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2003 SPS National Interns
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Melissa Hanafee Melissa Hanafee
Purdue University, IN

Internship: ComPADRE Student Collection
Online Journal
Week of August 1, 2006 Week of July 11, 2006 Week of June 20, 2006
Week of July 25, 2006 Week of July 4, 2006 Week of June 13, 2006
Week of July 18, 2006 Week of June 27, 2006  
Where are they now?

September 26, 2007

Greetings everyone!

When I got back home, I hit the ground running. I got hired at a company that makes Braille books and computer programs for blind and disabled users. My first job was to help them turn all the physics GRE test material into Braille! (Its not as easy as it sounds--written Braille is like a whole other language unto itself, with different rules from regular English. On top of that, mathematics Braille (aka Nemeth Braille) is entirely different from English Braille.)

After an intense 9 months of study, I was certified by the Library of Congress as a Braille transcriber in English Braille, and now I'm working on trying to get Nemeth certified. In the meantime, I've helped translate GRE materials, SATs, ISTEPs, school textbooks (usually science, chemistry and computer programming), and every tax form you could think of. gh also came with a program called MathSpeak, and I enjoyed being a tester for that. (The main idea of MathSpeak was to come up with a foolproof, unambiguous way of reading out really complicated equations to blind students.)

In my personal life, I still work with the Humane Society and foster bunnies when I can. In the past year my sister Allison and I have become a part of Aphelion Designs, a jewelry company started by my sister Carla (student at Purdue, my roommate). We're turning a good profit and starting to enter shows, and its my hope that we'll have a physical store in two or three years to complement our online store.

Several of my friends moved to California and my dearly beloved is looking to head out that way too, so I may have a whole new round of stuff to talk about next time. :) Otherwise, I'm just trying to keep up some basic fluency in Japanese and Spanish, and thinking about taking some programming classes. (I think the attention to detail that I've developed at gh would be a boon to the debugging process.) ;)

I hope life is treating you to all its variety! Enjoy it. :)


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Date: August 1, 2003

Week Eight

Another great week! On Tuesday, we went to the Capitol Building for pictures, and later to a hearing on funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Several sets of scientists came to offer testimony, and they showed a brief, well-done video presentation. It was interesting to see a comparison of research funding provided by NIH, NSF and the DOE. (The first two have been rising like exponential curves, where the DOE funding is almost a straight line, declining in recent years.) A visiting scientist later told us that in the past, hearings like this have worked, but at that time, the government was looking at a budget surplus. Now, we’re going into the funding debate with a budget deficit, so maybe it won’t be as effective. It was really good to see how the politics behind science actually work, even if it was a bit daunting.

Wednesday was a chance to see a new bar/restaurant called the 94th Aero Squadron. This is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been! It’s a large place – part restaurant, part bar, part chateau. Its decorated a la WWII Air Force, with biplanes out front as well as over the dance floor! There is an area out back for dining al fresco, just across from the airstrip, you can watch small biplanes come in to land. It blew my mind when the bartender told me that they were having a blues band contest that night – it just seemed so out of place.

I reverted to my night hours this weekend and went to see the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial (upon which they are just finishing restorations) at around 3am on Saturday night. The weather was very nice, stiff breeze, broken cloud cover. I think I like the Jefferson Memorial a bit more than the Lincoln Memorial. Its circular, well lit, has cooler quotes carved on the walls, and has more space/trees around it. It’s also right on the river, so you can sit on the steps and watch the ships and rowing teams. Sunday was great – Tony’s in-laws had all of us over for dinner. Some of Tony’s co-workers and supervisors were there, Liz and her family, and all the interns, so there was a full house! They took great care of us though – the food was Superb and so was the company. Tony’s mother-in-law is quite a talented artist, and there were several shadowboxes on the walls as well as freehand drawings. It was a great night. ^_^

On Monday we’re all going out to Lebanese Taverna for dinner – one more new experience! I’ll let you know how it goes in the next post. :-)

Current mood: semi-tired
Current music: Rob Zombie, The Sinister Urge

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Date: July 25, 2003

Week Seven

Time's they be a-changin' they don't never stand still….

Continued the beginning of the week with my dearly beloved, stopping to see the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and a few more restaurants in the Dupont Circle area. Oh man, if you haven't seen the diamonds at the MoNH, Go Now! In an adjacent room to the diamonds, they have tons of jewelry and gems on display, from emeralds the size of my mouse to faceted topazes the size of my head. It was beautiful. On another floor is an exceptionally well done fossil/evolution of life exhibit which took up most of the rest of our time. I really need to go back.

Unfortunately the evils of Amtrak forcibly whisked Nathan away on Wednesday, so it was business as usual until Friday, when at the invitation of Tracy and his friend Yasmeen I had dinner with interns from Friends of the Earth, the World Resources Institute and EnviroCitizen. We went to the Dubliner, which is one of the oldest Irish pubs in DC. Food was good, conversation was better, learned a lot, took a few emails. All in all a very good time. :-) The rest of the weekend was pleasantly low-key. The roof has been re-opened (Vive La Resistance!), so I spent time up there reading, watching sunsets, and waiting for people to go inside so I could sing at the top of my lungs. ;-) I reverted to my normal hours for the weekend, which left me wandering around until about 8am, then coming back and sleeping until sunset. (Fun for the weekend, but Monday……ouch.)

Current mood: happy-go-floaty
Current music: Aerosmith

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Date: July 18, 2003

Week Six/Mid-term Presentations

This was a high-speed week. Following a frenzied bout of effort towards our projects, we all prepared and presented our work to date as a formal event on Friday. Several people from each of our projects/institutions were there to cheer us on and help to answer audience questions, which was quite pleasant. Very profitable in networking terms as well - I ended up talking with Tony and his boss at NASA about pro's and con's of using tungsten shielding in the "prototype tricorder" they're making, relaxing a bit with Dr. David Seiler from NIST (also a Purdue University graduate :-) ), and emailing with Dr. Theodore Hodapp, Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at NSF. It makes me nervous just to look back over the list! I wasn't nervous at the time though - must have been the business suit. ;-) Later in the afternoon we got to tour the American Geophysical Union building (Dupont Circle) and meet some of the scientists working there. The place is striking - large and impressive samples of stone and crystals are on display. Even the check-in desk is a giant, polished slab of petrified wood. Once settled comfortably in the hexagonal conference room, we discussed AGU's programs, its online publications, and some of Phillip's work there, as well as viewed presentations on EarthData (leader in airborne imaging, mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)) and START (System for Analysis, Research and Training, which is aimed at coordinating global efforts related to climate change).

After this full day, a few of us decided to hang out at Afterwords. (It's a cafe attached to a bookstore. Get it?) I left a little early to meet up with my boyfriend, Nathan, who after a delay of about 14 hours, finally made it to DC and me. ^_^ So, this weekend was full - Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Art Gallery (they're hosting a DaVinci!!!), and the Genome Exhibition in the Arts and Industries building. (On Tuesday we plan to hit the Museum of Natural History (they're hosting 7 of the largest and clearest diamonds in the world) and possibly the American History building. We went around the monuments and had lunch in Union Station at America Grill. We also had a good time hanging out with Justin and Jeff for dinner and a movie. We went to an Ethiopian restaurant called Zed's, around M St. and 30th St. What a great experience! The food was wonderful, and eaten without silverware. Instead we used great rolls of spongy, pancake-like flatbread. While waiting to be seated, we spent time looking at the pictures covering all the walls in the front hall, depicting famous people who'd eaten there. (We found the Elder Bushes, the Clintons, Mike Tyson, John Malkovich, Clint Eastwood and a host of other actors and politicians.) We saw *Pirates of the Caribbean* afterwards, and I laughed myself silly when I wasn't staring fascinatedly at the screen. Johnny Depp turns in an absolutely stellar performance, very different from his other movies. I can't say he stole the show, as several of the other actors and actresses did wonderfully, but none could quite match the chaotic allure of Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow. The story was decently tight, and the special effects were totally rockin'. The effect of moonlight on the cursed is impressive enough in the one scene in the commercials for PoC (and is the first time we are introduced to it in the movie), but imagine tightly choreographed swordfights through a moonlight-dappled cave, so we're rapidly switching between skeleton and human. It was great!

I look forward to enjoying the next few days with Nathan, then diving in to the work of collecting some more research opportunities, this time in industry and government. Cheers!

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Date: July 11, 2003

Week Five

Another week, another journal entry.

The time is going so fast. I can’t believe that we only have a week until presentations. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been learning a great deal this week. Aside from planning out the aforementioned presentation, I’ve been in several small meetings planning out an SPS questionnaire about summer research opportunities and students’ thoughts on them. Planning a set of good questions is harder than I thought it would be, but I think we’re pretty much done with that. (The trick is to ask the question in such a way that the answer will be statistically significant, rather than open to wide interpretation.) As this was going on, I learned/am learning Dream Weaver, and am making my first web pages for the questionnaire submission form. (Yes, my first web pages. I take another (tiny) step towards true geekdom.)

The tour of NASA-Goddard on Monday was unbelieveable, given that I've wanted such a thing since about the age of 11. Several clean rooms and filter walls, and much to my shock I was actually able to use some of what I knew from my engineering endeavors to answer questions about AC and air pressure in said rooms. Total dork stuff, but it made me feel good. We talked a great deal with Dr. Trombka the most about upgrades for the Hubble and a few cosmology experiments slated for the upcoming few years. (I had heard his name from the VERITAS project at Purdue, and he is an absolute joy to talk to.)

The weekend was again wonderful, as Tracy Schwab arranged a Friday night dinner and tour of art galleries in the Dupont Circle area. Dinner was lovely, as was the company, and we ended up at a gallery displaying several works from a pair of artists. The one I remember and enjoyed most was Nancy Magnus, who had several canvases (pencil on paper or pencil and ink on paper) that reminded me very much of H. G. Giger. Parts were obviously inspired by aerial views of cities, and other parts were of biology origins, like circulatory systems, nerve networks, etc. Her works were more less surreal and more abstract than Giger’s, but still in (what I would consider) the same aesthetically pleasing vein. Her canvases were quite finely detailed considering their size, and invited the viewer to really get up close, nose-to-nose with the canvas.

After art, I chose to wander in a generally homeward direction and see what I could find along the way. In the area near the art galleries, I enjoyed looking at the houses and buildings, which are obviously old, and obviously maintained by some very rich people. The foliage was grown nicely thick around blocks of houses, with mathematically precise flower gardens out front. The bridges are of special note, being quite beautifully carved, and of stone as opposed to just concrete. Further along, I came to the general area of M St. and 31st St., and there stopped to just look around for a bit. The area is older buildings, cared for nicely, but full of little fun restaurants, small shops of all kinds, and a 3-story Barnes and Nobles. I passed an Ethiopian restaurant that I want to return to when Nathan comes to town. (And I heard later from Justin that the same restaurant was recommended to him.) The sheer density of opportunities in the area was wonderful, and yet the whole place has a very friendly air, a little less frantic than the Adams-Morgan area, but still offering a great deal of fun.

Tearing myself away from the Barnes and Nobles before I could make myself their indentured servant-for-life, I later came upon a Loews Theater along the river. The theater itself looked like some warehouse out of an early Terminator movie (which added to its allure in my book). Across the street is a small area like a grassy yard/park with several benches and a thick wall along the river, dotted with people looking over the water. It was currently the last gasp of day and quite dark, with just a streak of orange and pink on the horizon, so I was able to see a line of large lights coming across the river, looking like basketball-sized fireflies. It turned out to be a group of about 8 people, each in a kayak with a light on the front. I ended up walking along the river and came to the Four Seasons Hotel and a few other ritzy places, and walked by anchored pleasure boats and glittering outdoor dining areas with lines like Ticket Master could only dream of. The image that sticks in my mind most is a finely dressed young man and young lady in a small but expensive boat, drinking white wine while 3 miniature dachshunds climbed around the seats, almost looking like they were going to jump out into the water.

Alas the evening ended all too soon, and as I kept walking I quickly came to the Watergate Hotel and past it to return to International Hall. The rest of the weekend was not quite as full of movement, but was definitely full of ideas. I made a recipe out of my new cookbook, which turned out quite lovely. (For the crew at home, I made a salad dressing, which is somewhat similar to Tony’s at Kokoro’s. Ginger, mmm.) I also went from page 289 to page 910(end) of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, on loan from Justin. T’was a fun read, as Neal has an almost Animaniacs-like grasp of the absurd, paired with a sarcastic wit. The book covered mathematics, cryptology from WWII to present, philosophy, banking, cyberpunk and quite a great deal of action and fun side trips. Highly recommended for all geeks and geek wanna-be’s out there, you’ll like it. (Thank you, Justin!) I hope all of you playing the home game are having as much fun as I am, be sure to write/email me and let me know! ;-)

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Date: July 4, 2003

Week Four

Another crazy week. :-) Admittedly, the 4th of July stands out the most, as I got to watch the fireworks from the roof of the dorm. A bunch of people started a cookout up there, and Justin joined me eventually. He and Jeff originally planned to see the fireworks from the Mall, but security didn't let Justin through, over the issue of a 4in. pocket knife. (I can't believe these people, they talk about the Mall being filled to capacity, but it wouldn't be if they didn't ring it with concrete barriers and *make* walls.) Phillip's friend, Amanda, stayed the weekend, and she was nice to talk to, though she and Phillip spent most of their time out and about.

Did some letter writing and a lot of reading this weekend. (Justin is lending me *Cryptonomicon* by Neal Stephenson.) Finished it up by trying a new restaurant for dinner (Luna Grill, between CPK and Dupont Circle) and enjoying myself up on the roof. (The weather was *perfect* and I had my CD's, so I listened and watched the moon come out. Sunday night I watched the thunderstorm come in.)

Workwise, I am making my first webpages/submission templates for use on the SPS site, and I think I like it. :-) Dream Weaver is relatively straight-forward, and I also have Ashley and Phillip as well as my bosses to talk to about it. Also spent some time going over a large spreadsheet's worth of undergraduate research opportunities and writing a summary report as well as hunting down current science articles for the SPS website. On Monday, Tony is going to take us on a tour at NASA. I can't wait! :-)

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Date: June 27, 2003

Week Three

This was a somewhat low-key workweek. There were several meetings (staff, ComPADRE, phone, etc.), and I scheduled future meetings with even more people, but there was none of the late-into-the-night equipment running that I'm used to.

Saturday was a blast, despite its early start. With Gary leading the way, all 7 interns and 3 extra guests got to go to the Smithsonian. We wandered all over the Air and Space building, looking at the rockets, satellites, space suit displays (which also had a tribute to scifi in their section on the development of flight suits), and flight simulators (which had a line like King’s Island on Spring Break!). Later, we saw two shows in the planetarium (and demonstrated our geek prowess by instantly recognizing Lawrence Fishburne as one of the voice actors. We then snickered a great deal over "Morpheus" telling us about modern telescope technology and how much information we've gotten from “these wonderful machines”.)

Later in the day, we attended a folk festival on the lawn in front of the Smithsonian, but the REALLY cool part was the Carnival! There is apparently a large Carnival community in DC, and their version of Mardi Gras was this weekend! (You can check part of it at www.dcCaribbenCarnival.com) So we smiled and followed the floats and danced in the streets and had a grand old time. We spent most of our time following a float representing Barbados, as they had the largest, loudest sound system as well as about 60 decorated dancers. Some were doing the mud-covered thing, some had sparkle all over, some were costumed, and everyone was dancing. A truly fun time despite being a white girl who can’t dance. :)

Sunday was given over to reading a new book and finishing Stephen Hawking’s The Theory of Everything. (Thank you Daddoo!) Tomorrow Justin and Jeff are going to give the rest of us an afternoon tour of NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology), and my boss will be back in town after spending the weekend both moving into a new apartment and traveling out of state to see family.

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Date: June 20, 2003

Week Two

A very full week! Ashley, Stacey, Phillip and I all got to go to Capitol Hill and present at the Convention for National Science Funding. Met Congressman Ehlers, the heads of NSF, and interesting professors from many universities. Dr. Kent Golden, from Utah is a mathematician, but he has Indiana Jones-like stories of trips to both the North and South Poles studying ice layers and matching them to mathematical models! Definitely a fun night. We all had dinner at Union Station on Wednesday night, and it was breathtaking. The building has been restored and is absolutely beautiful, with all the statuary and gold leaf and multi-tier shopping levels (each one for a different income bracket!).We ate at the American Grill, which has a meal from each state and was Oh! So tasty!

Thursday and Friday were devoted to editor’s meetings for the ComPADRE website, which answered many of my questions, but gave me several more about the greater structure of it all. Friday night began my weekend reading date. Justin gave me the gift of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which is an excellent read thus far. (For those at home, if you were to morph cyberpunk/William Gibson with samurai with the Matrix with the irreverent humor of the Animanics, you’d get this book.) SATURDAY = HARRY POTTER! It took me about 16 hours to read the book, cover-to-cover, right after I bought it. I grovel in my unworthiness before J.K. Rowling. No spoilers here, but I can say that the Weasley twins absolutely rock, and there is a LOT more British English in this book. Sunday was a bit more low-key, I played pool with Justin and did laundry, and then we wrestled for about 1.25 to 1.5 hours. ;-P (I have pics. All your bases are belong to me!) It was a great time, and at the moment I’m feeling energized and ready for this week. 

Ever the outreach advocate, Melissa the physics intern demonstrates the laws of force and gravity to fellow
dorm-mate and political intern, David.
All your bases are belong to me! Melissa demonstrates to Justin that a childhood spent with several siblings imparts a greater advantage to a wrestler than relying on size alone. Justin concedes the point.

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Date: June 13, 2003

Week 1: Conference on Increasing Diversity and Retention in Geosciences

People from all over the country attended the diversity conference, as well as people from the physics offices here in DC, and had as wide a range of opinions. The part that surprised me was how well everyone managed to put forth and respectfully debate very diverse ideas.

I was especially surprised by finding that there were 2 VERY opposite camps on the goals of what our jobs as physics teachers are. The main part that sticks in my mind was hearing Commander Lawrence Norris (Naval Academy, NSBP) say that, "My job is to produce physics Ph.D.'s" and to have Bernie Khoury (Executive Officer of AAPT) violently disagree in favor of educating everyone through HS, then letting people choose if they want to continue a science education. I guess I was surprised because I thought the one was symptomatic of the other, that they weren't so separate that separate programs would have to be considered for each. I really got an education on how much effort goes into effective teaching! (It makes me doubly impressed by those who do this work.)

My favorite ideas (in terms of engaging my interest in participating) were put forth by those who wanted to involved entire *communities* (parents, businesses) in physics learning (i.e. Juan Bruciaga) and those who had teaching styles that REALLY linked physics into the real world in a holistic way. (i.e. course: The Physics of Cats, by Patricia Allen).

On a personal level, I loved feeling so involved! I got to present some of the results of my discussion groups to the entire assembly and nearly all the representatives were quite willing to spend time talking to me. The only hard part was the length of the day (start 6 am, 1hr commute, program start 8am, end program 7:30pm, 1 hr home. left me about 1 hr free per day) On the other hand, they fed us Excellently, and as Jim Stith (VP of Physics Resources for AIP)said, "One thing you don't have to practice here is being miserable!*wink*" He is very right! :)

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