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Nick DorufchalkNick Durofchalk
Lebanon Valley College
Internship: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

I am a Junior Physics and Music Recording Technology major at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA. I am particularly interested in acoustics and the science of sound and plan to work towards a doctorate in the field after finishing my undergraduate studies in the spring of 2015. I have always been fascinated with the inner workings of the world and my search for answers has brought me to the fundamental science that is Physics. It is a dream of mine to observe, discover, research, and understand new natural phenomena for a career and perhaps one day share my knowledge with those who are interested. At Lebanon Valley College, I have been involved with the Society of Physics Students since my freshman yearĖI was the president of the chapter for the past two and a half years, and will be the president for my final year at Lebanon Valley.

My hometown is Downingtown, PA, a small town located halfway between Philadelphia and Lancaster. I love music—creating, composing, playing, recording, and performing—and have been working with music since my kindergarten years. I credit my love for music for sparking my original interest in the properties of sound and leading to my love of physics. I also was raised to appreciate and enjoy the outdoors. As soon as I could walk, and even before that, my parents would take my brother and I camping, canoeing, hiking, and skiing. I remember many nights sitting around the campfire fire and looking up into the crystal clear night sky and losing myself in thought. The universe we live in is a fascinating place, and I am happy to have made the choice to spend the rest of my life seeking to understand it.

View Nick'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
  • Final Reflections
Week 1, May 26-June 1, 2014


It's a strange feeling, moving into a city. Iíve spent my entire life living in quaint, quiet suburbs but yet there I was, Monday afternoon, pushing a cart and a half full of my belongings into the Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (JBKO) Residence Hall at the George Washington University in Washington D.C., anxiously awaiting the opportunity to meet my new roommate, and the rest of my fellow SPS interns.

My name is Nick Durofchalk, and I am a rising senior at Lebanon Valley College, a (very) small liberal arts school near Hershey PA, working my way towards a bachelorís degree in Physics and Music Recording Technology. Iíve known a couple of people who, upon learning of my two majors, question the wisdom in pursuing a degree in two vastly different subjects. These people wave their hands and claim that the two donít work together, but I disagree. I see the two as entirely complimentary and after finishing my undergraduate studies, I hope to combine my love of sound and science and pursue a Ph.D. in Acoustics.

This summer, I have the privilege and joy to be working with a team of scientists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on a project concerned with the changing properties of the binary star system, Eta Carinae, and the characteristics of its solar winds as its two stars approach Periastron (the term used to describe when two orbiting bodies are at their minimal distance to each other). Despite the orientation for the Society of Physics Students (SPS) internship program, which was on Wednesday, orientation for the NASA Goddard interns isnít until next Monday. So while I havenít started work at NASA quite yet, I canít wait to gain a deeper understanding of the material and dive into the research process.

In the meantime, all of us interns have had the pleasure of being introduced to the various personnel that work in the ACP building, which stands for the American Center for Physics. Weíve spent the past couple days commuting to the ACP and developing networking skills, speaking with staff members of the multiple organizations housed at the ACP, working with a few physics demonstrations, and occasionally even being fed!

Hydrogen lamp viewed through diffraction grating glasses

Photo: One of the physics demonstrations we worked with during a meeting with members of the SPS staff.
This is a Hydrogen Lamp viewed through the lens of a pair of diffraction grating glasses. In addition to seeing the light from the Hydrogen source, (the vertical light beam in the center of this picture) the diffraction glasses allowed the observer to see the spectra lines of Hydrogen (the blue, green, and red lines surrounding the hydrogen source).

When I applied for this internship through the Society of Physics Students, or SPS, last spring, I couldnít even imagine standing where I stood the day after moving in: wandering the halls of the Smithsonian Museums with some of the most intelligent and friendly young physicists I have ever had the pleasure of meeting Ė all of us anxiously awaiting the opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of being accepted into this amazing summer intern program.


Week 2, June 2-8, 2014


And so on Monday, the Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center hosted its orientation for the fresh crop of summer interns. Kirsten, the other SPS intern working with Nasa, and I caught the Metro, road to the end of the line, then caught the bus and arrived at the Goddard Visitor's center a little ahead of time. Honestly, I was surprised by the number of students, recent graduates, and other people who had been selected to intern with Nasa. I got the chance to talk to a few of them, and it was quite interesting hearing their stories. While I had been offered this opportunity through SPS, others had received their offers through NSF grants, or even directly from Nasa. Orientation went smoothly, and by 12:30, I was having lunch with my new mentor and peers at a picnic table outside on Goddard's Campus. My mentor, Dr. Ted Gull, introduced me to people I would be working with, and starting talking about the project I'd be tackling this summer. He did his best to summarize the binary star system, Eta Carinae, and the bipolar nebula surrounding it, but as he talked, I knew I had a lot to read about.

World War II Memorial in Washington, DCLo and behold, the four days to follow were basically just that: a lot of reading! Of course, there were other things to be done in addition to reading. In fact, I didn't do much reading while at Goddard, as I never really had the downtime to read. I met the two other interns I would be working with, Caleb Gimar and Jamar Liburd, I successfully navigated my way through the Nasa security clearances to get a Nasa email address and a username and password for the system, and attended a fair amount of presentations on a variety of subjects!

The biggest success of the week, in my opinion, was my introduction to Unix coding. When Ted first asked me "do you use a PC or a Mac?" I answered confidently "I'm a PC person!" Little did I know, that apparently the majority of the Physics Research World uses Mac and Unix based systems (like OSX and Linux systems). So Caleb and I were given a Mac Book and a Mac Pro (for use on Goddard Campus only) to share between the two of us and get started learning Unix. Now, at the end of the week, I think I've gotten the basics: I can navigate throughout the different directories, open up files to edit, create aliases in my .cshrc file, download files from the web with the curl command, and call up the IDL programming language all from within the terminal of OSX! I consider that a success.

So what exactly am I doing this summer? From what I understand from this first week, I, along with Caleb, Jamar, Ted, and a few other scientists, will be observing Eta Carinae, as its two stars approach each other in their eccentric orbit. That event, known as Periastron, is going to happen later this summer, and when it does, we will be monitoring the changes of its spectral output (which kind of light is emitted from the stars). In addition to that, Caleb and I will be going back through old data gathered from the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) satellite, and creating a history, if you will, of Eta Carinae throughout time based on its periodic orbit. Its going to be an exciting summer at Goddard, and I can't wait to dig in deeper!

Arlington CemeteryOf course, work isn't the only thing on my mind this summer, and this week there's been a fair share of play. The other SPS interns and I have been getting a long great. We've done some more touring of Washington, going to see one of the Smithsonian's art galleries and watching the Changing of the Guard at Arlington Cemetery (if you've never seen the changing of the guard, its breathtaking. I highly recommend it). We even entered a massive city-wide scavenger hunt called the Post Hunt (hosted by the Washington Post). We didn't win, but it was still a blast solving the riddles scattered throughout DC. We've gone out to eat, we've stayed in and played games, and we've been having a blast. Just today, nine of us interns went to the HoCo Stem Festival, hosted by the Howard County Community College. There, we set up a couple physics demos and attempted to "spread science to the masses" as the SPS Director Toni Sauncy proclaimed. I was in charge of explaining to the interested kids who came to my station why its easier to balance a stick when the heavier end is higher in the air. If you're curious, its because when the center of mass is farther away from the point of rotation (the balancing point in this case), it takes more torque to make the stick rotate, giving you more time to react and steady the stick!

Photo 1: This is the World War II memorial, at night. Its a beautiful sight when its lit up, and a fitting place to to pay your respects on June 6th.

Photo 2: This is an expanse of gravestones at Arlington Cemetery. Its a breathtaking place to be... words cannot describe the emotions that rush through your body as you wander the hallowed grounds.

All in all, it's been an awesome week two. Nasa's treating me well, and my fellow interns are making my time in DC so much fun. At this point, all I can hope for is that these next few weeks don't go by too fast!


Week 3, June 9-15, 2014


On Monday, June 9th, the Hubble Space Telescope looked towards Eta Carinae and collected spectrogram data with the on board Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. This particular data collection was incredibly exciting for me, because I would be one of the first people to analyze it! My mentor, Ted Gull, had made prior arrangements with his family to drive out to New Brunswick and would be out of the office for the next week and a half. So Dr. Gull, on Monday afternoon, gave Caleb, my co-NASA-intern, and I our main assignment for the week: Analyze the raw data from the Hubble, and make note of the brightest coordinate from each spectrograph (the catch was that some of the 'brightest' pixels were artifacts from the camera or from cosmic ray hits, and were not from Eta Carinae at all, so we had to make sure our brightest pixel was indeed part of the spectra from the star system). All in all, there were around 300 spectra to examine. Caleb and I started on Tuesday and were able to finish by Thursday morning. Honestly, while it was kind of tedious looking through 300 pictures for the brightest pixel, being one of the first people in the world to look at brand new data gives rise to one of the most exciting feelings.

But Hubble Data wasn't the only new and exciting thing I dealt with this past week. My other main assignment was to sort through a large sample of data from the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) collected over the past twenty years on Eta Carinae. As part of the project Caleb and I will be working on, it is important to make sure we know how all this data fits together, since a lot of it was gathered for different projects. Encoded within each and every data file is something called a 'header.' This header contains a wealth of information about the data, when it was taken, for what project, which aperture setting, etc. It was my duty to go through all of these headers and record the value of the "Position Angle" for each and every file. I was to do this by creating an IDL procedure. Now I'm not entirely unfamiliar with programming, but I'm far from familiar. It took me two days to write a script that in essence: read a file, opened its header, stored the value of the Position Angle, and output it to a text file. While that may seem like a simple program, it was definitely a challenge to write. But now, having tasted my first bit of IDL coding, I'm starting to get the hang of it, and this too is an exciting feeling.

It was a bit strange though, finishing so much of my work by Thursday afternoon. Caleb and I stayed in touch with Dr. Gull over the week through email, and he gave us a few more smaller assignments to work on: namely, adding the position angles to an excel spreadsheet along with some other information. Caleb and I also looked at about half of the IUE files manually and attempted to determine which files were useful to us, and which files contained nothing but noise. So towards the end of the week, the excitement died down, and we are eager for our next assignment.

But once Friday evening came around, I was more than happy to put off that next assignment until Monday. My girlfriend came down on Friday evening and throughout the weekend we explored new areas of Washington DC. We went to the Smithsonian National of Air and Space Museum, went on more monument tours, went to the National Zoo, and watched the Game of Thrones season four finale with the majority of the other SPS interns and the Director of SPS herself. It was an awesome weekend and I only wish it could've lasted longer.

Sample Hubble SpectraPhoto: An example of Ultraviolet Spectra taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. The vertical lines are actual emission lines from Eta Carinae! (For those wondering, the brightest pixel is located in the leftmost emission line)


Week 4, June 16-22, 2014


On Monday, I woke up at 6:42, caught the 7:57 Metro train to New Carrolton, transferred to the 8:40 Prince George's County Bus, and arrived at Goddard at 8:58, a commute that had engrained itself in my head like clockwork. Since Dr. Gull would be away for one more week, I set about continuing my work from the week past. Further organizing and sifting through the data from the IUE, and seeing whatever there was to see. Nearly everyday, I would email Dr. Gull detailing the progress Caleb and I had made in that day, and we would get a response urging us to continue our analysis.

Our findings were few and far between, but Caleb and I made some notable observations. For one, by looking at the scatterplot of Peak Flux (at a particular wavelength associated with an emission line) over time, we could determine the periodic nature of Eta Carinae, and observed that the local minimums of our scatterplots roughly aligned in time with the recorded periastron dates. In addition to the periodicity, we also noticed a general trend over the 20+ year time frame -- The flux was generally increasing as time went on. Or in other words, the star was getting brighter! Of course, we needed to take this information with a grain of salt, since our plots were littered with bad data points and had a slew of other issues. Nonetheless, it was exciting to see a general trend in a scatterplot that initially seemed to hold no pattern whatsoever.

One of the best days of the week, Thursday, I went with Tom Madura, a post-doc working with Dr. Gull on Eta Carinae, to the Conceptual Image Lab. The CIL had one of the coolest offices I have ever seen. This is where all of the animators and video producers at NASA Goddard work. Each of them had a desk with three large monitors, touch screens, drawing tablets, and a host of other awesome technology and worked on all of the various visual projects at NASA. As an music recording technology major at Lebanon Valley College, I'm very interested in the Audio/Visual world, and while it's not quite the same as my passion for physics, it is still a fascination. Afterwards, I emailed one of the employees at who works in the CIL and arranged to have lunch with him next week. I really look forward to talking about the work that he does.

My girlfriend stayed in DC until Monday night, and I was extremely happy to give her a brief tour of NASA Goddard late in the afternoon. We walked around the campus, visiting my office, the building that houses the James Webb Space Telescope (currently under construction), and the Building 1 Gift Shop. It was really neat to stand on the observation deck and to look through the window to the Clean Room and see pieces of the James Webb waiting for assembly. Very close to where we were standing, we could see one of the hexagonal components of the JWST main mirror. As we looked over the room, I couldn't help but feel humbled, thinking out-loud that in a few short years that mirror would be over 1 million miles away and orbiting our sun.

When the work week had concluded and the weekend had arrived, I was more than happy to catch up on sleep. But before that, I went out to dinner with Ben Perez, Stephen, Jake, Simon, and Kearns. We went to a Texas Barbecue restaurant called Hill Country BBQ, and let me tell you, this place was amazing. I had 1/3 of a pound of pork ribs and some baked beans, and I don't think I've ever had ribs that delicious. The funny thing about this weekend though, was that wasn't the last day of barbecue! On Sunday, a large majority of the SPS interns went to the Safeway Barbecue Battle. It was $15 admission, and once in, we walked around the festival and collected as many free samples as we could get our hands on! It was a really fun time, and we ended up spending four hours there. While I didn't buy any of the barbecue, by the time I left, I was full from the free samples.

James Webb Space Telescope Mirror SegmentPhoto: The mirror segment to be used in the James Webb Space Telescope, currently in the Clean Room in Building 29 at NASA Goddard


Week 5, June 23-29, 2014


I would say the week was like any other week, but that certainly wasn't the case. Ted Gull came back to the office on Monday morning, so with his guidance and support, I accomplished a lot during the five days that were to follow. On Monday, Ted, Caleb and I all discussed what Caleb and I had been doing for the past week and a half that Ted was away, and what problems we encountered. On Tuesday, I met for lunch with an animator named Brian Monroe from the Conceptual Image Lab. He was extremely friendly and we had a great conversation about the kind of work he does for the CIL and for NASA, how he ended up working for the CIL, and what he did prior to coming to Goddard. He was as interested in my background as I was in his, so I also got to share the story of how I ended up with my summer position. On Wednesday, Ted had Caleb and I met with a woman named Gladys Kober. She introduced us to a set of IDL programming tools that would allow us to analyze the data from the IUE satellite with much more precision and power. The only catch was we had to read each individual IUE spectra file and export the wavelength, flux, and other data to an IDL variable save. This wouldn't be too much of a hassle if there wasn't more than 250 files to sort through! On Thursday, an idea came into my head about how to make the IDL variable saving process a lot easier: create an IDL procedure that would do it for us and save all the IUE spectra data to one large IDL variable save file. Each individual variable would be named according to the file it originated from and through the simple process of importing this large IDL variable save, we would have access to the entirety of the IUE spectra data on Eta Carinae collected over the past thirty years! This task proved much harder than I anticipated, and by Thursday afternoon I had almost given up. But I didn't give up, and instead I had a major breakthrough and was able to complete the procedure by 4:55. I barely caught my bus back home that day! On Friday, Caleb and I divided the data we were to analyze: I'd look at the three important emission lines between the wavelength range of 1850 to 1950 Angstroms, and he would would look at the other three emission lines of note.

Also on Friday, my parents came down to visit! For my Birthday in May, my parents got me four tickets to see my favorite Bluegrass band, The Seldom Scene, at the Birchmere in Washington DC. One ticket for me, one for a guest of mine, and two for them. So on Friday, we went out to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, and rented 3 bikes from the Bikeshare in the city. We spent Friday night biking down to the Lincoln Memorial and wandering throughout some of the other Monuments. On Saturday morning, My parents met me, Ashley, Ben Perez, and Kelby for breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts. Afterwards, my parents and I biked to the Washington Monument and toured the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. We went out for lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant and decided to meet back up at 4:00 in preparation for the Seldom Scene concert at the Birchmere later that night.

Not too many people in the world like Bluegrass music, but my family does. I offered to bring any of the SPS interns who would want to come, and as it turns out, Kelby also likes Bluegrass. So the four of us took an Uber (its similar to a taxi for those who don't know) to the Birchmere and by 6:00 we had our seats. The Birchmere has a really interesting setup for concerts. You enter into the doors in the order you check in at the Box Office, and when you enter, you sit down at long dining room like tables. You order dinner from their menu, and its timed so by the time you finish your dinner, the Band is about ready to play. You watch the music from your table and can continue to order drinks and food as seems fit. Anyway, the concert was outstanding and we all had a great time. We came back home around 11:30 and I went to bed soon after.

Interns and parents at the BirchmereOn Sunday, I met my parents for brunch one last time. I invited the other SPS interns to join us, but Caleb Heath (not the Caleb I work with at Goddard) was the only one who ended up coming. When we finished our brunch, my parents took me to their car and drove me back to JBKO (the building where I'm staying this summer). Then they showered with me bottled water, iced tea, a toaster, poptarts, paper towels, and a bunch of other things they thought I might need for the rest of the summer. I love my parents. They left shortly after, and I spent the remainder of the day unpacking and organizing the myriad of things they had given me.

Photo: Kelby, myself, my Dad, and my Mom (from left to right) at the Birchmere, following the Seldom Scene Concert.


Week 6, June 30-July 6, 2014


With the fourth of July coming quicker than I could anticipate, the work week flew by way to fast. Caleb and I, with a sigh of relief, finished our first pass cataloguing, documenting, printing, and analyzing the entirety of the usable IUE spectrograph data. But before we could finish that sigh, we were given additional, exciting tasks and new data with which to work. Our new assignment is to examine data taken around the year 2004 by STIS (Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph) onboard the Hubble Space Telescope. By The end of the week on Thursday, I was able to get acquainted with the IDL tools that allow me to manipulate and analyze the data. These tools will prepare me to eventually compare the spectral information taken by STIS to spectral information taken by IUE at similar phases (albeit during different cycles) in the Eta Carinae's orbital period. As the work week came to a close, and a brutal rainstorm just barely missed Goddard Space Flight Center, my girlfriend drove down to DC for a second visit to pick me up from work and the three day holiday weekend began.

On Friday, it was the fourth of July. With the sun overhead, my girlfriend and I biked down to the National Mall with backpacks full of pretzels, beef jerky, blueberries, and other snacks. There, we met up with a handful of other SPS interns, parked on a blanket at the base of the Washington Monument. We stayed on the Mall for the entire day, enjoying conversation and picnic foods until finally at 9:00 the fireworks began. Because we are the SPS intern group, we of course took it upon ourselves to turn Independence Day Celebration into a science outreach event. We distributed more than two hundred pairs of diffraction glasses before the fireworks started and informed people on how the light from the different fireworks (and all light) could be broken into its components by the glasses. But even with all of our talk and outreach, I myself wasn't prepared for the spectacle that unfolded beyond the lenses of the diffraction glasses. Our group of interns let out a chorus of "oohs" and "ahhs" and I couldn't help but sing along. While I didn't think it possible, the diffraction glasses made the Fourth of July Fire Works Show on the National Mall ten times better. It was quite the night.

[Photo of Fireworks view from diffraction glasses soon to come]

the Concorde, the Enola Gay, and the Space Shuttle Discovery the Concorde, the Enola Gay, and the Space Shuttle Discovery the Concorde, the Enola Gay, and the Space Shuttle Discovery

On Saturday, my girlfriend and I, along with Kelby, her friend Katherine, and Jake, drove out to the Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian Air and Space extension. Without a doubt, the extension is my favorite museum I've ever seen. I saw the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first Atomic Bomb during World War II, the Langley Glider, a failed early attempt at manned flight, and of course, the Space Shuttle Discovery. The Shuttle was Larger than I could ever imagine, and more magnificent in person than a person could believe. I personally had an extremely good time taking panoramas with my phone and capturing entire aircrafts in one photo.

Photos: the Concorde, the Enola Gay, and the Space Shuttle Discovery.

On Sunday, my girlfriend and I went out for brunch to a buffet restaurant in Dupont Circle. We ate our fill of delicious omelet's, waffles, bacon and sausage, while enjoying the bottomless Mimosas and Bloody Mary's the restaurant had to offer. It was a wonderful weekend, the only negative moment was the one where I waved goodbye to my girlfriend as she caught the metro towards Vienna and rode away to where she parked her car.


Week 7, July 7-13, 2014


The week of July 7th began like every other week, but I wasted no time getting back to work. This week, like the week before, would be one work day short. On Friday, Kelby and Ben were to lead us on a tour of NIST. This tour would last nearly all day, so it didn't seem likely that I'd be able to make it to Goddard after the tour was over. My work for the week consisted mostly of reading STIS-Echelle spectral data of Eta Carinae in IDL, correcting the data for flagged errors, and re exporting the useful information as a new file. I completed this data reduction step for all of the sets of spectra with at least three separate wavelength regions. I plan on finishing the rest of the STIS-Echelle spectra reduction early next week, after running a second pass over the IUE data. In preparation for the fast approaching date of SPS sympoisum and the NASA Intern Poster Session, I felt as though it was important to again run through the IUE data and more carefully analyze the spectra. I believe the main focus of this summer's poster will be the analysis of Eta Carinae's Ultraviolet Emission Profile over the Life Span of IUE. After discussing how poster sessions function with Kendra over lunch on Tuesday, I think I would like the poster to focus on the variance of particular emission lines of iron and other elements over both the individual phases of the binary procession and the multi-phase evolution of the system. But as I mentioned earlier, additional work towards my end goal would have to wait for the following week because of time away from work for presentations by Dr. John Mather at Goddard and Kelby & Ben's tour of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Standard Mol of three different elementsFriday came about and the day welcomed the group of SPS interns with the hot summer DC sun. Kelby rode with us through her daily commute, which to my surprise was more grueling than mine! The commute was longer, included a metro rail transfer to the red line & a shuttle to NIST from the end of the line, and was more crowded than the standard commute for Kirsten and I. Once we finally arrived at NIST, I had to admit that the campus was beautiful. Though I couldn't say for sure whether the NIST campus or NASA GSFC campus was more impressive - both are great places to work! The tour led us through NIST's Center for Neutron Research (NCNR), NIST's multiple electron microscopes, the lab Kelby worked in, the office Ben worked in, and a walk around the outskirts of NIST's cleanroom facilities. As John Suehle, Kelby and Ben's mentor, led us around the cleanroom and its various labs, I gained a new-found appreciation for the microscopic transistors that modern technology is able to create.

After the tour, the group of SPS Interns, along with Kendra and Courtney (two SPS employee's involved with the internship program) headed across the street for lunch at the Dogfish Head Alehouse. We all enjoyed our lunch, and I devoured a delicious barbecue burger. After lunch, half of the interns went with Courtney to the Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian Extension, but since I had already gone the weekend before, I decided to skip out. The rest of the weekend went by smoothly and was full of relaxation. On Saturday, the whole lot of the interns, except for Kirsten who was spending the weekend in Philadelphia, went out for a quick seafood dinner in Georgetown, and on Sunday, Jake, Mark, Caleb and I went to a local diner in Dupont Circle for brunch. So the weekend was coming to a close, and on Sunday night I knew it was time to brace myself for the work week to come.

Photo: A picture from NIST of a Standard Mol of three different elements (Liquid water, Carbon graphite, Aluminum, and Copper from left to right)


Week 8, July 14-20, 2014


The beginning of week eight marked the beginning of 'crunch time.' The science jamboree and SPS Goddard tour Kirsten and I were to lead were Thursday, the SPS Intern Symposium was the week after, and the NASA Goddard summer intern poster session was to be the Thursday after that. The end had just come in to sight, and I wasn't ready to see it. And while Monday was an incredible day, it didn't help ease my nerves.

On Monday, Caleb, Jamar, and I- the three summer interns working with the Eta Carinae studies at Goddard- took a half day and attended a NASA sponsored panel discussion called "The Search For Life." The panel was amazing and full of incredibly smart people such as John Mather, John Grunsfeld, Dave Gallagher, Sara Seager, and Matt Mountain. They talked about the James Webb Space Telescope and how it could be used to possibly detect organic gasses in exoplanetary atmospheres. Before we left for the panel, Dr. Gull gave Caleb and I a copy of the recent Eta Carinae press release (link here) and a 3D print of the Homunculus Nebulae for us to hand to John Grunsfield, a former astronaut and friend of Dr. Gull and Charles Bolden, The Administrator of NASA. So after the presentation and discussion, Caleb approached Grunsfield and I approached Bolden. I shook his hand, introduced myself, handed him the 3D Printed Neubulae and Homunculus, and told him about Dr. Ted Gull's work at NASA Goddard involving Eta Carinae. Our conversation was brief, but all in all it's still pretty neat that I shook the hand of the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NASA TelevisionPhoto: A picture I quickly took with my phone before the panel started. It was kind of a big deal! They had camera's and it was broadcasted live on NASA Television. If you want to watch the presentation, its on NASA's YouTube Channel. Here's a link:

Tuesday and Wednesday passed too quickly. Ted gave Caleb, Jamar, and I the assignment of creating a handout that briefly presented the work that the three of us have been doing thus far this summer. This little handout would be available for reading and taking at the Eta Cariane table for the Science Jamboree. So we brainstormed together, and decided to do a three-fold pamphlet. I volunteered to format and create the actual pamphlet (I had access to Microsoft Publisher, so that makes it a lot easier), as long as Caleb and Jamar could help me with the brief write ups. I finished the pamphlet late Wednesday night and I think it turned out great. You can see for yourself by following the link here.

On Tuesday night, AIP hosted a dinner at the College Park Aviation Museum for the SPS interns, their mentors, and other distinguished guests. Not only was the company incredible (I got to eat with Dr. Mather!), the museum was really cool. It showcased a lot of the Wright Brother's early accomplishments. We posed for an SPS group picture in front of the museum's climbable "Imagination Plane." It was a fun night.

On Thursday, Kirsten and I led a tour of NASA Goddard for the SPS Interns. Her and I coordinated our stops and stays and where we would walk. Goddard's campus is so large that we could barely fit what we wanted to see in one tour, but we managed by making a couple sacrifices. In my opinion, the highlight of the tour was the Science Jamboree. Basically, it was bunch of tables inside Building 28 at Goddard. At these tables, representatives from some of Goddard's research teams presented what's new in their field, and happily talked with interested guests about what they were researching. A lot of tables included small demonstrations or handouts of posters, stickers, pins, or other goodies. The Eta Carinae table proudly displayed the pamphlet I created and hosted a raffle competition to win a 3D printed Homunculus Nebulae. After the Jamboree, Dr. Gull gave us a tour of building 29, which houses the giant clean room where the James Webb Space Telescope will be assembled, and a host of other incredible sights. The tour went better than I anticipated and everybody had a great time. It was a good day.


Week 9, Date, 2014


Week 8 came to a successful end, but I knew better than to think my work was over. The Friday that was fast approaching was to be the day of the SPS Intern's Final Presentation. Yet when I woke up on Monday, I had to finally face the truth- I really needed to start working on that.

So on Monday, like a good college student, I procrastinated. Today was the day Ashley and Ben were to lead us on a tour of Capitol Hill, or at least what they could access. In addition to that, Ashley had arranged for us to tour the Pentagon in the morning, before the tour of the Capitol. The Pentagon was really neat, although we didn't really end up seeing more than just a couple long hallways and a few offices. I assume the "fun stuff" is off-limits for tourists. Capitol Hill was much nicer. Little did I know, but part of Ben Preis' Job working with a congressional office was to lead tours of the Capitol. So naturally, Ben gave us a great tour.  We saw the Rotunda, the center of Washington D.C., and a really cool acoustic echo spot. After that, Ashley showed us the room where most of her hearings were held, and the office of the committee with which she worked. And finally, after all that, we all had the chance to have a group conversation with a few of the Physicist on Ashley's committee about getting into Science Policy. Now while all this was happening, I noticed my mind constantly fretting about Friday, and all the work I had yet to do.

The rest of the week went by way too quickly. I spent a lot of time at work preparing my presentation. Confirming my research's results with Ted and Caleb and discussing how to best present them to an audience that knew as much about Eta Carinae as I did in May (Read: Nothing). I stayed up late bugging whoever would listen to me, asking if they could listen to me give a run through of the presentation and if they had any suggestions (sorry Riley...). Thursday morning, SPS hosted a practice presentation session for the interns. I took advantage of that and everyone gave me advice on how to make the presentation better. Before I knew it, it was Thursday night, and I had what I had. I was still nervous as can be, but I gave it run more run through for my friend Sean Flanagan, who had come down for the weekend to catch up, hang out, and see my presentation. After my run through, Sean's only suggestion echoed what I had been told earlier: "do it without your sheet of notes." To that I replied, "I'll try" and did my best to try to hide my nervousness.

Classical music on the National MallSince Sean was in town, and it was only a little past dinner time, we decided to walk around the city for a little while. We walked down to the National Mall to see the Washington Monument and whatever else we could see. As we're walking around the monument, we hear classical music coming from somewhere. Apparently, the US Marine Band was playing a set of classical music on the stage near the Washington Monument. We listened for a song or two then decided to tour the rest of the monuments before the sun set. By the time we got back to the room, it was basically time for bed.

Photo: Classical music on the National Mall

The following morning went by as unremarkable as it could have been. Kearns and I woke up in a timely matter and buttoned up our suits. We all caught the metro and made it to the ACP building. My mom, dad, and brother all came down to see the presentations, as well as Ted Gull, Mike Corcoran, Tom Madura, Kenji Hamaguchi, Jamar, and Caleb from the Eta Carinae research team at Goddard. Since I knew Ted and company would be slightly late, I asked Kendra if I could go later. I went last. Everyone's presentations before me went incredibly well, and I was just hoping I wouldn't mess up. When it was finally my turn, I walked up to the podium, loaded my slideshow, attached my microphone, set my notes in front of me, and took one deep breath...

...and I nailed it. After I finished my last line, I realized that I didn't even once look at my notes. I didn't stutter, I said what I needed to say, and I must have got the audience interested because they certainly had questions to ask. The best part about the questions? I knew how to answer them! It felt great! After all of the questions subsided and Kendra was about ready to take over for the closing ceremony, I remembered there was one more thing I wanted to mention. So before Kendra could take full control of a microphone, I started "...and one more thing." Pulling a play from Steve Job's playbook, I reached into my inside suit pocket and pulled out the 3-D Model of Eta Carinae that Ted had given me a few weeks prior. I the proceeded to explain what it was, briefly summarized the work being done by Ted and his team, and finished by mentioning the press release that had come out earlier in the summer on the 3-D structure of Eta Carinae.

The group of us at TGI Friday'sTo celebrate a job well done, a large majority of the SPS interns plus Sean went out for endless appetizers at TGI Fridays. We probably ate too much food, but as far as I'm concerned, we had no regrets. Further celebrations were in order, so after that, well into the evening, a handful of us went out for a few drinks in Dupont Circle. Sean and I ran into more public music as we walked through the actual circle in Dupont, and we all danced and listened to an amateur jazz band as they rocked "When the Saints go Marching in." To summarize, It was a fantastic weekend and a great conclusion to my internship with SPS.

Photo: The group of us at TGI Friday's


Final Reflections, August 2014


Week 10 was bittersweet. After the Final Presentations the week before, most of the week was spent preparing our entry for NASA Goddard's Intern Poster Session. Caleb and I worked tirelessly trying to design the perfect poster that wasn't boring and presented our research in a neat an organized manner. This proved to be a lot harder than one would've expected. But we cooperated and we both were incredibly proud of the final product.

On the final Wednesday of my internship, Caleb and I printed the final version of our poster and hung it up in building 28 so as to be ready for the next day. On Thursday, I put on my suit and, once I arrived at Goddard, worked with Caleb to finish the remaining preparations for the poster session. The day went off without a hitch. We explained our work to a decent number of interested Goddard employees and NASA interns and got to hear about the work that other interns did during the summer. After the session, Ted Gull, Tom Madura, Mike Corcoran, Kenji Hamaguchi, Jamar, Kirsten, Caleb and I went out to lunch to celebrate a job well done and a great summer.

Nick at the NASA Goddard Intern Poster SessionPhoto: Me standing in front of the my poster at the NASA Goddard Intern Poster Session.

I'm writing this final entry from my home in Downingtown PA. Looking back on the summer, I still can't believe its over. Honestly, I'm still amazed it happened in the first place. The people I've met, the places I've been, and the things I've done are unlike everything I've ever encountered in my life before, and my gratitude to the Society of Physics Students is endless.



Following Eta Carinae across Periastron

In late July, 2014, the massive binary star, Eta Carinae, will undergo a change caused by the very close periastron passage that occurs every 5.54 years. Observations have already begun to monitor the changes in X-ray emission, ionization and excitation using space- and ground-based observatories. In parallel, three-dimensional, radiative-hydrodynamic modeling is being done. Already forecasts on the behavior of the system have been made to quantify changes in the mass loss rates and velocities of the massive interacting winds associated with this binary.

NASANick is working with a team of astronomers at NASA Goddard, helping organize data, assisting in running models on a work station, and reducing and analyzing data. The project aims to bound the long-term behavior of this massive star system that will eventually become two supernovae. Nick is learning about observational astronomy, massive stars and their ultimate fates, and participating in disseminating the scientific results.

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