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Every day this week felt like a full week in itself, but I mean that in the best possible way. So many awesome things happened one after the other, and it’s hard to remember what happened when.
The weekend was enjoyable. Saturday morning, Foha and I headed over to the Holocaust Museum and Memorial. We thought being there at 11 am would be suffice to get tickets, and we did get two passes, but these passes were for almost 1 pm. So we killed time by walking into a random building at the Smithsonian we’d seen a few times but didn’t know what it was. Turns out the “Freer” and “Arthur Sackler Galleries” are in fact some of the coolest museums on the Mall. They had tons of ancient Asian art, especially Chinese artifacts and many statues from India and Southeast Asia. Best of all, almost no one was at these galleries (probably because of the uninformative and boring names). We had them to ourselves. They were so good that I dragged Foha to see them again on Sunday.
Saturday evening we went to the “White House” for dinner. Gary White and his family provided a spread of baked potatoes, many fixings, physics toys and good company. Thanks for a great dinner!
Monday we had our practice presentations, given just for the other interns and some SPS staff. Mine was very short because I hadn’t gone through the exhibit myself yet and couldn’t exactly present it to people. Ada worked hard on it over the weekend and got the link to me Monday morning. For my presentation Tuesday, the site worked great and I was able to rehearse my talking points from the exhibit.
Tuesday morning, we headed over bright and early for presentation day. Our presentations went really well. One coworker in the history center, Amy, was impressed with how our presentation day felt like a proper conference session. Lunch was great—I talked to lots of people from AIP and an old friend of mine who came to see me present. After lunch I had an exit interview of sorts with Greg. I’ll miss working with him and everyone else at the history center. It was truly a great experience.
Wednesday, we had our final “debriefing” session, where all of us interns discussed the whole experience with Kendra and Gary. After that we went on tours in two groups, one going to see NASA Goddard and the other to see the Udvar-Hazy Center, the second Air and Space Museum site. As I worked at Goddard two years ago and toured with the interns last year, I decided to skip it this time and instead check out the Udvar-Hazy Center. I’m glad I did. Highlights included the Blackbird, a Concorde, space shuttle Enterprise, and a Cessna 150 almost like the one I learned to fly in. My dad started teaching me to fly when I was ten, and even in that small plane I had to sit on a phone book to see over the dash. I wasn’t sure what it was doing in a museum, but I was happy to see it. The other cool thing in the museum was a section in the space hangar devoted to early space science, the topic of my web exhibit. Overall it was just a great way to tie the whole summer together, stoking my new interest in the history of science, getting ready to see my family again, and hanging out with my fellow interns who appreciated the Blackbird’s tail as much as I did.
I feel like our group bonded most in the last few weeks of the internship. In just the last two days, we played frying pan tennis in the hallway, croquet at the Washington Monument, and had a Lady Gaga dance party. I spent much of the 105 degree summer wishing I were home in Michigan, but I was sad to pack up and leave in the end. Thanks for a great summer, everyone!
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I have to keep my journal short today. I'm hoping to get the web exhibit online in mock-up form this afternoon, which means a lot of meetings and editing. Ada’s material looks pretty cool so far.
It's been an eventful week. This weekend of course was our trip to Ocean City. I had a lot of fun hanging out with everyone on the beach and spending some time away.
On Monday I started my presentation. The rest of the week I've alternated between writing small biographies of physicists and generating new content for the overall exhibit, now that we have a solid idea of what the exhibit should contain. I just finished two pages this morning. It's only details left to do: copy editing, picture captioning, reference adding, and so on.
On Tuesday, Linda and I went to the Science Club downtown to watch Chris from APS show some physics demos. I wisely did not volunteer for anything, and avoided having water poured on my head. Also, pickles stay warm for almost twenty minutes after you make them glow.
The big highlight of the week was the tour of the Capitol building and surrounding Congressional office buildings. Travis and Alex were excellent tour guides. We saw all the main sites, and they filled us in on all the great historical trivia of the place. We also sat in on the Senate chamber for a few minutes. (Only a few minutes, because there were no senators there.)
I felt both patriotic and frustrated with our country’s leaders while I was there. The USA is amazing. How we got started as a country boggles my mind and fills me with awe. But in today’s American capitol, my Tupperware and a spoon were confiscated by security. I feel like there are some issues we need to work through.
Until next time, don’t get mad. Get Glad. And don’t take it to the capitol building.
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These are just some of the books I have spent the last few weeks reading and skimming so I can write informed content for the exhibit. There are more books in Greg’s office. I spent half an hour this morning frantically flipping through almost all of them to find a quote that I knew would work in the exhibit but for some reason didn’t write down at the time of reading. And then the quote was in an article in my file folders:
My point is that I’m doing a lot of reading. I think I’ve read more for this project than I did for my Shakespeare course. It’s more than I expected when I walked in to this, but I’ve gotten used to it. In fact, I’ve learned a mere half hour of research for one paragraph in the exhibit is pretty good. History moves at a different pace than anything else I’ve done. And that’s all right, because it’s not like it’s going anywhere.
I’m at a “final draft” phase of the project, where most of my content is written and in okay shape. I’m polishing and fact-checking now, as well as writing a few more new things to supplement the main text. I’m excited to put the “final product” together with our web designer Ada next week.
Last weekend was fun—Amy invited us to her house for a barbecue (where Travis grilled some excellent burgers) and afterward we went mini-golfing. All attempts to use physics and geometry failed.
This weekend a bunch of us are heading to Ocean City, MD. I’m looking forward to getting out of DC and enjoying some time on the beach.
I have a laser.
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Baseball game Friday.
Nationals actually won.
Sticky nacho cheese.
I was going to attempt to write my whole week in haiku, but that isn’t going to work.
Friday, as you gathered, we went to a baseball game, the most exciting I’ve ever watched. Not much happens during minor league games at home. You go mostly for the Dippin’ Dots, hot dogs, and good conversation with friends as a bunch of middle-aged men run around the field below like a Monty Python skit. But at the Nationals game, someone hit a home run on the first or second pitch. Thank you Kendra and Travis for organizing that for us!
The next morning I stood in a cold, wet line at seven in the morning with Foha and Amy, waiting for tickets into the Washington Monument. We’ve stared at the thing all summer and we’ve wanted to go up it for some time, so we did!
Two of my aunts and two cousins rolled into town later on Saturday, so I spent the weekend with them. I’ve become an okay tour guide for DC. We went to the Air and Space museum, walked around the Mall, went to the top of the Washington Monument, saw the World War II and Lincoln Memorials, and bought ice cream from a street vendor, all in one day. The next day we saw the Jefferson and FDR memorials, then headed to the Great Falls Park for a relaxing afternoon.
Monday morning we attempted to see our senators. Michigan, if you don’t know, has 13% unemployment, or higher if you count the discouraged workers and the underemployed. Regrettably neither Carl Levin nor Debbie Stabenow was in that day, but Stabenow’s staff invited us to the office to discuss matters, and they gave us passes to the Senate floor. I should go before this internship ends.
My project is going well. I’m learning that historical research takes time and patience. I spent an hour on Wednesday skimming several books and articles so I could be sure one sentence of the exhibit was correct. History has a way of seeping into your brain in story form, and slight twists can corrupt those stories in your memory at any point. One careless word from a biographer or, worse, a conniving spark of your own imagination can change something important. Apart from other historians calling you out, you don’t want to become a careless historian yourself, perpetuating the wrong story through the ages.
The worst part of telling a fair story is I have to leave all the best material I’ve found out of the final product. I’ve found one scientist calling another “puritanical” in a public setting, I’ve found a few quotes from scientists blaming a very well-known person for holding physics back fifty years, and I have evidence that the International Geophysical Year came to fruition because of a chocolate cake from Iowa. My desire to show how cool history can be is in conflict with preserving a great many reputations. Perhaps history textbooks in schools deserve the moustaches and Harry Potter glasses drawn on Thomas Jefferson, and this is why.
Later today a few of us are doing another outreach event. I always enjoy these, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m bringing some work home this weekend; I’d like to have the exhibit in a semi-finished state so the web designer can take over by the time I leave, which is in a shocking three weeks.
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Washington, DC is the place to be for the Fourth of July.
Thousands of people from around the country agreed on this last weekend as they streamed in for the fireworks and tourism. One of them was a very special visitor, my boyfriend, Danny. It was great to see a face from home after weeks away.
The Fourth was one of those packed, intense days. We checked out the Folklife festival, but that was hot (97 F) so we hid inside the Hirshhorn museum, which for some reason wasn't as good as it usually is. I think it’s entering a decline, hopping onboard the “this required no talent, but doesn’t it make you think for hours about what it could possibly mean?” train. So-called “modern art” was art sixty years ago because it was different, new, making a statement. And it belongs in a museum because it is part of the progression of art. But it’s no longer “modern” or “contemporary.” To call it so is to encourage derivative “art” along the same lines that misses the point of what made the original soup cans and blank canvases art in the first place.
Nothing illustrates this like the pitch black room with two dim lights coming from a distant corner that someone labeled “art.” I was keen to enter this room, because there was a line, and when people went in they took a long time to come out, blinking and rubbing their eyes as they did. I waited outside with Danny for five minutes, and, to my surprise, Linda emerged from the room.
Me: I didn’t know you were in there!
Linda: Yeah, I was.
Me: Well…was it good?
Linda: I don’t know. I don’t really know what I was looking at.
Now with a mystery involved, I had to see the room, but the security guard prevented me because too many people were still inside. When after several more minutes no one else left, and with the line outside growing larger and more insistent, he shrugged and let us in.
We stumbled through a dark hallway and into blackness impenetrable as the deep sea, the guard giving helpful hints to hold the handrail and to feel around for a place to sit. I slid along the bench at the guard’s request, totally blind, until I nearly ran into someone.
Carl’s voice: Oh hi, Raina.
Me: Carl! How long have you been in here?
Carl’s voice: I don’t know. A while, I guess.
Carl’s voice: Just absorbing all this art.
Danny: Are you saying we’ll see something soon?
Zach’s voice: Something. I think.
Me: Zach! Are you here too?
Zach’s voice: I guess so.
We debated what we were looking at for a few more minutes and left to explore the rest of the museum. It wasn’t much better. Perhaps mercifully, the security people kicked us out at 5:30 because they closed early that day.
After dinner, hot dogs with nacho cheese (we agreed through full mouths that it was thoroughly American and therefore okay), we were still hungry so we had some Indian food on the Mall from one of the Folklife tents. It's a new tradition of mine. I must have mango lassi and butter chicken on Independence day. India had a rough time with the Brits, too, after all.
Danny and I headed back to the dorm after second dinner to fetch the diffraction grating glasses that all of us forgot. I'm glad we did--we got to see the whole Mall scene, walking from the Capitol past the Washington Monument and onward toward Lincoln, which is mere blocks away from the dorm. Music, buses, and heat ruled the evening, and the usually medium-long walk turned into a long-long walk as we dodged tourists and vendors, avoiding flip-flopped feet and barbecue-dripping fingers.
Many pairs of diffraction grating glasses in hand, Danny and I rejoined everyone at the Washington Monument and hung out on the grass until the fireworks. The Washington Monument is a far superior place to watch the fireworks than the Lincoln, where we watched last year. Plenty of space, the music is right there, and it was a perfect view, with the White House within sight, the Capitol behind us, Washington to our side, and fireworks taking up half the sky. After the ten minutes of fireworks, half of that with all of us saying "What's that strong line in the yellow part of the spectrum? Is that sodium?" the display was over and the masses scurried homeward.
We returned to work Tuesday. I had difficulties this week moving the project forward, because I found I needed to do much more research before I could write intelligently about pre-Space Age geophysicists. I spent some time rethinking the exhibit’s design and editing content I wrote last week, but mostly I spent my time reading up on Kristian Birkeland and other characters of the early 1900s. Birkeland wore a fez. Fezzes are cool.
Next week, I’d like to finalize the format and write up my notes, so I can get on to the Space Age physicists. I realized today as I was staring at my sketches of the exhibit that the scope is way bigger than the other exhibits (here at http://www.aip.org/history/exhibits.html.) It’s basically going to be the outline of a giant book on “how space science came to be.” It could easily be 300 pages. This is why it has been difficult. I don’t have 300 pages. So I’m going to stop journaling and start editing.
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Randomly showing up at the American Library Association conference was a great idea. It was only a few metro stops away from College Park, so I said “Why not?” and went. And I went again on Saturday, too.
I talked to editors and marketing staff from HarperCollins, Scholastic, Random House, Penguin books, and tons more about the publishing industry and what writers can expect when submitting a manuscript. When I asked the Scholastic marketing staff about submitting a book, one of them said, “Sarah, where’s the pamphlet we have for authors? It has a helpful website on it.”
Sarah then handed me a 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper which I could tell from the first line was their rejection letter (I’ve gotten a few of them). When I pointed this out, the first marketing person laughed nervously and said, “Sarah, are you sure that’s the information pamphlet?” And it was. So that’s what authors can expect from the publishing industry. I think I’m sticking with physics.
I did have the opportunity to pitch my book to an interested editor. He wants me to send the manuscript along. So now I have to edit it.
Better than the networking experience was the chance to meet authors Keith DeCandido (http://www.sff.net/people/krad//) and Laurie Halse Anderson (http://www.writerlady.com/). I chatted with Keith for a while about the grim financial side of being a writer and the Doctor Who finale. I didn’t have a chance to talk to Laurie for long, as I met her during a busy book signing session, but she surprised me when I came to her table by grabbing my hands and saying “You’re my friend on Twitter!” She is such a friendly, inspirational person, and meeting her was the best part of my summer so far.
I had a productive week at work. I met with Greg and Ada, our web guru, to discuss the layout and to edit down the content I’ve written so it can fit on a brief webpage. I also wrote a few more pages of content regarding those solar events I researched last week, and waded into the world of video editing for the intro to the exhibit. Next week, I’m going to give the New York Times a call to see if we can use images of their articles I’ve found in the exhibit. It’ll look nice if we can swing that.
This Thursday evening, the Dyllas hosted a wonderful barbeque at their home for us and our advisors. The food and company were fantastic, and I had a great time. Thank you to our gracious hosts for sharing your evening with us.
This afternoon we had the privilege of touring NIST, thanks to Amy and Zack. We mostly learned about research at NIST involving the very small world of microchips. Several knowledgeable people spoke to us about their work, and I was amazed at the interdisciplinary nature of the research going on. One group uses an engineering lab to study protein behavior in a controlled biochemical environment created by the researchers. And the group members each had some sort of physics or chemistry background. The doors a physics degree can open are many and wide.
This weekend is of course the Fourth of July. I have my diffraction grating glasses. I’m ready.
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The summer is zooming along through a time vortex. Week four? What week four?
This week I made more progress with the exhibit. I wrote a fair amount of material for the first slide, and next week Monday we’re going to finalize it and think about the design. Today I found cool magnetic storm events that coincided with solar maximums in the past century. I’ve searched through old newspapers for news of auroras and telegraph stations lighting on fire. It’s funny to see the progression of technology—every ten to twelve years we get strong solar activity, and every ten to twelve years in the last century has been a good technological checkpoint, because that’s how quickly everyday life changes. And basically, every ten years the consequences of solar storms are worse and worse.
Yesterday was the ACP Employee Appreciation picnic, which was a lot of fun. Open mic was better for me this year because I didn’t perform, so I didn’t spend the whole time being nervous (like last year). There are a lot of talented people in this building.
Today I watched Linda’s egg drop event, which yielded surprising results. Two eggs actually survived a drop from the fifth floor of the building, and the egg attached to a helium rock (“He-rock”) sort of survived a drop from the second floor.
Last weekend Wahab joined our intrepid group, and I watched a bit of the Brazil-Nigeria soccer game with him. Apart from that, I didn’t do much this weekend. Every once and a while, you need a break. But I did go exploring on Monday: a bunch of us went on a long nighttime walking tour of the monuments, including FDR and Jefferson. Last night we watched the return of Futurama.
In a few minutes I’m off to go to the start of the ALA Annual Meeting. I didn’t know about it before coming here, so I didn’t register at the cheap rate and can’t afford to attend any sessions now, but the exhibit hall is inexpensive and full of publishing companies. So I’m checking it out!
This weekend is totally up in the air. I’m looking forward to whatever we decide.
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Today has reduced the rest of this week to a blur, so perhaps I should start with today.
Eight of us, led by Patrick and Jasdeep along with Kendra and Gary, journeyed to Arlington, Virginia today to try the outreach activities they’ve been developing for the SOCK program. Last year, we only went to Tuckahoe Elementary School (a fantastic school with smart, funny kids—I had a great time with them on both occasions) but this time we also went to Yorktown High School to talk to two groups of sixty science students about lasers and physics in general. I’ve never done outreach at a high school before, so it was a good opportunity for me to see what sort of activities my SPS chapter should do with high schoolers.
The best part for me was being able to talk with a few of them afterward about college and majoring in physics. They had good questions and I’m glad I could answer them. Understandably, what with the newspaper headlines reading “This Year’s College Graduates are DOOMED” and “There Will Never be Jobs in the US Again That Don’t Involve Oily Pelicans,” they wanted to know if they could get a job with a physics degree. The answer is a big “yes,” and we have a lot of very different jobs to choose between. Next year I’d like our chapter to visit high schools, if only to tell uncertain college-seekers about the opportunities for them in physics.
Gary thoughtfully organized a take-along lunch for us, which we ate on some shaded bleachers at Tuckahoe Elementary. After lunch we brought the demo equipment to the classroom and soon the kids poured in, looking and pointing and speculating. I can’t get over how well-behaved and smart these kids were. The main activity we did with them was rolling objects down a ramp and showing that hollow objects go slower while solid ones go faster. When we asked them why they thought one object would go faster than another, answers included “air resistance,” “tread,” and “it takes more energy for that one to roll.”
The rest of my week was almost as exciting as today. I spent Monday morning on more background reading for the exhibit, but in the afternoon I met with Greg and Ada, the web designer, to discuss the battle plan for the exhibit. We’ve sort of decided to do the opposite of what more historical articles tend to do: they’ll start in the past and move to the present. We’re looking at the present (and a hypothetical future!), then going back to the nineteenth century. So I’ve been researching how the edge of space affects us in the present. The coolest things I’ve found out are how auroras form and that a massive coronal mass ejection could temporarily alter our magnetosphere and expose our communication satellites to strong electric currents and radiation, throwing civilization into cowering, iPhone-crushing chaos for days or weeks. And other things. (For more reading on what will not happen, see this article from Huffington Post released June 16, just a few days ago: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dk-matai/could-super-solar-flares_b_613867.html. The only remotely correct parts of this article are that a severe, direct CME could produce effects similar to an electromagnetic pulse, and the descriptions of the power grid issues are okay, if overdramatic. But I can tell you that our forests will not be “totally in flames.” CMEs happen almost every week or more.)
I did achieve my goal of beginning to write by today, because I started yesterday. I found promising images, animations, and videos to use in the first slide of the exhibit and scribbled down a few leads. Next week I want to pound out the rest of the slide, choose between drafts, and start the next one. Maybe we should start thinking about web design, too.
I’ve almost forgotten to mention my weekend. It was crazy. We hunted around Dupont Circle for somewhere to watch the England vs. US game, and after USA’s decisive victory went to the Capitol Pride parade. On Sunday we hit the National Gallery of Art, which I love. I’m impressed that we have so much Van Gogh and Monet, two of my favorite artists, here in the States. Then on Monday we tried to go to a Crystal City Star Trek showing, but it was raining pretty hard and the show was outdoors. So instead we headed back to the dorm and Netflixed it. Amy made brownies and a good time was had by all.
On to week four!
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I know I said that I would have more adventures to share this week, but I was wrong. This has been a mind-numbingly boring week, even for a history person like me. I was sick most of this week and I’m only now recovering. So I missed everything—the play, the SPS board meeting, and lots of work.
The good news is I think I have a better grasp of the project now, after figuring out this morning what I still need to learn before I can begin the exhibit. I work better under pressure anyway when I’m writing a research paper, and that’s essentially what I’m doing. Now I’m going to do it faster!
I’ve read up on the upper atmosphere and geomagnetism, so I have a few ideas as to what I should discuss in the exhibit. Today I’ve compiled a few biographies of key physicists working with geomagnetism and such, which I plan on expanding and referring to often next week as I figure out the slides that will go into the exhibit. By Friday next week, I’d really like to start writing it.
Last weekend I did go out to the Natural History Museum with a few other interns and it looks like this weekend will be action-packed: tonight we’re going to see some monuments, tomorrow we’re watching the USA vs. England game, and Sunday we’re thinking of hitting some museums. I’ve visited this city three times now and I still haven’t seen everything, so perhaps this will be the summer to finish off my to-do list.
Until next week!
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It is great to be back in DC for another summer of physics mayhem.
I got in last Saturday and met Linda at the airport. We had an enjoyable long weekend settling in and waiting for the other interns to arrive. We’ve already hit the Air and Space museum.
My first day back at ACP was fantastic: I met my new advisor, Greg Good from the Center for the History of Physics (CHP), and I think the project ahead of me will be a good one. I’m to make an online exhibit for CHP like the ones here: http://www.aip.org/history/exhibits.html. The topic is Physics at the Edge of Space. I’ll be building off the work of my good friend from last year’s group of interns, Mary Mills.
Since I know little about Physics at the Edge of Space (unless we’re talking the edge of space for pulsars, which we’re not), my first assignment was to read up and become familiar with the upper atmosphere and magnetosphere. I suspect all this will be old hat in a few weeks.
I was thrilled to my geeky core by my initial tour of the Niels Bohr Library (NBL). I love stories of eccentric physicists from the past, so the file cabinets of favorite historical characters were exciting to me. I don’t know they would be exciting to anyone else.
I regrettably had to miss a day this week—I came down sick a few nights ago and had to miss Thursday. I’m still sniffly now, but I’ll live.
I wish I had more to say, but that was my week! I’ll have more adventures to share next week.
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