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Fiona Muir

University College London, AIP History Center Intern

Fiona is working with the AIP Center for History of Physics contributing to a historical web exhibit.

View Fiona's Final Presentation.

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Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Final Reflections

Final Reflections

Now that Iím back in London and getting stuck in to my classes for this term, the excitement of DC seems a million miles away. Talking to all my friends about what theyíve been doing this summer, I do feel like Iím bragging a bit when I describe what a great experience I had.

Working on the project this summer has given me loads more confidence in my ambitions to go in to science writing and communication and confirmed for me that itís definitely something I want to continue. This year, along with my physics classes, Iím taking one class on representation of science in the media and one on the history and philosophy of natural sciences. If I hadnít come across bits of philosophy of science in my research this summer, I probably wouldnít have even known that the topic existed!

I canít talk about this summer without mentioning the amazing friendships that we all made and the countless experiences outside of our internships. DC is a fascinating, vibrant city and Iím grateful that I had such a great group of people to explore it with! Overall, I canít imagine a better project to have been a part of or a better way to spend my time this summer.

Week 8: Final Goodbyes
August 5-9, 2013

This week has been very busy and very bittersweet! On Monday all the interns gathered at ACP to go through our presentations and see how we could improve them before the symposium on Tuesday. It was a bit daunting but so helpful to get everyone’s advice and suggestions. That night we went out to eat together for the last time as the (almost) complete group of SPS interns and realised that this summer had come to an end a lot quicker than any of us had expected!

Tuesday morning was our presentations and it was great to see everyone’s friends, family, and colleagues interested in what we’ve been working on over the summer. I was able to present near the start so that I could relax and listen properly to everyone else’s. Everyone has been working on such interesting things over a huge range of fields and I loved finding out about all the projects as I realised that up until now, I’d just been hearing tiny snapshots of their work. I also really enjoyed talking to people afterwards about the work I’ve been doing over the past two months. Our schedule for this week was jam packed and after a quick lunch, we were off on our tour of the State Department. We had the opportunity to listen to three people who all had physics backgrounds but now worked in the State Department. It all seems to prove that you really can do anything with a degree in physics!

On Wednesday we all gathered at ACP and had breakfast and worked on thank you notes for the people we’ve met over the summer, as well as saying goodbye to everyone who’s helped us, either specifically with our work or in general. After the interns who worked in the building organised a tour of a few of the areas we’d been working in, we went our separate ways as people began to gradually leave over the next couple of days. After heading back to the dorms that night, those of us that were still around went out for one last (amazing) burger in Georgetown and spent the night just hanging out and packing and (in my case) trying to figure out why I had so much more stuff than when I arrived and how I was going to fit it all in my suitcase!  On Thursday night, I flew back to London and was very excited to find that the weather was about 30 degrees colder than DC and that I could say goodbye to the humidity, the one thing I won’t miss!

This whole summer has been an amazing experience and I’d like to say thanks again to everyone at AIP and SPS as well as all the other interns.

Week 7: The Final Countdown
July 29-August 2, 2013

We’re just coming to the end of our last week of proper work, and I’m sure every other intern is saying this in their entries, but I seriously cannot believe how quickly it’s over! On Monday, we all said that we knew this week would fly by but I don’t think we knew how right we were.

Last Saturday we went to a Peruvian restaurant for lunch before checking out the “National Dance Day” festival at the Kennedy Center. I’d never been to the Kennedy Center before and I’m so happy I got a chance to see it before I left, even if we didn’t manage to find any of the dance events that were going on. When we went back that evening we found out that they’d all been going on outside and we’d walked right past them…

This week at work has been focused on getting all our lesson plans ready to go on the website and lots of little jobs like writing one line summaries for each one and choosing a suitable picture from the Emilio Segrè Visual Archives here in ACP to go with every lesson plan. We’ve also all been working on our final presentations which we will be giving next Tuesday. When I first started planning it, I thought that I wouldn’t have much to say, but as I’ve spent longer on it, I have way too much to say and I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to cut some things out!

It’s sad that this will be our last weekend in DC but I guess that just means we have to make the most of it and try and fit in doing even more things! I know next week will go even quicker than this one (mainly because we’re actually only here for three days…) and before I know it I’ll be heading home, still with a ton of things that I was meaning to do while I was here. At least I can definitely never say that there was nothing to do here!

Week 6: Tours and Being a Tourist
July 22-26, 2013

It’s hard to believe that after today we’ve only got one full week of work left before we all leave DC and head back to school, work, or (in my case) weather that we can actually cope with.

Last Friday, Alexandra organised a great tour of NIST and it was amazing to see what a huge range of stuff actually happens there. Even though we only saw a tiny section of all the work that’s being done at NIST, we still got a sense of the scale of the organisation and everything that it does to ensure that the US remains on the cutting edge of science and technology. On Friday evening, we went to a food truck festival over by the Washington Nationals stadium and spent most of our time trying to decide what we wanted, overwhelmed by choices! We didn’t realise that there was actually a game going on that night and we decided that we had to come back and see a game for real, so this Friday, Katherine and I are going to the game (even though neither of us really know anything about baseball…)

On Saturday I visited Southern Maryland with my cousin. It was nice to have a bit of a change of pace and get out of the city for a day. On the complete other end of the spectrum, we spent Sunday afternoon right out in the middle of everything, checking out some of the museums we hadn’t had a chance to see yet. We were a bit short on time by the end of the day and managed to do the quickest route around the Natural History Museum ever and just about managed to see everything we wanted to see. That evening, Toni had invited us over to her house and we had a really nice, relaxing night with plenty of amazing food.

This week at work has been pretty quiet as, in a bit of a location reversal, there’s a History of Science conference going on in my home city of Manchester and the office has been a little bit emptier. I’ve spent the week really working on our lesson plans and trying to cover as many topics as we can. It’s still so exciting finding out about all these different women who I’ve never seen acknowledged before, even though they made huge progress in fields like geophysics and materials science.

Next week we’re really starting to work on the final website in earnest and start tying everything together. This afternoon, Nikki and Katherine have organised a tour of the Capitol and I’m sure it will be just as interesting and informative as our other tours so far!

Week 5: Making Progress (despite the heat wave!)
July 15-19, 2013

Everything’s started to come together at work this week as we began to create resources and lesson plans about women in physics, based around all the information we’ve been researching over the last month. We’re trying to cover a range of topics and so far we’ve written materials about the female “computers” at Harvard College Observatory, the life of Lise Meitner, female astronauts and NASA scientists and Emily has been working on preparing materials related to the oral history interviews that are held at the library. It’s so great having these resources right at the end of our corridor.

Last weekend, we took some more time to explore DC and everything that’s on offer in Georgetown. On Sunday, somewhere inside and air-conditioned was sounding pretty tempting so a couple of us reconnected with our childhood and went to see Monsters University. As it was Sunday afternoon and a Pixar movie, we thought it was going to be full of kids until we got there and there was barely anybody under 20. It was nice to see we weren’t the only ones!

Yesterday Jamie, Ro, Caleb, Emily and I went out for lunch in College Park to Plato’s Diner and I had some amazing Greek food and me and Emily even made sure to bring some dessert back to the office with us. I need to make sure I don’t leave here without having that baklava again! We’re also becoming experts at finding the most time efficient way to get to the University of Maryland, get the books we need from the various libraries and get back to ACP, spending as little time walking around in the humidity as possible. These are definitely skills that it’s useful to have in Maryland in July.

We’re all heading over to NIST this afternoon for the second of our workplace tours. The agenda looks packed and everything we’re going to see sounds fascinating. The bar has definitely been set high by the NASA visit last week and I’m sure NIST will be just as good. This means that the pressure’s on for our tour next Wednesday!

Week 4: In the Sun
July 8-12, 2013

I finally understand what everyone else has been saying all along – the weeks seem shorter and shorter the longer I’m here! This week at work has been spent figuring out what we’re actually going to do with all the information we’ve collected and how we can help teachers to create lessons focused on women in physics. It turns out that (luckily!) for one week in 1900, everyone working at the Harvard Observatory was asked to keep a diary of what they were working on and give some information about life at the Observatory. I was able to find scans of the diary of one of the female “computers” who worked on cataloging stars and performing calculations for the Observatory Director and I’ve been typing it up, ready to see if we can use it in our project.

The highlight of this week was definitely our trip out to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center where Alec and Darren are spending the summer.  After a bit of a queuing and passport checking for me to get my special, Department of Homeland Security approved, non-American citizen visitor’s badge saying that the organization I was representing was “United Kingdom,” I was feeling the pressure to be a good representative. The tour made everything worthwhile. Even though we only saw a tiny part of everything that goes on at Goddard, there was still an incredibly huge amount of stuff on display. Everywhere you looked there was equipment that was about to go in to space, machines that had already been in to space and, excitingly, the James Webb Space Telescope, hopefully launching in to space in a few years. It was amazing to see all the time, effort and enthusiasm that go in to…actual rocket science.

On Thursday night, Katherine and I went out to the Wolf Trap Center in north Virginia to see She & Him play and it was the nicest venue I think I’ve ever been in. It’s somewhere between inside and outside and thanks to the seats we had, we were able to see all the surrounding forests and the sunset while still managing to stay under cover. This turned out to be more necessary than we thought as the thunder and lightning started and my phone began to pick up flash flood warnings for the area! Luckily, the show went on and we had a great time and (almost) made it back without getting caught in the rain.

Next week we’ve got the tour of NIST on Friday to look forward to and I’m just starting work on a section about women and minorities in NASA so I’ll definitely be keeping busy!

Week 3: Reading, Celebrating, and Relaxing
July 1-5, 2013

Despite only spending three days of it at work, this week has been more hectic than the last two put together. Last weekend I headed up to New York to see a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year and tried to fit as many tourist attractions as possible in to the twelve hours I was there. We managed Madame Tussaud’s, the Empire State Building, Times Square, window shopping on Fifth Avenue, Central Park, Soho and still left some time for shopping and Serendipity’s famous frozen hot chocolate.

This week’s work went by very quickly – mainly because it was only three days long. We’re working our way through a mixture of books and online resources about women in physics and moving on to minorities next week. On Wednesday morning we heard that the other books we had ordered had arrived at the University of Maryland libraries so we took another trip out there to have a look at some of the reference books, as well as pick up the ones we’d requested. Our list of books we’ve read is getting longer and longer it’s really interesting to find the female scientists that don’t often get mentioned.

Thursday meant 4th of July which meant a day off and a holiday that I’m definitely not used to celebrating! A bunch of the interns headed out to Virginia for a barbeque and had an (apparently) traditional day of relaxing in the sun, eating huge amounts of food and not doing much at all. That evening, we headed back in to DC to watch the fireworks on the mall. We’d been hearing from everyone about how crowded and hot it could be and we set off pretty cautiously. There turned out to be plenty of room right under the Washington Monument and we had a perfect view of the fireworks. We also made it easy for everyone to spot the physics students in the crowd as Jamie provided us with diffraction grating glasses and made the fireworks look even better.

Fiona Muir

The rest of the four day weekend was just spent relaxing and taking a break from the early mornings and daily commutes that we’ve all gotten (almost) used to. On Friday, I headed off the Newseum and managed to find a couple of people I knew who I didn’t even know were in the DC area. It becomes an even smaller world when everyone’s looking for somewhere air conditioned in this heat! On Sunday, a few of us visited the Folklife festival on the mall and the huge selection of Indian, Hungarian and lots of other kinds of food was definitely the highlight. While looking round the various stalls and attractions, we thought we were just listening to a tattoo artist talk about his work until we saw the stack of waivers on his table and had the slightly strange experience of watching a girl get a tattoo in a tent in the middle of the mall. Sunday also brought the news that Andy Murray had won Wimbledon as the first British champion in 77 years and, from what I could tell, the surprised celebrations in Britain were only one step down from 4th of July in DC!

Week 2: Getting Used to Life in DC
June 24-28, 2013

My second week in DC has flown by, a huge amount of reading, quite a bit of writing and still managing to find some time to have fun!

On Saturday I sorted out my last few “arriving in America” errands and am now fully prepared to take on life in the USA. In the evening, I met Jamie, Darren and Ro and went to the cinema. I was able to make my friends at home pretty jealous as the movie isn’t out yet in the UK and they really wanted to see it. Katherine and I hit the shops in the city on Sunday, trying to avoid the heat by moving from one air conditioned building to the next as quickly as possible. When the heat finally got too much for us, we went to get some food and ended up finding the best fries I think I’ve ever had.

Fiona MuirMonday meant back to work and back to the books. Emily and I are still working our way through the reading list we made of books about women in physics. It’s great to realise that there actually were other female physicists out there – not just Marie Curie! We’re summarising and evaluating everything we’ve been reading so we’ve got a big bank of information to look back on when we’re working on our final product. We’ve been getting through so many books that we made a trip out to the University of Maryland libraries on Wednesday to pick up some more. The campus is great but absolutely huge and carrying round bags of books in the sun got tiring pretty quickly. After coming back to the ACP and recovering from our expedition, we got straight back in to reading and writing summaries of what we’d picked up.

On Thursday evening there was a reception at ACP with the board of the American Institute of Physics. It was so interesting to be able to talk to the wide range of very impressive people there and everyone was so passionate about what they do. It was also very reassuring when nobody seemed at all fazed when they asked me about my plans once I graduate and I admitted that I have no idea and am enjoying constantly changing my mind!

Week 1: Hitting the Ground Running
June 17-21, 2013

After a couple of weeks delay, I’ve finally arrived in DC and I’m so excited to spend the rest of the summer here!

I flew in from cold, rainy London on Sunday and quickly got settled at the dorms, met my roommate Jamie and some of the other interns and headed out into DC for the first of many trips to Target for things I had forgotten. After some more time getting to know everyone, I realised that I’d been awake for nearly 24 hours and that I should probably try to get some sleep so that I wasn’t too jet lagged for my first day of work.

On Monday, I had my first experience on the DC metro and blindly followed everyone else (experts at the journey to the American Center for Physics) as they led the way. After being introduced to the SPS staff, I went up to the History Center and Library on the floor above and got to know my way around. I also met Emily, the research assistant that I’m working with this summer, and Greg, my supervisor. Having missed two weeks, it was straight to work researching and finding information for our project. The end result will be guides for teachers and students on the topic of Women and Minorities in Physics and the Allied Sciences and there’s plenty of information out there – we just need to be able to find it!

That night, we went out to get Mexican food and as we were walking, tried not to be amazed with how casually everyone else was walking past the White House and all the other famous landmarks, while I’m stopping every five steps to take photos.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were spent reading and summarizing articles and books about women in physics, as well as finding out more and more about the city and making the most of my eight weeks in the US. After work on Thursday, I headed out to one of the farmers’ markets in DC with Christine, having a look at everything that was on offer.

If the first week is anything to go by, my summer here is going to be very busy, with a combination of hard work and lots of fun and I can’t wait!


Fiona Muir

I'm Fiona Muir and I just finished my second year at University College London studying Physics. While I'm at University I write for the science section of our student magazine and have started learning British Sign Language. In the summer before I moved to London, I spent 2 months working at the Cockcroft Institute in Warrington, England using various coding languages to model the first section of their linear accelerator, ALICE.

I've always been interested in sharing and teaching science in a more informal atmosphere and furthered my interest by volunteering at Catalyst Museum of the Chemical Industry while I was a teenager. In my free time, I love music and cooking and always want to try as many new foods as possible.

Fiona Muir

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