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Caleb Heath

University of Arkansas, SPS SOCK Intern

As an SPS SOCK (Science Outreach Catalyst Kit) intern, Caleb is working on a SOCK themed around exploring the future of sensor technology with fellow intern Nicole Quist. The SOCK will have three main activities and writing instructions for lessons and demonstrations.

View Caleb's Final Presentation.

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Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3| Week 4 | Week 5| Week 6| Week 7| Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Final Reflections

Retrospective: Through the Mirror Brightly

I didn't expect to go to Washington DC this summer.

I'd put the SPS internships out of mind. I tried out, didn't get the green light. It happens. But I had a backup plan: a slow summer of catching up on chemistry and recruiting visiting freshmen for UAteach. That didn't happen, obviously.

An e-mail came. A second chance. You in or out?

I've ignored the Call before. I'd bet some of you have too, and we share the same pain. Not a wound that won't heal; but a flesh that never was. Ignore the Call at your peril. So I came to DC, and went places and did things and met people, as I've recounted to you in these posts. But what actually happened? What changed?

Well, nothing hugely transformative. At least not in the short term. I'm back at the University of Arkansas, still preparing to become a high school physics teacher. I'll complete this phase of my education and move on to educating others for at least a few years. That plan has not changed.

But the vision has sharpened. I see further down my intended path, and when I look to the side, I can see new roads where there were none before.

The SOCKs that Nicole and I conceived of will begin making their way across the country in coming months. I feel the SOCKs are unique among the internship projects. Of all the projects, they belong most to the interns who work on them. Within that summer, they must be designed, tested, and executed, and at the end a new work joins the pantheon of SOCKs past.

This year's SOCK is good. It brings life to difficult and abstract topics, breaks new ground with its purpose-built electronics. Yet I'm unsatisfied. I'm rarely happy with anything I put myself into; I always imagine how it could be better. I've had some practice this summer moderating this mind-set. The first priority is to do, and the distant second is to do it well.

More important than any work I've done are the people I've met, the relationships formed. I have taken my first steps into a community that I knew only on the other side of the newsletter. And when you stand with the leaders of the SPS, when you are at ease in the presence of statesmen and administrators, when you are no longer phased by the presence of Nobel laureates and eminent scientists, you begin to think it is only natural that you are there, and that anything you do should be a credit to your station. There is a saying, “You are the average of your five closest friends.”

And what friends! Long after other memories have faded, there will still be good times to remember. The SPS rewards us well in these internships, but the greatest reward is the company we've shared.

So, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to say, “Yes.”

Week 10: Week of the Parthian Shot
August 5-9, 2013

Despite the title, I have nothing barbed to say about this week, except to wish that someone would hurry up and invent practical transporters. I would have saved considerable time at the airport. More importantly, I could come back at will. I’ll always be a native son, that’s true, but you can’t live and break bread elsewhere and expect to go away without leaving a piece of yourself behind.

Of course, the land gives you a piece of itself in exchange.

I walked among the monuments of the mall this final weekend, the last major outing on my DC bucket list. (I managed to cross off everything but Ford’s Theatre, so that’s another reason to come back someday.) The Jefferson Memorial impressed me greatly, and I learned a few things about the man I hadn’t known before. One was that he was president of the American Philosophical Society for eighteen years. This period was contemporary with his position as Secretary of State, his vice-presidency, and his presidency.

We’ve had few scientist presidents, which is to say that we’ve had none. Herbert Hoover was a mining engineer. Thomas Jefferson was a polymath. Jimmy Carter might have come the closest with his graduate work in nuclear reactor technology, but these three are the noble few. The proportion of scientific representation, past and present, amongst the whole of our legislators and other executives is well known to my readers, and bears more resemblance to the acceptable proportion of insects parts allowed in peanut butter than any of us would like.

So it was gratifying to see that the State Department knows the value of having scientists around, and was able to let a few of them have a chat with us on Tuesday. I often think about how unrestrained science could change the world, but I’ve never before thought of it as a tool of diplomacy. Scientific collaborators will stay on speaking terms long after the politicians have given up on civil discourse.

We, the scientists, hold no truths to be self-evident, but the following one is well-supported: that by rational progress of inquiry the laws of the universe shall come to be known. Everything else is details.

It’s been a most melancholy week. The end was coming, we practiced for it, and the end came. Now we interns are scattered across world. But I am confident that we shall meet again. Our ties with the Society of Physics Students have been strengthened, and I think they shall only grow with time. I shall miss the fine and thoughtful folks until we meet again, and I thank them greatly for the parting gift we all received: a framed picture of the intern group. I shall treasure it always.

I’m still tired from the adventure, and re-acclimating myself to home, but I have a feeling that my future is beginning to open up. I’ll try and keep you abreast of all developments along that merry road.

Week 9: Week of the Last Hurrah
July 29-August 2, 2013

einstein
The eternal mystery of the world and its comprehensibility.

It’s been sitting on my shelf for months now, that little wind-up wonder with the AIP logo on its rotating breast. It hasn’t moved since I played with it the first Monday morning at the office. The office . . . that’s how I think of it now. And home . . . for nine weeks this small patch carved out of primeval dormitory in Foggy Bottom has been home. In a week though? I will move, and like a crab, I take my home with me.

“Tell your mama, tell your pa,

I’m going to send you back to Arkansas . . .”

Yeah. I dig it, Ray. I think we done good too.

Our final outreach event was earlier this week. Fourteen rising ninth graders, and it does my heart glad to see so many interested enough in science to dedicate two weeks of summer to it. I remember going to something like this the summer before I started middle school. It wasn’t terribly inspiring, and I don’t remember very much of it. We made Ooblek, which is a fine substance, but not terribly enlightening. I like to think that what we did this week was more memorable.

(On a side note, did you know that you can mix iron oxide with silly putty to make a blob that eats magnets? I know what I’m going to put in the Easter baskets next year.)

Our length measuring activity has been kid-tested and teacher-approved, so we left the ropes at home on Tuesday. The modular theremins finally got to have their day in the sun, connecting wires peeking out of their transparent cases, hungry for input. We gladly obliged.

The students were a good group, curious and well-informed. We ask, “What is physics?” They say, “Everything!”

We have a small proposition, a modest endeavor really. We’d like to understand the universe. That’d be swell, wouldn’t it? No, don’t run away! It’s just like eating an elephant. One bite at a time.

Back to Tuesday morning . . .

We decided to run the sweep of sensor activities, starting with the basics, and moving up through the advanced concepts. We got pretty far, which was gratifying, even though we lost a little steam at the end. All that can be done is too take note of it, and try to best correct the plan. Perfection is impossible, and there is little laudable about the idea either. Perfection is a phantom, to some a deliriant, to others a narcotic.

There’s no harm in taking the limit, however.

Mathematics held an entirely new beauty once I finally began to understand the idea of limits. Where once was an endless morass of procedures and rules, I began to see possibilities and language with which to express them. You could indeed, “wave your hands at it”, use a bit of knowledge, a dash of intuition, and an answer would appear.

The rest is work and will, as water wears down rock.

Week 8: Week of the Regnant Solemnity
July 22-26, 2013

There is a meditative quality unique to mechanical labor. The fingers move and the mind goes away; when it returns, it finds the products of the body strewn all about it. Time disappears, and then only the creation remains.

I can’t think of future occasions where I’d be cutting fiber optic cable on the train, but perhaps I lack sufficient imagination.

The morning commute is a good time for these activities. With a book in my ear and a snip in my hand, I can spread a spool of wire across the seat and fill bags with segments and casings. It’s simple labor, but it needs doing. I’m two weeks away from going home. All that can be done, must be done.

As much as we in the sciences work with our minds, we also work with our hands. Some of you are probably familiar with the Avogadro Project. It’s one of many efforts to define the kilogram using universal constants rather than the artifact standard of the International Prototype Kilogram, which also goes by the delightful appellation of Le Grand K. The Avogadro Project has the rather modest goal of counting every atom within a sphere of pure silicon-28. What I find remarkable about this are the spheres, the most perfectly round objects in the world. The crude beginning work (within 10 micrometers of sphericity) is done by machines, but the final shaping has been done by the hands of a master lensmaker,  Achim Leistner, who wags claim can feel atomic structures with his fingertips.

The Forms exist, and we have made them.

the old post office
View from the Old Post Office Tower.

If you ever have the chance to go the Library of Congress (by which I mean the Jefferson building-how could such a library ever be confined to one structure?), do so. If you have additional time, acquire a researcher’s card. Leave your belongings in the cloak room. Bring with you only a pen and a notebook. Silence your phone. You are about to enter a temple.

Enter the main reading room.

Look up.

If this is not a transcendental experience for you, I question how deeply we could ever understand each other.

It is immense, majestic. The great dome covers a microcosm of the world, built of books, like the firmament of old. Knowledge filters in from the outside, comes to rest in the volumes.

Walk among the alcoves. Step silently through this world. Find a subject of interest to you. Take a tome and be seated. The desks are slightly canted, covered in glass, and they are the most perfect surface for reading you will ever encounter. Look around once more. Listen to the rustle of pages.

Open your own.

Drink deeply.

I will miss that place most of all. It is too early yet to mourn my leaving, but I can anticipate the longings like I would the phantom of a pain considered.

Still, that time is not yet come, and there are so many possibilities from which to choose, and so many deeds left to do. Only a few items remain on my DC bucket list.

I’ll report to you anything of interest.

Week 7: Week of the Screaming Propagation
July 15-19, 2013

It is now redundant to say that this has been a busy week. All weeks henceforth (that is, the next two and half) will be busy as we work hard to finish our projects. When we are not working, we shall be touring. We have a tour today actually, as we all head to NIST so that Alexandra can show us around. She’s been there all summer, and Nicole has been there for three weeks now. This will be my fifth trip to NIST. I’m still looking forward to it; there’s always something new to see in that sprawling complex.

bugTitan
Left: Love these sculptures at the Botanical Gardens. Right: Soon, it will awaken.

The fourth trip was Wednesday. Kendra and I met Nicole and Jamie (who has gone to NIST for a few days as well) in the afternoon to help the middle school teachers at the institute construct SOCKs of their own. It was wonderful chaos. Everyone managed to construct a theremin. We did have a few setbacks (blown timers, smoking speakers) and some mild frustrations, but these passed. This was a first experience with electronics for many of the teachers. Many were intrigued. I remember hearing, “Well, I’m ready to rewire my house now.” Hopefully no smoke there!

money money
Gonna need more briefcase

I visited the United States Botanic Garden last weekend. It has a beautiful selection of flora from many biomes. One of the more distinguished residents is presently in the news: the titan arum. It owes its current glory to the rare spectacle that is its blooming. They open unpredictably; years may pass, even decades. The flowering itself is brief, one or two days at most. A webcam watches the plant, easily taller than a human being, day and night, and visiting hours have been extended in anticipation of the event.

I saw the plant quiescent on my recent event, but I do want to see it in full glory. I suspect I’m unique in my desire to smell it though. The titan arum’s other names include the stinky plant, and the more evocative corpse flower. Sweet scents may do for bees, but if you want carrion beetles to ask “Where’s the beef?” only the smell of rotting flesh will do. It takes all kinds to pollinate.

Also, it generates heat so that the stench travels farther. You gotta love nature.

In other tourist news, I’d recommend the Bureau of Engraving and Printing here in DC. There’s also one in Fort Worth. I suspect that Texas has a better visitor experience. They have a special two story area just for exhibits in addition to a tour. Still, either is worth a visit, if only to see a fraction of the billion bank notes printed every day. This is mostly replacement money. I know that bills have a limited lifespan, but I’ve never actually had one come apart on me before. I suppose banks usually make the call for when money gets to worn out. No coins incidentally. That’s the Mint’s job, and you have to go to Philadelphia to see that, or one of the other cities with a branch.

arlington
View from Arlington House

That’s all for now. Tour today, and there’s still much to do.


Week 6: Week of the Titans
July 8-12, 2013

artifacts
Artifact standards under glass

It’s been a busier week than usual. On Wednesday, we went to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I didn’t foresee sitting in on an address by the NASA Administrator (which is apparently the position of head honcho).

The king of Camelot once said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard . . .”

I like this sentiment. It’s one of the reasons I returned to study physics, why I do other things too. I don’t think it’s an uncommon motivation, or it shouldn’t be. That’s how we’ll put a human being on the surface of an asteroid, and someday, on the red sands of Mars. Those first footprints will not be sacrosanct. Unlike the lunar surface, the surface of Mars has its own weather. It is alive; it breathes. The flag we plant will not need wires to hold it open. It will flap as it is supposed to.

I wish that sight, the sight of a human flag waving in alien winds, was inevitable. It is not. It is dependent on our will, our effort, to make it so.

I’ve seen at least two record-holders in the past few days (probably more, though I only know of these for sure). One was at NASA, the other at NIST. The latter actually has a link to the former.

clean room
Clean Room - "Where satellites are born"

At NASA we saw the world’s largest clean room, which makes an operating room look like a gas station bathroom. That’s where they’re going to assemble the James Webb Telescope. I never realized the size of the Hubble until I saw one of the prototypes in the National Air and Space Museum. Then I learned the James Webb will be bigger than that: a marvel of engineering, requiring the invention of nearly a dozen new technologies along the way. It will apparently lift-off from French Guyana in 2018.

Nicole, Jamie, and I went to NIST yesterday to demo SOCK activities at the Middle School Teacher’s Institute. (Interestingly, I think security at NIST is more thorough than at Goddard. Don’t mess with the Department of Commerce.) Nicole has already been on-site for the past weeks, but it was my first time meeting the teachers; it was inspiring to meet so many excellent educators.

We tried out the measuring activity, the one with the ropes and uneven sticks, and that went just as well as it did at Tuckahoe. The theremins also made their public debut. Despite a few stumbles, it was well received by the teachers, who thanked us for coming.

moonPeople
Left: I was made for the moon. Right: "Warning: Please don't feed the aerospace engineers."

We elected to stay a little longer and accompany the teachers on some tours. Jamie and Nicole went to see the ballistics testing facility, while I decided to go with another group that went to see the million-pound deadweight machine. That is the second-record holder, the largest such machine in the world, built for NASA and the needs of the Saturn V.

It’s amazing what we can do, if we only try.

Week 5: Week of the Pyroclastic Rain
July 1-5, 2013

Today, we celebrate – our Independence Day!

Actually it was Thursday, but the virtues of a holiday should be celebrated every day. There are so many ways to exercise our liberty.

The third of Hu Jintao’s Eight Honors and Eight Shames says, “Follow science; discard ignorance.”

Choose to learn. Choose to teach.

We are all ignorant of many things; some trivial, some life-changing. So I try and learn every day, and encourage others to do so too.

That ends my sermon. It’s a message that ever goes out of style. Go learn something! Challenge your preconceptions! Renovate your brain!

Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the explosions.

We watched the fireworks from the base of the Washington Monument. It was surreal, much in the same way while I sit here and type, the leader of the free world sits at his own desk, not more than a mile away.

The pyrotechnics were incredible. They filled up the sky; balls of sparkling light seemed to rush down at us on the grass. More than once I thought they’d fall like brilliant meteors and scorch us all. The lights outpaced the reports, so a silent expansion would be heralded a few seconds later by cracks and booms. Smoke from shattered casings filled the sky with ragged clouds, forming a backdrop upon which new fireworks shone like stars in an artist’s conception of a nebula.

And then it was over.

grace hopper
Amazing Grace

We’d been surprised by the crowd when we arrived at the Mall. I’d been pessimistic and assumed it would be standing room only by the time we arrived, but we had found a nice patch to claim. It was a gathering, not a crowd, and when the celebration was over, it became a march as the great mass stood up and strolled away to sleep–or to continue celebrating, as we did.

I suppose I should have mentioned before how we spent the early part of the day. Ro got us all (myself, Darren, Dayton, Jaime, and Fiona) invited to a party held by the ex-fiancée of one of his mentors from Tennessee. I was fine with this and not at all afraid for my kidneys. It was an afternoon of swimming, pool, and fine food, including the freshest fruit salad I’ve ever had.

The rest of the weekend has passed uneventfully. I got a library card (guess where), went to the zoo (saw cheetahs, but not the spotted leopards), and journeyed to Arlington National Cemetery.

DC is expansive; it has a feeling of wideness created by the many instances of grand architecture. There seems to be much more sky here than I’m used to. This was impressed upon me at Arlington. It is the quietest, most desolate place I’ve found here, and you can walk for hours among the graves without seeing another living thing or hearing anything but the breeze. From the high places you can see the city in the distance, the monuments to Washington and Jefferson and the dome of the Capitol.

There are many graves I’ve yet to see, but I did find one in particular before I was chased away by the winds and the ominous sky. If you don’t know her, you should.

Week 4: Week of the Curious Transactions
June 24-28, 2013

spam
[At NIST] we standardize everything

Nicole and I visited NIST last Friday to get prepared for the upcoming Summer Institute. There was a fruitful discussion of ideas, some precipitous meetings, and then we got to unpack toys. The middle school teachers are sure to have a good time. Added to this, all twenty-something of them are getting a SOCK as well, or at least a multi-sensor theremin. Maybe a laser harp too.

This week we really began shopping, an activity I love. Who doesn’t like optimization problems? The inventory started rolling in yesterday, and it’s quite a party package so far: wire, conductive thread, copper taffeta, velostat. The last are three necessary components for bend sensors, which I’ll commence to making this afternoon. I can’t wait for the breadboards to come in. They’re colorful things, not more than two inches on any side.

This place is going to be a mess soon.

It’s a bit quiet here, owing to Nicole’s absence. She left for NIST earlier this week, and will be onsite for a few more weeks. I’ll be traveling to NIST occasionally though, especially once the Institute is underway.

We had rare occasion yesterday for all of us interns to be together: a reception with the AIP Development Board. Great fun, and we have another function tonight with the SPS Executive Committee. We’ll have dinner and then Metro downtown for a performance by the Capitol Steps: “We put the Mock in Democracy!”

Excellent.

snails
I hope you didn't think I was making this up.

I’m something of an art freak- I’ve too little knowledge to be an aficionado-and I’ve been devouring the collections and theaters of the District. This is my favorite part of living in the big city. All those passions and ideas bubble up and materialize into food for the soul.

If you love contemporary art, I cannot recommend the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden enough. My camera is now full of oddities from their collection. Perhaps it’s because I’m a child of the digital age, but such strangeness holds my interest more easily than realistic pieces. If I’m given the choice between the work of a Renaissance master and a room papered in post-it notes and inhabited by cabbage-eating snails, I’ll go with the snails.

This is also a great town for performance art. We’ve been to the Kennedy Center a few times before, as I’ve mentioned in previous entries, but there are also many theatres. There’s the Shakespeare Theatre Company, where even the student actors are veteran professionals. I watched a performance by this student group Wednesday, “The White Devil” with lots of murder and intrigue. I wanted to see them do “Measure for Measure,” but the final performance is sold out. Still, I’m on the wait list, and I’ve had good luck with those lately.

Week 3: Week of the Virulent Culture
June 17-21, 2013

busboys
Did I mention the sweet decor?

We are on the move!

Our second outreach event of the season, at Tuckahoe Elementary, was scheduled for Tuesday. We had been planning ways to test a few of our activities. Three forty-five minute time blocks, about forty students in each block. Christine, Jamie, and Ro were coming out to help Nicole, Toni, and I; there would be a few teachers. Nice and manageable.

Toni came by on Monday afternoon and said there had been a change. We were going to have one session of more than a hundred and twenty students.

Theresa Coffman, our contact, wanted to know if we were still good for the event, or if we wanted to bow out.

apparatus
Piece of one of Michelson (or Morley)'s apparatuses.

Never!

It was a tremendous success, as you might imagine, because good narrative requires it. It also helps that we are, collectively, awesome. Perhaps even wicked.

Our measurement activity had students determining the length of a rope by using sticks. Each group has a stick of a different length, though they don’t know that. When they report to us a different length for each identical rope, they see our little trick. Everyone learns a lesson about standards.

When we gave them the go-ahead, it was an explosion of chaos, but in a well-ordered way. Children stretched out over the whole cafeteria (a few into the hallways), unwinding ropes and turning sticks end over end. We limboed and hurdled over obstacles to keep watch on the kids, who behaved as well as you can expect third-graders to in their last week of school.

Toni rewarded us for our hard work by taking us to a place called Busboys and Poets, which is now among my top favorite restaurants. It has burgers, an open mic night, and a lending library. Travelling always makes me feel an entrepreneur; I want to replicate the wonderful things I find and take them back home.

Noel, our server, informed us that they served “dope burgers.”

“Dope burgers?” I asked.

“Yeah, like, they’re great!”

busboys
Their tongues are unsettling. Like fruit mosquitos.

My reaction (“Oh.”) was situationally hilarious. Our entire table was in stitches.

I’m square, and I’m okay with that.

The first few weeks on the SOCK have been slow going, but we are rapidly gaining ground. Good thing too. The NIST teacher institute is coming soon. We have instruments to make, activities to test, guides to write.

I don’t think it’s going to fit in a sock this year.

My first time at the Kennedy Center was last Friday. All the interns (except Fiona, who has finally arrived this week) attended a performance of the National Symphony. I enjoyed it, but fell prey to drowsiness. Dayton’s elbow saved me from adding my own accompaniment. Ro and I went back yesterday, to the Millennium Stage this time (free performances every day at 6PM, and a webcast), and listened to self-described indie orchestra Mother Falcon. Good stuff.

The Museum of American History has the famous Ruby Slippers, but I found a few things of greater interest to my readers.

Uranium
The first human-enriched sample of U-235.

Week 2: Week of the Singing Beam
June 10-14, 2013

leds
Combined red LED and green laser spectra. Also, shoes.

When last I left you hanging in suspense, we were set to venture forth and bring science to masses of children at the HoCo STEM Festival. Demos would be set up, experiments would be performed, diffraction glasses would be worn! A new day! A red day!

And orange, yellow, green, and so on. Diffraction glasses allow you to see spectra, like a wearable prism. If you aren’t, get yourself a pair (before the 4th of July if you can) and prepare to be amazed. Like many of our visitors on Sunday you may walk around, staring dazed and open-mouthed at the ceiling.

We had a little lightshow where the students could see the different spectra for red, blue, green, and white lights. Those lights decompose into many different colors, but lasers do not. A red laser is red, not mostly red with some orange and yellow. Look at it through diffraction glasses, and you see what looks like a copy of the laser dot, not a spectrum.

My favorite demonstration, however, was the laser sound transmitter. Take a laser pointer, gut the batteries, attach a few other components, and then plug in a music player. Voila, you have made a laser transmitter. Now you can send whatever you want through the air. We sent U2.

einstein
Hanging with the man at the Einstein Fellows Poster Session.

I knew you could do this already, but I didn’t know that the receiver could be as simple as it ended up being: a solar cell attached to a speaker. The music comes through quite clear, considering the hodgepodge of clamps, wires, and tape it travels through.

It was great fun dancing through the beam (eventually we had the laser set up across the balcony, more than a dozen feet away), and having children break it with their own hands. Many a time the music stopped, a hand moved, and a face brightened up in wonder.

How can this be?

Beautiful. That, more than anything, is the payoff for studying the sciences. Learn, and be happy. Teach, and be enraptured.

It was too bad Nicole wasn’t there to see the fruits of her labor, but she and I have another outreach next Tuesday at Tuckahoe Elementary School. Prototypes for the SOCK will be going through their first field test, among them an optical Theremin. Usually theremins are majestic instruments. Ours is a beast that screams when it’s dark and quiets down if you hit it with a laser. I think it will be a big hit.

bones
The display 'One Million Bones' in front of the Capitol, a project protesting genocide in Africa.

We’ll also see about bringing the MaKey MaKey, which is an excellent little toy. It connects directly to a computer via USB and lets you map keyboard or mouse movements to an object. You can have a banana be your space bar, a slinky a down key. It works on anything conductive, including graphite lines on paper. During our experimentation, we found that we needed to complete the circuit with our bodies. This logically progressed to everyone holding hands in a circle while we played a virtual piano with my lunch.

Week 1: Week of the Falling Triangle
June 3-7, 2013

whitehouse
Physicists, we salute you!

What a week of firsts: my first breath of DC air, my first day of interning, my first taste of goat. I’m tired but happy. I expect to continue enjoying myself, but I don’t expect the exhaustion to subside. There’s much work left to do. And if there were no work . . . the city calls out for exploration.

As I took the Metro yesterday, a fierce yearning seized me at a stop that would not take me to Foggy Bottom, where I and the other interns lodge at the International House. Before the train could rush away, I leaped from my seat and out the doors. I escalated to a strange square and walked and walked before surreality seized; I stood in front of the White House.

It looked smaller than I thought it would be.

A lot of things are like that, actually. They’re different than what you’d expect. Like my roommate Alec. Well, I actually expected nothing in particular, but the extensive toolbox was surprising. His answer to my puzzlement: “What if you need tools?”

Can’t argue with that.

The SOCK workspace is packed with things too, all sorts of bric-a-brac. The abundance of stuff mildly exasperates me, but I dare throw nothing away. What if we can use it? Glitter, paintbrushes, wooden hexagonal prisms of all lengths, lasers, LEDs, soup cans (with soup), just a small sample. These are all components of SOCKs past.

SOCK
The SOCK team at NIST with a descendent of Newton's apple tree.

Nicole and I are tasked to make a magic bag. It will have many marvelous attributes. It will command attention, conjure wonder, and proffer knowledge. It will be a comfort to needy evangelists of physics. It will come in a giant sock.

Its name will be 2013 Science Outreach Catalyst Kit, and its contents will reflect a theme fitting of this year’s partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology: sensors and detection. A subtle topic, elusive, necessary. When nearly every pocket holds a suite of miniaturized accelerometers (among other things), you know you’re in pretty deep.

That’s what comes next anyway. This first week has been dedicated largely to orientation and settling in. Sunday saw us feasting at Toni’s place, a much welcome reward for having survived the trip to DC. We came to the American Center for Physics on Monday and lunched with John Mather. We’ve since scattered to the winds: Alec and Darren off to Goddard, Nikki to the Hill, Alexandra (commuting from home) to NIST, and Christine, Jamie, Ro, Nicole (my SOCK partner-in-crime for the NIST collaboration we’ve got going on), and I to the ACP Building. We’re still three interns short, but they’ll be trickling in over the next few weeks.

Tomorrow, Nicole and I will finish putting together our outreach materials for an event at Howard Community College. We have a booth at a STEM fair for middle schoolers, and the two of us have been tasked with designing some demonstrations. They involve lasers, always a crowd pleaser.

The show premieres this Sunday. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Bio

caleb heath

My name is Caleb Heath, and I am a non-traditional student of physics at the University of Arkansas. I hold a bachelor's in philosophy from the same university, and returned to study the sciences two years ago. I have been interested in education since middle school, but have only recently rediscovered this passion. Next year I will be one of the first graduates of our UAteach program, one of the newest sites for UTeach, an initiative to increase the number of skilled STEM teachers. I was invited to attend the 7th Annual UTeach Conference this year, and I hope to continue working with both UAteach and the UTeach Institute. I may go on to further study in the field of education or public policy, but first I think I will teach.

I look forward to coming to Washington DC, as I cannot help but imagine being infected by the restless energy that resides there. My fellow interns and I will surely accomplish great things under its influence. I am also a voracious reader and writer, abilities which I put to use as editor of my campus SPS newspaper. I work on my own stories as time permits (rarely science fiction, actually). My other hobbies include weightlifting and traditional gaming.

 
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