up until this point, so they knew it was a good tracer, but to decide to drink it on a lark took a lot of gall.

Outside of work, things have been interesting. I went to a special showing of some Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes in Arlington with Darsa. She dressed up in a science officer dress and Vulcan ears, and after the show, decided to talk to a guy dressed up in a uniform from a different series. Flash forward to Wednesday, and she and I are in Adams Morgan to pick up some of her paintings. We decide to eat at Amsterdam Falafel House (delicious), and sit down to dinner. Then the guy from Monday figures out where we are and shows up, and sits with us for an hour or so. I had no idea what was going on, and it was so awkward and unlikely that I did not know what to do. This is not related at all to the internship, but I really wanted to write it down and get it out there. On the plus side, Jimmy Johns had decided to show up at ACP and dole out free sandwiches for no real reason. That was awesome.

Thursday things went back to normal. We went to UMD in the evening to attend a physics demonstration to test our “physics IQ”, it was a really neat lecture with counterintuitive experiments. Allen was pretty good at it, I was not as good. I did learn a lot about fluid dynamics, which is something I had not had a class in before. Friday was pretty normal, I did the homework for the quantum computing class I mentioned last week and studied a bit.

Saturday, I got up early and headed to Baltimore with Darsa to go see a friendly match between two English Premiere League teams, one of which, Liverpool, is my favorite team. I am not exactly sure why they were in Baltimore, but I am pretty excited that they were. Afterward, we went to Darsa’s and watched the women’s Olympic soccer team play against Columbia, while I helped her pack up to go back to Florida. Her funding for LISA was cut, so she is changing advisors in order to work on theory. We’re starting a journal club to get her caught up with the research she’s doing (moving from gravitational waves to gravity waves), and maybe that can help me get another in with a researcher.

Here’s hoping.

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Week 9, August 10, 2012

The last full week flew by very quickly. That was probably due to all of the field trips. Tuesday was interrupted by a field trip to the Capitol, where we were given a tour of the building, as well as the offices where Jon and Allen work. The tour was really neat, and Allen made for an excellent tour guide, we even got to hear the famous Statuary Hall whispering gallery. That’s something I’d read about since I was a little kid. Seeing the old courtroom of the Supreme Court was cool too. On Thursday, we finally got to go on a tour of the White House, which was a big goal of the summer. Unfortunately, I found it to be quite a bit underwhelming.  There wasn’t that much to see outside of the posters in the hallway leading up to the first rooms. The day was made more interesting by our second stop, the modern Supreme Court. I never really noticed how much Neo-Classicism crept into the art and architecture of early America. In all the art galleries I’ve been to, I’ve only noticed a lot of Romanticism and Modernism, both of which I was fairly certain were at odds with the Neo-Classicists. However, the amazing friezes in the Supreme Court’s courtroom, as well as the frescos in the Capitol Dome suggest otherwise!

Aside from these short adventures, I’ve been working on trying to put together my presentation this weekend. I think it is going swimmingly, although I’ve been kept up thinking about it. All I have left to do now is figure out how to cut a video into clips, something I imagine isn’t that hard, but I haven’t done it before.

I’m still really anxious about going back to Massachusetts and loading up for the move to Rochester, I haven’t had much success looking for jobs, but hopefully something will come through. In the meantime, my girlfriend and I are looking for kittens to adopt. That’s pretty awesome.

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Name Ryan Barley
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
Internship: AIP Center for History of Physics
Follow SPS on: Twitter Facebook YouTube Photobucket The Nucleus Email and Share

Final Presentation

Rutherford & The Nuclear World

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