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[an error occurred while processing this directive] AGU 2006 Conference in San Francisco

By Wiliam Zinicola, SPS Reporter & 2006 SPS National Intern
University of North Carolina - Wilmington, NC

SPS Reporter William Zinicola  
William Zinicola  

Thirty seven thousand feet up and moving around five miles a minute is an interesting way to start a day, especially if it began on the sandy shore of the Atlantic and ends on the rocky coastline of the northern Pacific. I was well on my way to San Francisco for the 2006 AGU conference. This conference has one of the largest gatherings of scientists, with its never ending displays of new research and cutting edge technology, there is something for everyone. This year I had the privilege to attend but not just as a spectator, I was also presenting a poster on my summer research experiences with the detection of low energy neutral atoms for NASA.  I knew we must be getting close as I looked out the window at the snowy caps of the Rocky Mountains. My camera clicked franticly to capture the bird’s eye view and a taunt seat belt strap was the only thing keeping me in my seat.

I arrived in San Francisco around lunch time and had the whole day to get my bearings and do a little sightseeing.  After checking in and grabbing a late lunch, I headed down to the bay area to take some pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, relax in the park, and go over some information for my poster presentation tomorrow afternoon. Eight o’clock came fast and I was exhausted especially since it was really eleven to me, which was great because I had a big day tomorrow starting at five o’clock in the morning.

The front desk rang with my wake up call and I jumped out of bed, got dressed and was at the Moscone West building to register at 6:45. Everyone, regardless of question and answer time, had to have their poster up by 8 o’clock to maximize the viewing opportunity. NOW, I was nervous. As I am setting up my poster I am realizing that most of the presenters have not just graduated with a BS degree like me, but are established researchers and graduate students from either research facilities or universities. Either way I was just excited that the Society of Physics Students and the American Institute of Physics offered to fund my trip and grant me the opportunity to partake in a convention of such magnitude. There were about 14 thousand people registered to attend this conference and the real buzz on the poster floor was that former Vice-President Al Gore was to give a talk Thursday on “Climate Change: the role of science and the media in policy making”. When I heard that Al Gore was attending, the gravity of this conference truly hit me.

The Moscone Center, San Fransico, CA  
The Moscone Center, San Fransico, CA  

I spent the morning hours examining the posters, conversing with the researchers, and of course drinking coffee. It seems to me that the norm amongst scientists is not just to drink coffee, but to consume mass amounts of this precious caffeinated liquid. You might as well call it the fuel in which the scientific world runs on. The conference spans five days, Monday to Friday and is broadly broken in different fields of research each taken place on a different day.  I was on Monday along with all the other Space physics research displays. This was great because Space physics is an interest of mine and a possible graduate research direction. So as I walked up and down the isles of posters I got to see an immense amount of research that is being performed in this field of study, talk to the researchers, and make note of the research facility and/or university in which they were being performed at. It was amazing to see that many people were involved in research that was very similar to mine and some were involved in instrument design that would possibly help us move forward in our research. Though their goals may have been different from ours, it was still very interesting to see how they go about dealing with the neutrals and perhaps trying another technique will be beneficial to our success.

The time quickly came for me to stand by my research and entertain any questions that one may have. My poster had the same flow as my final presentation and was practically the same with just two slides added. One was of the history and specifics of the LENA detector and the other slide was just a quick overview of how the XPS works with a few graphs of our data. The main point of my presentation here at the conference was as follows. This is NOT MY research and I was extremely straight forward in emphasizing that. There were many scientists here who are actually deeply involved in this exact project and many more who are well aware of this research so I must clearly state that I was a SPS summer intern working on a small part of this research and that this poster is what my summer job entailed. This was imperative for not to offend anyone and step on any toes.  I gave my speech to anyone that was interested and there were many who were. The most common questions were, why are we doing this, what were some of the problems I ran into, and where do they stand now since I have left.  The first two were easy to answer and the last one I could give a rough estimate to since Dr. Coplan and I have been exchanging emails keeping me updated on their progress. It felt amazing to present research that I have worked on and have people of that status interested in and engaging in conversation with me as well as exchanging ideas on further directions of study.  This experience just reassured me that I actually am pursuing my life’s ambitions.  By the time the day was over it was passed 7 o’clock and I was mentally and physically exhausted. It was a long, yet an unbelievable day.

Tuesday was a day of “relaxation”. I was done with my active participation in the conference and was now just a spectator. I woke up early and snagged a bagel and, believe it or not, a cup of coffee from this little bagel shop atop one of the many hills of San Francisco that over looked the bay and skimmed through the AGU directory for interesting poster presentations. I hopped the shuttle from the hotel to Moscone and grabbed another cup of coffee that they were handing out before I went inside. Many universities had booths set up on the top floor of the conference hall and I had the opportunity to talk to the head of graduate admissions at The University of Virginia, The University of New Hampshire, and The University of Wisconsin about the possibility of pursuing graduate studies and possible research directions in geophysics. This is something that I would have never been able to do in an hour an a half anywhere else. After which, I spent the day roaming the floors and the seeming endless amount of poster presentations, though Tuesday’s topics were different then yesterday and not really related to space physics it was still extremely interesting none the less. I left in the early afternoon to have time to wonder around the town a bit and get prepared for my red eye flight to Denver Wednesday morning which will connect to Wilmington.

I was upset that I was not going to be there for Al Gore’s talk but the chance of me actually getting tickets amongst a crowd of 14 thousand people was, well, would actually be the number tickets available over the number of people trying to attend; assuming all fairness in ticket sales and what not.  But I was out here spending other people’s money so I did not want to be greedy and stay too long.

My flight home was not as exciting as the one out there, though I was looking forward to arriving in Wilmington and just relaxing for a day.  I did a large amount of running around out there and travel really wears me out. I had two connections to get home which made the trip much longer than the one out there but I finally got on a plane that was suppose to be landing in Wilmington.  Well at least it was SUPPOSE TO be landing in Wilmington, but as we flew over, the airport was completely fogged out. It was so bad that the ground was looking no different than the ocean except for a faint hint of light in some spots but not enough to make out our position to land. So we were forced to reroute to Myrtle Beach. The only thing one could say was, “Well it’s better then Raleigh, at least it’s closer”. So we landed there with no problems and the airline was in the process of organizing transport to Wilmington but they were taking forever and having many problems getting buses on such sort notice. So another passenger and I split a rental car and drove the hour or so back home; a crazy end to an amazing trip and a wonderful learning experience. I walked in my door just past midnight, a long, long day of travel. If I would had boarded a boat I would have taken every means of transportation possible in one day to get across the country. I hailed a cab to the train station, then caught a train from San Francisco to Oakland airport, hopped a shuttle bus to the terminal, boarded three different planes, and then finally purchased a rental car to drive home. It was a scene right out of the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

I would like to thank Liz and Gary, and all of the AIP staff for allowing me the opportunity to take this amazing trip to one of the largest scientific conferences in the world. I highly recommend that they keep trying to fund trips like this for as many summer interns as possible. It is an unbelievable learning experience. THANK YOU!

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