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This summer has been quite an experience for me. I adjusted to living in the city for the first time in my life, riding the metro to work every morning and home every evening. I experienced my first non-school-related research experience at NASA and learned a lot from doing it. I began writing my first paper intended for publication in a professional journal. I became part of a real work environment at NASA. I went to Capitol Hill for the first time in my life and on that trip made some of my first contacts in the larger physics community. On a subsequent visit to Capitol Hill I witnessed a congressional subcommittee hearing on STEM education. I visited museums in DC, some for the first time and some for the umpteenth time. I explored the city and found monuments that I had never known existed, such as the Memorial to the Victims of Communism near Union Station. It was a lot to experience and I think that I walk away from it all with two things: First, a much better understanding of what professional physics research is all about, through my experience at NASA. Second, a renewed interest in physics outreach, which I plan to let loose on my school’s SPS chapter when I return in the fall, an interest that derives primarily from my interactions with the other interns in the program this summer. As I move on and prepare for my return to the world of academia, I look back and see that it has been a rewarding summer.
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This week isn’t over yet as I write this, but, unfortunately, my internship is. On Monday we toured NIST, which was really cool. I especially enjoyed seeing the hall of standards and the museum on campus, and wished that I could have spent more time at each. The other parts of the tour were interesting too; we visited the NIST Center for Neutron Research and the laser-cooling-of-atoms department. We also got to see where Laurie and Brad did their research, which I enjoyed as well. I ran into a friend, from school, who is in the SURF program at NIST this summer. After we were done at NIST we eventually made our way to the Dyllas’ house for a barbeque. That was a lot of fun. On Tuesday I had a regular day at NASA and spent a while disassembling an old vacuum chamber. On Wednesday we had our morning meeting at ACP, and then I went into NASA to finish up some loose ends. At three I finished up and headed home!
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I spent most of my week at NASA jumping back and forth between various projects and responsibilities. On Monday I put together a set of diagrams and figures to illustrate the parallel plate analyzer that I spent part of the previous week improving. We have decided to call it the Static Energy-Angle Spectrometer (SEAS), which replaces the previous name Static Energy-Angle Analyzer. Hopefully this won't confuse people too much. Fred took the design over to our associates at the Naval Research Laboratory, and they apparently think that it's something that can be used on one of their upcoming experiments. I also spent a while working on putting the electronics together for one of the vacuum chambers over in the lab in the other building. That vacuum chamber weighs about 250 lbs and we have to lift it up onto a table to access electronics hookups (which happen to be on the bottom). This has got to be a pain lately, so we decided that we should buy a floor crane to make our lives easier. Also on Monday we got to go to a summer student appreciation pizza party hosted by our division (the 550 codes), which included a presentation by some one from 551 about the optical instruments on the MULE component of Hubble Service Mission 4 (HSM4). On Tuesday I got to go explore Excess, the warehouse where NASA keeps all of the equipment that is not currently being used. They have literally mountains of computers, monitors, oscilloscopes, and office furniture, as well as a huge variety of other equipment. In all of this I managed to find a floor crane like the one that we wanted. After my excursion to Excess, I went and worked on covering electronic interfaces with heat shrink insulation. On Thursday we had our SPS tour of Goddard that we had been arranging for the past two weeks. I came in early hoping to get work done before I met up with the rest of the interns for the tour. As it turned out, I was saddled with more work than I thought I would have for that day, and so spent the day running back and forth between the group and my office and other labs trying to get stuff done. For a start I had to miss the first half hour when I went over to Excess again to arrange for the crane to be sent over to the lab we needed it in. I met up with the tour at the Science Visualization Studio then we headed out for lunch. After lunch we headed over to our building to start our part of the tour. I had to leave the tour again to meet up with my mentor about the paper I'm writing about the SEAS. They all went up to the Detector Development Lab. After they were done there I joined up with them again, and we all went over to the assembly and test facility. We got a tour of a few of the labs over there and got to see the worlds largest centrifuge and one of the worlds largest clean rooms. We also got to see some of the components taken up on STS-125 for HSM4, including MULE, the one that the presenter at the meeting on Monday was talking about. After that was all finished everyone was pretty burnt out so we headed back to the gate to catch the bus back. I had more work to do, so I headed back to my office for a while, then headed out for the day. Friday I came in and started right in on writing the paper, and I expect that that will take up most of the rest of the day.
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So, last Friday we all gave our “final” presentations at ACP for our summer internships. Mine went pretty well, I thought, and I also thought that, for the most part, everyone's pretty well. Afterward we took group photos and ate lunch, then I headed home for the weekend. I got back late Sunday evening.
This week at NASA has been pretty slow. I've been pretty much on my own all week, since my mentors have either been out of town or busy with other projects that have fast-approaching deadlines. On Monday and Tuesday I single-handedly assembled a vacuum apparatus and got it pumping down. It's just waiting for electronics to be added, then we should be able to start taking data. I also spent most of the day on Wednesday and Thursday working on my SIMION simulations. The one really exciting thing that happened this week was the visit from the STS-125 crew, the crew that had participated in the Hubble Service Mission 4 earlier this year. Thursday afternoon the crew of the STS-125 came to Goddard to essentially hang out with their earth-bound counterparts. It was pretty cool meeting them. Erin and I got them to autograph some posters commemorating the mission, so yet again, we got some of the coolest souvenirs. Today I met with Fred, and we discussed my Static Energy-Angle Analyzer design, and he wants me to do some more work on it and he also wants me to do a write-up on it by next week!
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This week was mostly occupied in preparation for presentations on Friday. I met with Fred on Monday and on Tuesday to decide what I should talk about exactly, and to review the presentation that I created Monday night. I wound up deciding to talk about the Solar Wind Ion Spectrometer and about the Static Energy-Angle Analyzer. The first one is one of the three vacuum chamber experiments that I have been involved with of this summer, in fact it's the only experiment that I don't have to walk a half-mile to work on. The second project that I'll be talking about, the Static Energy-Angle Analyzer, is my SIMION project that Fred want's to fly at some point, either out of Wallops or out of Fairbanks, however I still have a few details to iron out before we can fly it, if we do. I showed Fred the process that I'd made on it while he was gone, and we began discussing possible improvements to my design, some of which I was able to implement right away, and some that will take a little while to play around with to see if they'll make a significant improvement to my design. On Wednesday we skipped work to go to American Center for Physics for a presentation practice session. It went well, overall. Everyone's presentations were pretty good, and the ones that needed some work got plenty of specific feedback from the SPS staff and the other interns, so they'll be good shape by Friday. The practice session took all day, so by the end people were pretty tired, falling asleep, and losing interest, so some of the later presentations didn't go as smoothly as the earlier ones. We got out of there around 5:30, which was a little late, but whatever. They gave us t-shirts and Galileoscopes (a telescope kit being distributed for the International Year of Astronomy 2009), and that was fun. I did most of my changes on my presentation that night when we got back to GWU
Thursday I went back to NASA and got back to work on soldering external electronics for one of the vacuum chamber experiments. Patrick says that he want's to pump it down by next week and start taking data on the Solar Wind Ion Spectrometer as soon as we get this other apparatus pumping. Apparently we also have to build up a set of external electronics for the Solar Wind Ion Spectrometer before we actually can take data, but that should hopefully only take one day. Friday I'll be doing my presentation at American Center for Physics, but I'll write about that next week.
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This week was productive for me at NASA. I finished (I think) my SIMION project on Wednesday, but Fred was not here on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday since he was at a conference in Massachusetts, so I haven't actually got a chance to show him what I've done on that project. It turned out that I was able to apply a very simple idea to a fairly complicated problem and make it work. We have one of the three vacuum chambers pumped down and ready to go and we should have the second and third chambers ready by early next week. In preparation for this I have spent quite a lot of time this week soldering, welding, and attaching wires via crimp pins for feedthroughs and for both the internal and external electronics for the three experiments. We had an interesting experience wiring one of the feedthroughs. It didn't come with pre-attached pins, we also couldn't find the box, so we couldn't find out what size pins it was supposed to use. We found some pins that looked like they should be around the correct size, so I attached the wires to them, but then we couldn't find the guy who had the tool for inserting the pins into the feedthrough. As it wound up, after we got the tool, we found out not only that these pins were the wrong size, but that we actually had the correct pins in the box that the feedthrough had come in, and that it also came with an insertion tool as well! We finally got that straightened out Friday morning, and I finished soldering that feedthrough and the associated electronics together. Thursday I got a abbreviated course in the mathematics of Johnson noise, which is what Erin's project is about. This included a refresher on Laplace transforms, which I haven't done anything with for nearly a year. Also on Thursday I learned how to reserve conference rooms and set up the conference room phone for teleconferences at NASA when we had our group intern meeting for planning our project presentations that we will be giving next week. It was fairly straightforward, however the other four NASA interns apparently did not realize that the mute button was not a toy, and it took a while for the phone to recognize the number we put in.
I really didn't do much outside of the stuff at NASA this week. I went home for the weekend last weekend. I also stayed late at NASA several days and so while I was back at GWU I pretty much just slept.
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I should start out by noting that I used the wrong word in my entry of Friday, June 12. I said that heat did not radiate well without air, when I actually meant that it didn't conduct well through air when there is no air. I noticed this when I went back to read my earlier entries the other day.
This week got off to a good start. I finally finished wiring the ion sources satisfactorily on Monday (I had originally made all of the wires about one inch too long, and had to re-weld the entire thing) and started the final assembly of the two vacuum chambers that we'll be using for these experiments. One of these vacuum chambers is ready to go, and we began pumping it down that afternoon. We still have to wire up the exterior interface for it, but that shouldn't take much time next week since I've already mapped all the electronic feedthroughs in preparation for that experiment. On Tuesday I continued working on the ion sources and got the other one fixed up and connected it to the ion lens that we'll be using for that experiment. The ion lens is of a rather unusual design, consisting of six smaller lenses that the ion beam passes through in succession, the final lens being a cup lens shaped somewhat like a World War I British infantry helmet. On Wednesday I finished wiring the lens that I started wiring the previous day, and as soon as we get one other part (a four inch long piece of twelve inch diameter vacuum chamber tubing), the second vacuum chamber will be ready to go. After I finished with that, I went over to another lab, and helped build up a micro-channel plate (MCP) test flange that we will be able to use to test MCPs for future experiments and to test an oscilloscope on Thursday. The test went as planned, and the MCP test flange worked really well, so I was happy with that. This week has felt kind of weird. Since everyone knows that we won't be working on Friday, the sense of timing within the week has been thrown off, and so Thursday was a slow day, much as Friday normally is.
So another big happening this week, at least for me, was getting a computer at NASA, so I no longer have to drag my laptop back and forth on the metro every morning and evening. It's old and kind of slow, but it's fast enough to do work on, so I'm happy with it. It also has a 22” screen, which means that I can run like six things at once and still see what's going on with each one. I spent a while on Monday installing stuff on it, since it had nothing to begin with, but now it's up an running. I've continued my explorations with SIMION and hope that I'll have something solid soon.
Also on Monday, a bunch of us went out to Rumors for half-priced burger night, which is getting to be somewhat of a regular occurrence among some of us. They are starting to recognize us there, which is probably a good thing.
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This week was rather unproductive for several reasons, however I did get back to my main project (solar wind ion spectrometer) and I am actually poised to make some significant progress early next week. On Monday everyone necessary to work on the solar wind ion spectrometer was back from travel, so we sat down to assess the status of that project, and determined that we were ready to hardwire the ion sources for the vacuum chamber and finish putting the vacuum chamber together for the initial series of tests. However, we didn’t actually get to start doing it that day, and I spent several hours working on SIMION stuff instead. The next two days there were meetings about a related project at the Naval Research Laboratory and Erin and I went along on Tuesday. We got to see a lab or two there and hear about a joint project being done by NRL, NASA, and Utah State University. This trip was really interesting for several reasons. First it provided an opportunity for me to see how inter-institutional projects work and are planned, and secondly I got to talk to an intern who works there Thursday we got back to work on the ion sources and I got them hardwired for the tests (it took about five hours, so I was really glad that I had got there at 7:30 that morning), so they should be ready to go whenever the other parts of the experiment are ready. Either today, or on Monday we are going to rig up a detector and test the ion current in the vacuum chamber. Fred seems fairly impressed with my design for the energy angle analyzer that I’ve been working on, and says that if I can get it to work correctly, that he will try to fly it as part of an experiment next summer.
Other stuff at NASA has been going pretty well too. On Thursday we went to the Science Jamboree, an event at NASA Goddard to showcase for employees what projects in other departments are doing. Several of the projects I had never heard of, but some were more famous such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Hubble Space Telescope.
I’ve been taking better advantage of opportunities to see cool stuff in DC now that I’ve actually had a free weekend in DC. This past week I went to the National Gallery of Art, National Building Museum, National Museum of American History, National Zoological Gardens, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which is on the Mall this weekend and next weekend. Also this past week a bunch of us went to see Year One, which was somewhat funny, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen which was really hilarious. We also celebrated Brad and Jose’s birthdays this week.
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So this week has actually been kind of slow and relaxed for the most part, which is good because it means that I can actually concentrate on the projects I’m working on. So far as my main project at NASA goes, I really didn’t get anything done on it aside from tying up a few loose ends in preparation for the actual experiment to begin in the near future. This was mostly because of the two people also working on this project, one is sick and one is in Florida watching the shuttle launch, or actually not watching it since it was delayed until July. In the meantime, Fred decided that it would be a good idea for Erin and me to learn to use SIMION, a computer program for simulating the flight of charged particles in electric and magnetic fields. SIMION was fairly tricky to learn how to use, not exactly an intuitive layout or an intuitive way of actually designing the potential arrays for the particles to fly through. We prevailed however, and by Tuesday were really getting the hang of how to use the program. We each have a SIMION project to work on individually, she is designing a Calbick lens and I am designing an energy angle analyzer. Both have the potential to be used in the future for projects that Fred is doing.
The energy angle analyzer is an interesting problem, the goal is to develop an analyzer that can detect particles coming into the analyzer at up to several degrees from normal to the front of the detector. Current analyzers can do this, but it requires varying the applied voltage generating the electric field to be able to get the particles coming in at different angels to focus properly. What I am trying to do is to see if there is a way that it can be done with a constant applied voltage. I’m making some significant progress, it would seem that irregularly shaped electrodes are the way to go, and Fred is apparently quite impressed that I managed to figure out how to make a three-dimensional potential array to test the design I came up with. We also looked at the star camera problem some more this week, but really didn’t make much progress with that.
As far as the other aspects of the internship experience go, this week was fairly slow as well. I spent most of the weekend and most evenings of the week writing a paper for a class from the spring semester. Three of the other interns, including my roommate, are in Florida for the week to watch the LRO launch. And by watch the LRO launch I mean sit in a hot tub and send us pictures mocking us… In many ways the highlight of the week was going to the Einstein Distinguished Fellowship poster presentation on Thursday evening. It was really interesting talking to all of the Einstein Fellows about what they had done during their time in DC and what their backgrounds were coming into the programs that they were in. I got my first real experience networking and collecting business cards. We finished up the night by going to an Indian restaurant near Foggy Bottom, which was really good and, most importantly, really cheap.
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It's been a while since I've had to pay attention to the weather in the summer, but now, since I have to walk outside for portions of my commute to NASA, I've started realizing how much it thunderstorms in Maryland and DC this time of year. I am very fortunate that my backpack has a waterproof cover, otherwise bad stuff would have happened to my laptop quite a bit this week. Tuesday morning, most of our group was awoken by an incredibly intense clap of thunder which occurred at around 6:00 in the morning. It apparently set of a few car alarms, and then, of course, it kept on storming for a while. We got good usage out of our umbrellas on the way to NASA that morning!
Tuesday was a fun day for a variety of reasons. I, for once, had an excuse for leaving NASA early, and I skipped out at around 4:00 to catch the 4:15 express bus to the Metro. The five of us interns at NASA dumped our stuff at GW, then hopped the Metro to Crystal City. We met the rest of the SPS interns there and a bunch of the SPS staff to go see Legacy of Light at Arena Stage. We met at the Crystal City food court (which I noticed will be closing on the 13th) and ate pizza with some interns working at Arena Stage. We got to talk to them about their internships, the play, and about our internships, in which some of them showed a surprising interest. After the pizza we went and saw the play, which was enjoyable and mostly pretty funny (especially the character of Voltaire), if a bit corny in places. Afterwards we got to talk to the playwright and ask her questions about the play and why she did certain things in the play, which was really interesting.
My projects at NASA are off to a solid start. I spent most of this week setting up for two experiments, related to the solar wind ion spectrometer, that we will probably run within the next week or so. This mostly consisted of building up a vacuum apparatus designed to hold the detector. This apparatus is huge, heavy, and uses on the order of several hundred bolts to hold it together, most of which I have put in this week. I also learned how to spot-weld, and have been using that knowledge to assemble ion sources for the experiments. Spot-welding is fun, a little tricky to do, but it gets good solid results. I have also learned how to properly clean equipment before putting it into the vacuum apparatus, and a valuable lesson about heat conduction in a vacuum. It turns out, big surprise, that heat doesn't radiate very well if there is no air for it to pass through. We had been using a vacuum oven to dry off one of the pieces of equipment before putting it in the vacuum chamber, and were very puzzled for quite some time as to why it wasn't drying off.
When I haven't been setting up for experiments, I've been doing calculations about the optics for the Star Camera project. Erin and I spent several hours on Wednesday trying to figure out the how big a field of view we could get with a given size CCD chip and a lens of a particular focal length. We also began learning how to use a computer program called SIMION in preparation for two side projects we'll be doing over the course of the next few weeks.
One other thing worthy of mention that is on Monday Erin and I decided that we'd stop by the Public Relations department at NASA to see if we could get a copy of the "Poster of the Week" that they give out for free every week. Well, they didn't have it, but the woman who works at the front desk took us into their poster storage closet and gave us about 35 NASA posters of everything varying from the Space Shuttle main thrusters to thermal images of the earth.
For the most part things have been going pretty smoothly with the other interns. Erin, Daniel and I were bored coming back on the train one evening and decided to give all the interns nicknames, since Daniel had been given one that day by someone he works with. The nicknames are as follows (but not paired with the particular people): Shortcake, Metro, Bolts, Hamster Dance, Limby, Boxer, Pontiac, Shark-Bait, Rocky, Genovia, Astrono, and Monk. Feel free to guess what name goes with which person.
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Hey everyone, I’m Brian Tennyson, SPS intern at NASA GSFC and rising junior at SMCM, and this is my journal recording my experiences during my internship this summer.
My first week started off slow, but by the Thursday I pretty much had things figured out as far as what I was actually doing for my internship is concerned.
So on Monday we had our orientation at ACP. It was pretty cool. We got to go around and talk to various people representing the various physics societies housed in the building. We heard all about AIP, AAPT, APS, SPS, ΣΠΣ, and the Niels Bohr Library and Archives. We also heard all about the importance of taking advantage of opportunities provided by being in DC. After the orientation at ACP, Gary White took Erin Balsamo and me over to NASA to meet the people we’d be working with this summer.
Over the next few days I settled into the routine at NASA, but I also got to do some cool stuff. I got to suit up and go into a clean room to watch someone etch a silicon wafer with plasma. I got to assemble a sensor mounting for a solar wind ion spectrometer, and I also got to go to one of the Goddard Space Flight Center 50th anniversary events at the visitor center. All in all it was an enjoyable and interesting week.
I also learned this week about the projects I’m going to be working on this summer. The primary one will be a solar wind ion spectrometer, a sensor to measure charged particles carried by the solar wind. The secondary project, so to speak, is to determine the feasibility of using a production CCD camera as a satellite stellar navigation device. It’s going to be fun.
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