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[an error occurred while processing this directive] 2007 SPS National Interns
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Andrea Roma Andrea Roma
Green River Community College
Internship: American Association of Physics Teachers
Online Journal
Week of July 30, 2007 Week of July 9, 2007 Week of June 18, 2007
Week of July 23, 2007 Week of July 2, 2007 Week of June 11, 2007
Week of July 16, 2007 Week of June 25, 2007 Week of June 4, 2007
Week of July 30, 2007


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Week of July 23, 2007
This past week was nonstop activity, mostly work related, but with very little actual work being done. Monday was the day we practiced our presentations. I wasn't really sure mine would stack up to the others, because my work was a bit different than theirs. Less scientific and technical, and more open ended research. But I had plenty to say, in fact a bit too much because I ran over by 4 minutes. Outside of spell checking, staying focused, and highlighting what I needed to go straight to, I was good to go.


Toufic Hakim, who had just gotten back from a trip to Iran with our high school US Physics Team the day before, took us out to dinner after the practice runs. One of the things I really like about the folks over at all parts of AIP is the way they went out of their way to reach out and make us feel like we belong. He asked a lot of questions about what we had done, and where we were going next. One thing to note about this point in our internship is that at the beginning we met so many people, they all sort of ran together. Now that were almost done, we know and understand who they are and what they do, but it still doesn't make them intimidating, because we are familiar with them now.

Presentation day- Heck of an experience, top to bottom. I was so proud of our group, they were so professional. You'd have never guessed they looked so nervous and worried the day before (or was that just me...?). Toufic and Rob were very busy that morning getting ready to go to Greensboro, but they made sure they were there for my talk. This meant a lot, because I needed to make sure they knew what I'd been doing all summer. I had been reading my note cards over and over, determined to stay on task. I only used them once when I was up there. I believe I was better during the questions at the end, because I could respond spontaneously from the heart. A lot of very good questions. Gary had to end that part of the session because we had a schedule to stick to.

This day was by no means over. After lunch, L. Worth Seagondollar gave a talk about his experiences as a student working on the Manhattan Project. He told a great story and kept it from the point of view of a young student who found himself part of a very big project. It was about a kid who worked every day with armed guards watching over him, who was standing in Enrico Fermi's office when a man walked in, wrote the critical mass number of uranium-235 on a chalkboard, and walked out. He was approached and congratulated by Robert Oppenheimer for failing to blow up a sphere of plutonium while tapping it with a hammer. On the day of the test, he wore homemade protective glasses of cut blue glass and cardboard.

There was a gentleman in the audience who asked him twice if he recognized the history he was part of when the test explosion was going off. His answer was that he remembered thinking that he'd forgot his blue glasses, because the light was so blinding (this while looking away). Later he realized, but not right then. I approached him after his talk, and thanked him. I said he'd clearly done this many times, because he knew exactly what he wanted his audience to feel, and was very effective at making it happen. I said that I only hope there is a point in my life where I can look back on something I was a part of and realize it was history. He thanked me and told me he enjoyed my presentation. Best compliment I had all day.

We finally got a picture of all eight interns together that day, then went to a local high school to try to get a football through goalposts using a large piece of spandex. Never mind the story behind that, it was just funny to watch Gary hit the dirt repeatedly before having to take me back to ACP, because I had a meeting that afternoon with Valerie and Rob. They would like me to continue doing projects for them from home involving student member benefits, and we needed to discuss some specific ideas. We also decided to attend the high school committee meeting to get some more ideas from the teachers. The day ended with a spontaneous celebration in Enrique and Ryan's dorm, since one of the biggest stresses was over now.

On Wednesday I had to modify my presentation and put it in poster form for the SPS poster presentation this Sunday. I got some work on my excel file done, but not much. Thursday was the NASA tour, and dinner at Fred Dyla's house, and Friday morning I was off to Greensboro, so this was the day I needed to make sure I had everything left to be done under control. Dinner at Fred's house was interesting. He is quite a cook, I couldn't tell you what most of the food was, except very good. It was nice to get a chance to talk to Liz a bit, since I almost never see her, and it's always interesting to hear the conversations that go on at these gatherings. But the absolute highlight of the day, the week even (outside of meeting the fellow from the Manhattan Project), was the tour of the NASA Goddard Flight Center.

I believe I have gone on at length on previous journal entries about my past experiences with JPL and how it's affected my interest in space exploration, so we know this tour was just for me. We saw various types of equipment used to test satellites and cargo on everything from vibrations to acoustics to centripetal forces. We saw the room where all the mock equipment for the Hubble that is used to simulate modifications and repairs is kept and used. We saw several projects in different stages, but the most memorable of these was the components of the LRO, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. If you don t know anything about this mission, watch Base Camp Moon on the Science channel. It's On Demand if you have Comcast. It's about finding the best spot on the moon to set up a permanent base by analyzing the natural resources and figuring out where we can best find or produce water, needed not just for drinking, but for producing oxygen and hydrogen for fuel. This project is the very important first step to the next stage of space exploration, the investigation of the outer solar system. I did a report on this for one of my engineering classes, where the assignment was Engineering Challenges of the Future. Most of the fuel used in space missions involves breaking out of the earth's gravitational field, and the only way that a thorough exploration of the outer solar system can be practical is to use the resources of the inner solar system. I had a vision of future vehicles being built on the moon and Mars, using materials mined from the asteroid belt.

There was a point where we were in a room that contained on one side a mock up of the LRO, and our guide was pointing to the parts where different equipment went and what they did. The thing was covered with signatures of different people and groups who had been in there, including one from 60 minutes. Most of this information was in Jesus presentation and I'd also seen it when he was showing me the unfinished version of it, so I was only partially listening. My attention was on the other side of the room where the real LRO was being built. There it was, behind a curtain of clear plastic, up on a platform where 2 men wearing surgical type outfits including masks and gloves were very carefully going over it with alcohol and cotton swabs, cleaning and taping over every rivet hole and corner. It may sound boring to someone who did not realize what they were looking at, but it is an example of how much work, down to the minute detail, goes into a project like this. It is very important that every seal and connection is completely uncompromised by any foreign material in order to assure they can withstand the forces involved in all stages of space flight, and keep their equipment protected. We d just seen what kinds of testing these things go through. This piece was actually going around the moon, laying the groundwork for the biggest push into our solar system since man reached the moon in the first place, and I was maybe six feet from it. I could not stop staring.

Friday was about getting to the airport in time, then finding my fellow AAPT staffers and see what they needed me to do to get ready. After discovering the mall food court next to the hotel, then wandering around looking for familiar faces, I found Tiffany and Toufic having lunch. We talked a bit about the meeting and Annette brought me to where everyone was preparing for registration. So it was time to get to work. I'll cover the meeting as a whole next week.

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Week of July 16, 2007

What I've been doing this summer:

  • A lot of research on the state of science education in the U.S.- including:
    • A lot of organizations opinion on what needs to be done.
    • A lot of organizations (including colleges and universities) programs on what they are doing, both implemented and still planning.
    • A lot of abstracts, summaries, and reports on and from various conferences on education that have been held in the last 10 years.
  • Wrote brochure copy in two forms, one for students of science, the other for students of education. The idea is to get them to see the others point of view, with the intended result of producing an interest in science teaching. Then I try to guide them from science to physics by highlighting its common thread through all other disciplines.
  • Produced a PDF flier for high school teachers (college teachers can use it, too) to download, print, and give their students in order to demonstrate the range of possibilities of an education in physics.
  • Wrote a proposal and participated in meetings aimed at forging partnerships between SPS and AAPT. The idea is to find a way to foster a joint project that addresses both ends of the teacher/student dynamic in a single program aimed primarily at community colleges.
  • Compiled two excel files of community colleges, each over 350 long. One of them is CC's that offer transferable Associate degrees in teaching, and the other is CC's that have Physics departments. I also have another one with CC's that have any kind of Physics programs, but it is 1100 strong and the marketing folks might find that difficult to work with. It's up to them.
  • Wrote my project presentation summarizing everything above and below and the issues and motive behind them.

Things I'm still working on- For these two, I get to sit in on the Two Year College Committee and High School Committee meetings in Greensboro:

  • Designing a survey for educators of all levels that will generate useful answers regarding what programs and services AAPT can offer student members to guide and support them in the educational stages of their careers.
  • Brainstorm with the two year college folks and Gary about what format or process would be both feasible and helpful in coming up with a joint SPS/AAPT program geared towards them and their students.

This week outside of work:

Finished the Air and Space Museum on my 6th trip. I learned more about military strategy and the process of WW1 and WW2 and aviation's role in both of them than I ever did in any US history class. This went from a huge and costly learning experience in what doesn't work in WW 1, to WW 2, which was a war completely dominated by aviation fought primarily (by the time US was in it) over the seas in the South Pacific. But the best story of this last trip was another life is all about timing one. I normally go on Sundays, but since I had no supply gathering to do, and I knew this was my last weekend in DC (since I'm going to the summer meeting) I went on Saturday. I went earlier than usual, because I knew it was my last trip and I didn't want to miss anything. I had always regretted not being able to visit the Einstein Planetarium, since the shows there cost, and I am on a budget. I stopped there this time, and saw on the program guide that there is a free star show three times a week, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings at 11:30. It was 11:10 at that moment, so I got to go inside after all. This is not the good part of the story.

I sat near where the speaker was giving his talk, and knew all the answers, including what would have happened to Jupiter had it been a little bit larger, and why Venus is hotter than Mercury. After the show he said that I really know my astronomy, and I said I am a student of Physics and Engineering, and have a fascination for Astronomy. I told him about how my mother had worked for JPL, and that I saw the Voyager pictures when they were just coming in and saw the Shuttle Challenger land on its last trip before it blew up. He asked if I d seen the Cosmic Collisions show, and I said I can t because of the price. He told me to take a seat, the next show was starting in 5 minutes. It was a great show about the collisions that shaped our world from the ones in the sun's core to the ones that gave us our moon and the tides and wiped out the dinosaurs, to our impending collision with the Andromeda galaxy. I thanked him very much and told him I saw everything I love about physics in the interacting forces that shape everything from the smallest to the biggest. He told me to come back at 2:30 to see the Infinity Express show (the only other one they have). It was also a great show, more about the exploration of the universe and what we are looking for. After it was over, he asked me which one I liked better, and I said Cosmic Collisions, because there was more science in it. He asked if I d like to see it again. I said yes, thank you, and after it was over, I made a point to find him and thank him for making my day before going off to finish the history lesson of WW 2.

Sunday was the day for getting as much of the Museum of Natural History as I could. I d been there twice already, when I had followed the story of evolution that began with the organic chemistry that laid the foundations for microorganisms and left at the evolution of plant life from the edges of water to the creation of early forests. The explanations of the science behind every step in the process were very thorough, as usual. This was my last museum of my entire trip, so I made the decision to go as slow as I always do, and let go of what I don t get to. I walked out just as humankind was entering the scene, because it was time to go to Church, and I needed to refine my presentation for practice the next day. I'll be learning a lot about people (in a different context ) next weekend in Greensboro, anyway.

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Week of July 9, 2007

Over the past few weeks, I've accumulated some mental notes that I've been inspired to put in list form. I'll call it:

Ways I know I'm not in Auburn anymore (In case I need reminding...)

  • Watching birds come down out of trees and dig little holes in the ground to sit in on hot days. (Back home they hide in pine trees)
  • Feeling the moisture condense on you as you walk out the door in the morning. It's like a vapor trail in a cloud chamber, except those lucky little particles have no surface area for the vapor to stick to...
  • Having to drive two hours just to find the mountains.
  • Hearing sirens every 20 minutes during the day, and every hour during the night.
  • Hearing sirens and seeing a caravan of 10 police vehicles consisting of three motorcycles, four regular, and three black police cars with their back windows rolled down and sharpshooters looking through the sights of mounted sub machine guns go speeding by one day as I came out of the METRO.
  • Having there be any reason to be on the METRO in the first place.
  • And the biggest reason, the only one that is getting harder to deal with instead of easier: Not being able to hold my kids when I have to use my cell phone to say goodnight. Remind me again why I'm here..... (Insert theme of my first brochure-) Because you can make a difference in the future of our kids, and by definition (or association, or extrapolation...) the future of our country and our world.

Things that have always been so seemingly big and far away has been made so up close and reachable during my experiences here. Case in point- The senior management at AAPT were having a luncheon for Warren Hein to thank him for all he's done and wish him well at his new position with the National Science Foundation. It's something in the education department, and it has apparently been held by several members of AAPT. So I'm sitting at this very large table listening to people talking about everything he's done, all the people before him from AAPT that have gone to NSF, where they ended up, how important it is that the two organizations work together on science education issues, and a variety of related things. As lunch was winding down and people were going upstairs to get back to work, a fellow sitting across from me whose name I don't remember (he was someone in management) asked me how it was working with people holding such high positions in science education. I told him - 'You know, it's funny because it didn't really feel like I had been doing anything more than just sitting having lunch with a table full of regular people. And that is of course because it is exactly what I have been doing. It's not just the people, it's what they do. I ended up here because by the time I knew I could go, this was the only internship left. And I'm glad it ended up that way. I know what the others are doing is important. Doing outreach kits and working on summer camps makes a difference to kids, but it is something that I could do back home. Working in research labs I hope to do as an undergraduate back at the UW. When else could I ever get a chance to be involved with the people who are in a position to make a real difference in the long term sustained development of millions of kids across the country? There is nowhere else I'd rather have ended up.'

He seemed like that answer, which is good because I meant it. Sometimes life is all about timing (have I said that already? It seems to apply a lot). A line I read recently jumped into my head while thinking about this. -'I don't know that he's any bigger than the rest of us..' - Many different people can come and go in any one position, it's those people who have a fundamental respect for how they can use the position to do the most good that make the biggest difference in this world.

I intended to do a summary of what all I've done so far at work, but I'll save that for next week. There were some relevant things that happened off of the 5th floor I want to cover. My weekly trip to the Air and Space Museum on Sunday ended with a thorough exploration of all of the planets and various trips to them. As usual, those folks over at Smithsonian headquarters covered everything, but the thing that hit me the most was the teenage memories brought back by the section on Voyager II and it's fly by of the planet Uranus. My mom worked at JPL in 1986, and she and my aunt Elaine (who helped her get a job there) brought us to an open house that was for families of employees. One of the exhibits was a theater where they were showing pictures that had just come back from Voyager II. There were scientists there talking about the pictures and how terribly excited they were to have such clear pictures of the rings, but more so of the discovery of a large number small moons in side of the orbit of Miranda, the innermost of the 5 previously known moons. They ended up identifying 10 more from that mission. (Hubble later added another 12, bringing the total to 27). Standing in the Smithsonian looking at pictures I'd seen before I realized that I've had past experience being among ordinary people who by virtue of the position they'd put themselves in, were doing extraordinary things. But I had to leave it there, because it was time to leave for Church, which starts at 5:30, so I'll be picking it up at the comets next Sunday.

Wednesday was our SPS intern sponsored tour of NIST (National Institute of Standards in Technology). It was like I'd died and gone to scientific research heaven. First up was the microbiology lab, where nanoscale techniques were being used to study specific ways the anthrax virus attacks cells to produce the deadly effects it does. This project employed a graduate student chemist, a physicist, and a chemical engineer. My career goal is to get into nanotechnology applications to health care, so my day was already made (never mind the concert 4 of us had planned for after the tour). Next up was a tour and discussion of the future (using nanotechnology again, it's like this tour was tailored just for me) of semiconductors, a subject near and dear to my mother's heart because after JPL, and up until she died, she worked for Cypress Semiconductors. We actually got to walk by and see inside (from a distance, because they are in a zero particle zone) the nanolabs as we were on the way to see a particle accelerator that accelerates electrons to speeds very closely approaching the speed of light. The guy who ran it's shoes were awesome, saddle shoes straight out of the 50's. He had graphs that showed the beam degrading with time and said that after a few drinks, some of the researchers were sure they could see it when it was down to just one electron (further proof that I'm not crazy when I say that my physics homework always made more sense after three shots of Black Velvet). We saw a nuclear reactor for the last part of the tour, and got to see up close and personal a series of experiments being run by the resulting neutron beams. Most of them had to do with determining the properties of materials based on analyzing the results of bombardment with neutrons, and at least one had to do with analyzing the properties of the neutrons themselves. On the subject of experiences I may never have had a chance to do if I hadn't come out here, everything I saw that day was research that was on the forefront science.

I'd been wanting a chance to go to at least one concert this summer, since I normally do at least one back home. But every one I wanted to see there was playing in June or July, when I was here. I found a show in Colombia, MD that I knew would be good because I had already seen the headlining band with my daughter back in February at the Tacoma dome, and the opening band was one I hadn't seen, but had wanted to. It started 2 hours after the tour ended, so we left straight from NIST. As is typical with concert traffic, it took nearly an hour to get off the freeway once we were there, and by the time we were parked, the opening band, Staind, had already been on the stage for 10 minutes. I think the others were genuinely surprised at how fast I can move in heels, but in the end, we saw most of the opening show, and had a good (by lawn standards) spot for the rest of it. A good time was had by all, and special thanks to Katie for driving us all the way back to the dorms.

A Physics moment at the Air and Space Museum-

  • What is the electric potential across the moon Io when it becomes charged after entering Jupiter's magnetic field?
    400,000 volts
  • What is the maximum current between Io and Jupiter's ionosphere created by by this potential?
    25 million Amps
  • How much power will this generate (|P|=V*I)?
    10^13, or 10 trillion watts, producing radio waves exceeding 3 meters in wavelength....

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Week of July 2, 2007

Picking this up with the meeting at the American Chemical Society—It was a gathering of some of the biggest societies in science and their interns, and there were 4 groups represented there that day. American Institute of Physics, American Chemical Society, Project Kaleidoscope, and The American Society for Microbiology. Of the folks who weren't interns, many of them were from education departments. In the course of listening to what they do and what they'd been working on lately, I saw a number of common threads, not just between them, but with some of the goals we'd laid out for my work at AAPT and much of the research I'd done regarding them. The biggest was importance of reaching out to community colleges in the recruiting of science teachers as well as students of science in general.  

My own school offers transfer degrees in a number of science education areas, as well as support program for the students, but it apparently does not represent the norm. Last friday while searching for Community Colleges with education degree programs,  the American Association of Community Colleges sent me a file which listed less than 400. This represents less than a third of the total CC's in the US. I haven't checked yet how many of these had science related ones. I'll check on monday, but I know it was not all of them. I know our own current staff at Green River did a lot (and I mean a lot) of work putting our program together, including building consensus among CC's, universities, and our state legislature, but I did not know the roots until I read a presentation by Marv Nelson given at a conference in 1998 by the National Science Foundation. The conference was called-    Investing In Tomorrows Teachers:  The Integral Role of Two Year Colleges in the Science and Math Preparation of Prospective Teachers. All of the plans laid out for our school in Marv's presentation are ones I've seen in action at Green River in the form of ProjectTEACH, the IDS series, and how our Physics department is run (I suppose you could call our current department leader The Sorcerer's Apprentice). My work does not address specifically how to reach CC's that don't have programs like these, more to reach out to the students in these schools through other education programs and Physics departments in schools that don't have education programs. When a similar conference was held some six years later, the total CC's attending had more than doubled (it was closer to tripled, but I don't have the participants list handy, it's on my desk back at work). Despite this, though, the total between both conferences was 77, still a small percent of the total.  Our future Physics teachers are out there, and we need to find them in places we are not already reaching.  

Another common theme was the difficulty establishing student chapters at Community Colleges. On the surface, this may seem more of an issue for SPS (Society of Physics Students) than for AAPT, but considering most of the elementary and secondary teachers of science got their start as science students ( a fact I learned at this meeting), it is very relevant. Establishing SPS chapters at CC's has proved very difficult (again, my school does not represent the norm. I just got lucky, I suppose). One of the other two projects I'm working on now involves trying to find an alternate route for establishing access to AAPT and SPS programs for students of  these colleges without requiring a formal chapter. I can't really post potential details on an online forum at this point, but I can say that it would require collaboration between SPS and AAPT, that the leaders of both organizations are in discussions about possibilities, and that Gary and I would like to try to get on the agenda for the Two Year College Committee and the High School Committee meetings at the summer meeting in Greensboro. There is also a similar proposal we think would be a good way to reach high school students. SPS is not allowed to establish chapters in high schools at all, and we need to find ways to promote Physics as a possible major to them through several venues, including access to SPS materials. This is a good lead in to the third and by no means least (and hopefully not last) of my projects.  

The project that is the most front and center for me just now involves designing something for high school Physics teachers to use to convince students take Physics and consider it as a major. SPS has some good literature on identifying the kinds of careers a Physics major can get into. Mine would be supporting material in electronic form that could be easily downloaded and printed. I have a good start with the  Physics is Your Key to Endless Possibilities theme, but I got a little wrapped up in compiling and sorting the Community College lists for project 1, so I will spend next week refocusing on project 3.  

Outside of work-
I can't possibly cover everything, so I'll focus on the two biggest. Last saturday, five of us interns and one roommate went to the Appalachian mountains (I forget the name of the park) to do some hiking. The first hike brought us to a waterfall. After having ditched the trail in favor of the river ( a bit more work ), then rejoining the trail once they diverged, we were rather tired and hoped to stand under the waterfall. Turns out though we were above it, and it was across a canyon, so that wasn't going to happen. The trail back was all uphill, but the extended hot dog barbecue was enough rest for the next hike. I don't have much chance to do hiking back home, just with my Scouts, and the trails at Green River. Even then, I hadn't been to the top of a mountain since Snowbird in Utah when I was 10. (OK, I'd been to many mountaintops in the San Bernadino mountains as a teenager, but seriously, those are really just hills in my area)  My mother brought us to the mountains many times as kids, so this was a nice revival of childhood memories for me when we saw the view from 4000+ feet. I had no camera, so Justin took pictures for me to show the family back home. Enrique was reluctant to let me climb the rocks up there, but I herd them calling me. In the end, I got him (and the others) to follow and showed them a bit about rock climbing. I really did not want to go back down, it was the best I'd felt in a very long time, but you know, responsibility and all that.

Lastly would be the Fourth of July. I'd been looking forward to this since I knew I was coming to DC. The Independence Day Parade was very well done. It was not politically charged in any way, just a celebration of the history and diversity of our country. There was an impressive mix of groups from around the country as well as dancing and music from Central and South American countries, and even some from Indian and Asian countries. We went our separate ways for the afternoon, then reconvened at the dorms just as the National Mall was being cleared out and people were being sent into museums and government buildings because of high wind, thumping rain, and tornado warnings. It was a bit worrisome, but the news reported all would be past by 8. In fact, all was well by 7, it was just nature  putting on her own show for us. I was the only one besides Justin ready to go back at 8, because I wanted to see the concerts. So we ditched them and found the stage closest to the point of the fireworks and headed straight for the front. It was surprisingly easy to get to the front of the crowd, possibly because not everyone who left came back. I barley had to use any of the moves usually necessary to get there ( a couple of pocket laterals maybe, that's all). So when the fireworks started, we were maybe 10 feet from the main speakers where the score was blasting from. Spectacular show, it seemed like being right under it. I can't emphasize strongly enough the added dimension of feeling it as well as seeing it (and smelling it, we were pretty close).  

After the show, we went to the Lincoln memorial for some night pictures, and I showed Justin where Einstein was. We found the others gathered back at the dorms, and then it was time to go to sleep. We had work the next day, after all... .

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Week of June 25, 2007

Highlights of the week outside of work:

CNSF- Coalition for National Science Funding (or, showcase for why Congress should continue to fund NSF)
I remember that one thing we were supposed to try to do is meet congressmen and senators and be success stories for the National Science Foundation, but as soon as I got there, I was immediately sucked in by some of the incredible programs being put on display by their primary participants. The room was very crowded, so you either conceded not seeing anything and just went around meeting people, or you put yourself right next to the display tables and start reading and asking questions. So the bottom line is I spent much of the evening up against the tables. It was almost like working a concert crowd- use your shoulders to get to the front, then stay there, only in this case, you had to keep moving sideways to get from one display to the next (another lesson in applied fluid dynamics). Why waste time in the food line when we were going to eat later? There were some seriously fascinating projects on display there and I wanted to learn as much as I could. I read every word on any project that involved nanotechnology, but there were 3 other projects that stood out and demanded extensive questioning.

The first of these was a ground base telescope set to map out the Cosmic Microwave Background with a resolution that has not been possible in the past. I asked questions about how it worked, and what they hoped to learn from it. She had a lot on that, but I won t go into it.

The second was the Ice Cube experiment being built at the South Pole. I was drawn to it because, though considerably larger, it is the same basic setup as our (Green River CC s) Cosmic Ray Detector. While ours is searching for Ultra High Energy cosmic ray particles, the Ice Cube is a detector searching for High Energy neutrinos. It is buried in the ice because Neutrinos are the only particle that can pass through the earth. Once it reaches the ice, it causes the same kind of particle scattering that results in muon showers that our setup detects. I already knew the science behind the process, what I wanted to learn was the difference in how their equipment worked. Their PMT's were huge, and the guy had one there on display. He was happy to answer those questions because he usually never got past explaining the science to most of his visitors that night.

The third, and by far the most unusual, was a display by a group who were using a series of partial differential equations to model different treatments for cancer. The fundamental point behind this one is to be able to use a mathematical model incorporating various factors specific to the individual such as type and stages of the cancer, and characteristics of the patient (biological, medical, etc..) to determine what would be the most effective treatment. There were two things that made me stop here. One was that my mother died from breast cancer three years ago, and the (apparently not uncommon) irony is that it was a side affect of one of her treatments that killed her. The other was that very intriguing, and quite beautiful, series of differential equations posted on their display.

As I read through the poster, the enthusiastic young man standing there asked if I had any questions. I said plenty, as soon as I am done reading. I quizzed him for easily half an hour, on topics like why do you believe this is feasible, how did you get involved in the project, what does this particular model on display represent, and (in the absence of it being posted on the board) can you please explain what factors all of the variables and components of these equations represent? That was his favorite question, and he went through each component of every equation and explained what they modeled, how the related to each other and what each specific variable represented. He had been strictly a theoretical mathematician up until joining this project, and was recruited for his superior math skills. It was a big change to do a project that involved a scientific application and he was very excited about it, partly for a chance to see the potential of applied math, but mostly because up to this point, the results of applying these equations to real life situations had produced results that were not far off from known statistics. This development has led to their project being published in scientific journals. Very impressive. I had to tear myself away from this display, because I realized that for a two hour event, I had monopolized fully a quarter of his time.

One more story about this night- I myself owe a lot to the National Science Foundation because they sponsor the scholarship that got me back in school and changed my life. It is the CSEMS (Computer Science, Engineering, and Math) scholarship, and I was determined to find someone from NSF headquarters to personally thank for sponsoring it. So from my position up against the tables, I scanned name tags for the NSF logo, and had found some of their interns, but no permanent members of the organization. Then I ran into Liz, a coordinator of the SPS internship program, and she pointed out someone and said I'll bet you aren't afraid to talk to that guy and pointed out someone with an NSF name tag. (apparently another intern didn't want to, and she wanted a picture) So I asked who it was. It was Arden Bement, director of NSF. Jackpot-I stood patiently by while a fellow enthusiastically explained his project to him, and as soon as he turned, I put my hand out and said "Hi my name is Andrea Roma, and I see you are from NSF. I am a CSEMS scholar and want to thank your organization for sponsoring the program. I would not be where I am today without it. I'm here today as an intern for AAPT working on projects for secondary education. Thank you." and he said 'you're welcome' and shook my hand and walked off.

Didn't take long, but it made my night.

The next night, We had a meeting with the folks over at the education department of the American Chemical Society. That was an interesting experience, since I am doing my internship for educators as a profession. I spent the better part of the time listening to what they had to say. This is getting long, and much of what I learned I intend to incorporate into my work, so I'll save it and put it in context with next week's entry when I discuss what our remaining goals for this summer are.

Work wise, this past week was spent finishing my copy for a pamphlet, then editing and revising it into two versions, one for students of education who might consider physics teaching as a career, and one for physics students who might consider education as something to do with their degree.

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Week of June 18, 2007

I spent the better part of last week doing a combination of things with the kids and working on my copy. My outline for the literature I'm working on seemed pretty straightforward at the time. It starts with an emphasis on how well educated children are the key to our future. This was not meant to be anything new, just a way to get the reader in phase with me (I'd say on the same wavelength, but any physicist knows that does not by any means guarantee in phase), then keep them there as I lay out my points encouraging them to get involved in physics education, and most important, believing they can do this with out committing to having to learn the advanced stuff. So the rest basically goes-

  • Technology and the scientific discoveries behind them are the backbone of our economy and the advancement of civilization.
  • Physics is the defining science of the universe, and the driving force behind every technological revolution that has shaped our world.
  • There is a great need for more teaching of conceptual based Physics early in primary education, and paralleling the math of secondary education
  • You can make a difference in the future of our children and our world.

So in the rough draft I laid these out in outline form, and then filled in several preliminary points behind them as inspiration dictated. I spent a fair amount of time researching the most influential advances of the 20th century, and came up with a lot of good ones broken down by field- energy, transportation, medicine, communications, entertainment, computing, and household. I got a bit of a writers block when it came time to approach how to discuss the scientific advances behind them. It's not that I don t know this; in fact I probably know it too well for this project. I tend to go on sometimes, as anyone who knows me can tell you, and I need to remember my audience and be careful not to lose them. It's like there was some piece of inspiration that was missing that would define how to approach the subject.

So to back up, the other thing I did last week was to assist with a field trip to the Spy Museum for middle school kids going to a science camp, and do an outreach trip to an elementary school aimed at demonstrating energy, force, and motion to third graders. The third graders were unbelievable. They are an ideal case study for the potential success of approaching the conceptual basics at an early age without getting into the math behind it. We had been concerned about the ability to use physics related words during the demonstrations, and intended to try to avoid them by emphasizing predictions, and thoughts about the results of the experiments. They impressed me no end with how well versed they were, not only in some of the vocabulary, but in their ability to show understanding by using them correctly and in the right context. They used terms like kinetic energy, applied force, gravitation, and drag, all in the context of explaining their graphs and making predictions before any of us had. This experience underlined to me one of the points I want to make in my copy- inquiry based conceptual basics early on in primary education can greatly influence how kids see the scientific process, and give a much more solid understanding of the math behind it when they get that far. They are learning the tools necessary to build the relationships and are not going to be blind-sided by the equations- They understand it because they have seen it. In a related point, and one I want to emphasize strongly when addressing future educators, the ability of the teacher to guide them through this does not depend on their understanding of the advanced math involved, only on their inspiration by and enthusiasm for the discovery process. This will by definition instill the scientific curiosity that drives the kids and that is so necessary to remain successful in their science education. It gave me something to use in another part of my project while searching for inspiration on how to approach the area where I was blocked.

This brings me to the weekend. Saturday, thanks to Megan, we had tickets to go to the top of the Washington Monument. The observation floor with the windows looking out over the region below was impressive not just for the view and the maps showing where important and historic things were, but because each view chronicled through photographs the development of the area with time. It was a visual example of the growth and progression of our country as a whole, which seemed to parallel the idea that has been kicking around in my mind what drives us to continue making the advances that move us forward . The floor right below had much about the process of building the monument, but more importantly about Washington as a person, and how his unique personality influenced a turning point in our nations history. At that point in world history, Generals of victorious armies traditionally seized power, and many people were genuinely surprised when Washington did not follow that tradition. He presided over the continental congress, and went home, coming back only to accept a presidency he never actually ran for. After two terms, he refused to become president for life, and went home for good. The direction of our country was defined by the actions (or more importantly, reactions) of one man. I think the seeds of an inspiration were starting, but I was not conscious of it yet.

On Sunday I went back to the Air and Space Museum, partly because I was less than half way through my quest to read it all, and figured I d better get on that when I had a chance, but also searching for inspiration about how to handle the influence of scientific discovery on our world. The way they have the displays laid out there tells much more than just the history of the technology involved. Let me use the room on the Wright brothers as an example. It chronicles the family life and experiences of them growing up. It discusses the things that influenced them early on, their print business, the events that led to their abandoning (or actually, handing off) that for the bike shop, and how those experiences influenced their entrance into aviation. It discusses each progressive step in their engineering design process, shows replicas of their designs, how their tests went, what they saw and learned, their determination to address each setback as an opportunity to refine the process to the ultimate goal of achieving sustained, controllable flight. They did not try to jump right in with a complete design including propulsion, but rather used progressively more sophisticated gliders, each addressing the flaws of the previous designs as defined by testing. There is a detailed panel on the events of the day they tested their first propelled flier, and their decision not to do any public displays until they had both secured patent rights, and built yet another improved design. These were two men set on achieving a dream they knew was possible, not on changing the course of history. Doing exactly that came as a consequence of being ordinary men with the drive to not give up, to pick through the process one step at a time, to have the ingenuity to address the setbacks as challenges and not obstacles, and even after success, to think carefully about how to deal with the potential outcome. This is when it hit me, and I found the inspiration I'd been lacking. The scientific discoveries that shape our world are not just driven by the physics, but by the drive and determination of the people behind them. Take it one step at a time, keep focused, and use setbacks as a reason to rethink and improve. Be realistic about when you are defeated, and use ingenuity to know when you are not. Our history is defined by ordinary men doing extraordinary things.

So that's it, that's my angle. Weave the human element into the scientific discoveries and emphasize that as educators, inspiration as well as educating define and shape our children's abilities. If I recognize that it is not necessary to get into the details of the science behind them, I believe I will be addressing the right audience.

Sidebar notes made this week-

  • The Physics of taking 15 kids to the Spy Museum-
  • Fluid Dynamics- Watching the exit flow rate of the bodies packed into a METRO at the busiest stop in downtown DC as the doors open, while the bodies accumulating in the vortex prepare to rush in to fill the resulting void.
  • Path Independence- No matter how many times you switch back and forth from the orange line to the red line to the green line ferrying groups of kids, you are only charged for the difference between your entrance and exit points. (The METRO can apparently be modeled as a conservative field.)
  • Uncertainty Principal- Choose any 3 kids who are supposed to stay together. You can know where one is, you can know where the other 2 are, but you can never know where all three are at any one point in time.

On the subject of Physics moments, I stood on the shoulders of Albert Einstein and looked down on the Universe...

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Week of June 11, 2007

With the start of my first full week, it was time to get my head in the game. It's amazing what you can do once you take the time (and get a chance) to stop and think. So the first order of business is to come up with a concrete plan of action at work. The goals laid out at my first meeting with the bosses were rather general, and needed to be turned into specific projects. First up, 'Think of ways to promote Physics Education in the 2 year colleges outside of the SPS chapter network'. Since many CC's don't have SPS, the bosses want me to come up ways to reach potential future physics teachers wherever they may be, and design promotional materials to get students thinking seriously about the possibility.

About half of all secondary teachers start their education in Community Colleges. Many CC's have recognized their role in training future teachers and are offering transfer degrees in education, as well as support programs such as Green River CC's Project TEACH. The students in these programs and pursuing these degrees seemed to me as the obvious place to start. So, from general idea to concrete project- design a pamphlet targeting folks already interested in educating our children meant to get them to recognize the importance of science teaching to the future of our society(the easy part, since most already do),and more specifically, the role of Physics as the defining science of nature, the one that lays down the rules all other disciplines follow. Physics is the foundation of science, it needs to be the foundation of science education. This I can do.

Enough about work. I've been stuck in a place where I left one life early, and entered another late, and have been playing tie up loose ends and catch up at the same time. I had a list of 4 things that still needed to be done when I left home:

  1. Get my registration at UW solidified. I had originally registered for summer quarter to start working on the Physics degree while applying to the Department of Chemical Engineering. Rules there state if you register for summer, then don't enroll, you are dropped. When this internship opportunity came along, it was too late to apply for Autumn. I was in danger of missing the fall quarter. Two people over at UW told me I was out of luck. Never take anyone's word on these things. The trick is to find the right person to go to. So I did.
  2. Get my daughters Girl Scout Camp Registration in by the 9th of June. Done(barley)
  3. Shuffle my Cub Scout packs paperwork for Summer Camp. This is a real pain because you have to line up enough leadership to cover your requirements or they won't take you. This is the first time in 6 years I can't be there, and I normally fill the station leader role myself. A little arm twisting, but done.
  4. Finish my Physics final. On the subject of what a difference it makes to have a chance to sit down and think, done.

So I spent this past weekend getting the last of what I need to be settled. My lives are lined up again, and I'm ready to concentrate on my projects.

I did get some more sightseeing in, partly by accident. Quick story here- I was coming back from a quest on saturday to fill the holes in my wardrobe at a store I could afford, and was walking down Rhode Island avenue. It was about 5:25, and I happened to notice a priest standing on some steps across the street. It was only then I saw there was a Cathedral there, and people walking up the stairs. It appeared they were getting ready to have a 5:30 Mass, so I thought, 'what luck, I can get this done now and not have to walk around the White House tomorrow'. So I'm going up the stairs and there is a plaque that says the building has been declared a historical landmark because it was the site of JFK's funeral. Sometimes life is all about timing. Even in the absence of that, it was a stroke of luck, because the workmanship in that place was unbelievable. I could spend paragraphs describing it, but I won't. I hit the Smithsonian Air and Space museum again on sunday, spent 3 hours there, and am still not done. I have set a goal to read every word in there before I leave. I also set a goal to walk into Yankee stadium wearing a Seattle Mariners shirt and an LA Dodgers hat, but that's a story for another day....

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Week of June 4, 2007

Let me start with how great it felt to finally be here. It overshadowed all the anxiety and exhaustion I had from extracting myself from my busy life back home in a way that will make sure everything (Including the house) will be still standing when I get back. It even overshadowed the feeling of starting off behind the game, since I was five days behind the other interns. You see, we have the best Physics department among all 2 year colleges at Green River, and the man who made it that way, Marv Nelson, was being honored by naming our new Science Building after him. Those very nice folks over at AIP headquarters were kind enough to let me stay for the ceremony, then fly out the next day. It was well worth it and an honor to be part of something so special.

So I'm here, now what? First, find home, then meet my fellow interns. Getting to the hall from the airport was the easy part. George Washington University is not like any I have seen before. I'm supposedly on the edge of a campus, but it felt like a regular city street corner to me. Which is of course because it is. The University is a collection of buildings spread throughout a section of downtown DC. Thank God for Meagan, I called her cell phone and said 'Hi, I'm the missing intern, and I'm standing on the corner not knowing where to go'. She came to find me, then helped bring my bags upstairs and took me to the check in place. I was quite relieved to find out how welcoming the others were. They all came over to say hi that first night, even though it was getting late.

There was no time to orient myself or get settled. Since I was playing catch up, it was to bed and straight to work the next morning. The Metro was a blur those first 2 days, and I just played keep your eyes on Ryan, and you'll get there. He makes it look easy. On the first day, thursday, I spent half of the day meeting the staff at ACP,and touring the building. It is humbling to be walking around in the place that is the umbrella organization for all things Physics, meeting all of these people that seem like just regular folks to me. This is of course because they are. They were very nice and welcoming, and I remember hoping I could find a way to make myself useful and worth bringing me all the way out here. I work for AAPT, and my projects are a bit more open ended and less specific than the others. At least at this point they are. I'm sure that will change as our momentum grows and our ideas on what we can do to support high school and 2 year college Physics education becomes solidified.

Over my first weekend, I finally got the chance to get to know the other interns. We spent friday and saturday night hanging out playing card games and listening to music on our laptops. After being in the others rooms, I was pleased to find out I was not the only one who was geeky enough to bring my Math and Physics texts with me. It's then I knew I was among peers. Saturday we fought through crowds of Girl Scouts to see the sights around the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, had lunch, and went to the Smithsonian. The others did a highlight tour, but I'm a steady and systematic kind of person, so I got 'lost in space' in the space exhibit, spending 3 hours reading every word and touching everything I could get close enough to. Even then I was only half done when the others were ready to go see more. We headed to Union station, stopping to see the Capitol Building and the Supreme court along the way. You can't get very close to the Capital building, but at the Supreme court, we climbed the stairs to the big brass(?) doors, put our hands on them, then started climbing the pillars till the guard told us to stop. Sunday was the day I didn't hang out with the others so much, simply because I had not gotten supplies yet and figured I'd better now before the week started again. That and I had to find my local Church. Turns out I have to walk past the White House every Sunday morning for the next 8 weeks.

So I'll end this with going to sleep Sunday night feeling like I was caught up, and ready to start getting ahead Monday morning. We'll see how that works out.

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