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Kirsten RandleKirsten Randle
University of Massachusetts–Amherst
Internship: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

I am a rising senior at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. I am studying physics, and I have been involved in research with an international collaboration for the past two and a half years at my home institution. I have really enjoyed all the places I've traveled and people I've met because of physics. I am very interested in astrophysics, and I am excited to be working at a government lab.

I am currently the vice president of my school's SPS chapter, and I have served as president and secretary in the past. It has been a lot of work, but also lots of fun. I am always excited to learn new physics and get other people involved. In my spare time, I love to be with friends or family. I also love travelling, listening to music, and watching good movies or TV shows. I am looking forward to living in D.C., seeing the sights, and making new friends.

View Kirsten'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

Sooooo Oriented!

My first week in DC has been pretty interesting. After flying in Tuesday night and checking into my massive apartment on the GWU campus, I started getting to know the other interns. Wednesday morning, bright and early, we trekked to the American Center for Physics which houses the American Institute of Physics and several member societies. We spent the day getting to know the organization, the SPS staff, and each other throughout the day. Wednesday morning, the research interns headed back for some meetings about research expectations and skills. In the afternoon we got to work with the SPS SOCK interns to plan for an upcoming outreach event.

Friday morning, we, the NASA interns, headed out to Goddard for our badging appointment and to poke around the Visitor Center where we joined a 4th grade field trip. We saw some presentations of class solar systems, a program on astronaut life in the shuttle and space station, and the “Sphere of Science” which was a 3D projection on a spherical surface to explore the solar system. We talked to a few kids, took a few wacky pictures, and headed back to the ACP for lunch and a social media brainstorming session with Matt.

During these few days, we’ve had lots of interesting conversations a lot of smart, passionate people in various AIP offices and from different member societies. However, I’m really excited to head to NASA and get to work!


Week 2, June 2-8, 2014

Crash Course in Everything

My official first week on the job has been pretty exciting. I've read several papers on the CMB, the CLASS Detector, and the primary noise source in the detector. I've basically spend the whole week learning lots of new things and meeting lots of people. A brief tour of the lab included an introduction to miliKelvin cryogenics, electrical engineering, and a small microwave polarization experiment. Hopefully I'll keep learning this summer, since I'm already having so much fun.

My immediate assignment has been to start into detector noise characterization. I'm learning python to work on a statistical mechanics-based evaluation of the "photon noise," or basically the fluctuation of the efficiency of the detector in collecting light. I've successfully written a function that calculates the spectral radiance per frequency (the Planck distribution) and the power per frequency, which adapts the planck distribution to the aperture of the detector. My lab group is very helpful and friendly and willing to answer questions.

Friday night the SPS Executive Committee took us out to dinner at Old Ebbitt's Grill where we enjoyed a lovely dinner before heading to an astronomy festival on the National Mall. Sightings: Moon, Jupiter, Mars, ISS, POTUS. Once it got dark, we made our way through the monuments, which look awesome at night. This week we also had an addition to our group. Ben, one of the Mather Policy interns arrived this Thursday. Our little "neighborhood" in our dorm hallway is finally complete.


Week 3, June 9-15, 2014

Taco 'bout learning

I've continued to work on what will become an optimization code for the CLASS bolometers. After evaluating the intensity, power, and noise, I'll move on to optimizing the window for detection, which is limited by the opacity of the atmosphere. Most of the other people in my lab were out of the office for various vacations and conferences this week, so I've kept my nose (for the most part) on the grindstone, working out the pieces and bugs in my code and deepening my knowledge of python. Python is completely new to me, but after some knowledge of C++ and Matlab, it is coming very quickly.

This weekend was very full. After going to the DC Pride parade in Dupont Circle with Ashley and Kelby, a friend from Italy came into town last weekend after presenting a paper at a conference. I took the bus out to Dulles to meet him, and we got back very late (but still in time for hot donuts from Krispy Kreme). Sunday morning we explored a farmer's market in Dupont and made our way back down to Foggy Bottom. From there we walked past the White House, down Pennsylvania towards the Capitol, and then decided to head back. On our way we decided to hunt down some local beer, but ended up walking way further than we expected (as seems to be a trend in DC). We were still able to find a few places with a wide variety on tap before heading back home for dinner. During his stay we also sampled District Taco, which did not disappoint, and the Whole Foods pizza, which was also delicious. However, Monday night, we prepared basil pesto in the traditional style from his region with pasta for the other interns.


Week 4, June 16-22, 2014

Walking, Walking, Walking

This week, I continued with my code, which is building in complexity under the guidance of my advisor Dr. Chuss and a postdoc named Karwan. I'm preparing the code to be used for bandwidth selection on the criteria that it will allow the most signal from the CMB through to the detector but will keep out as much signal from the atmosphere as possible. The work is definitely challenging, and it will have an impact on the CLASS detector design at Johns Hopkins University. I've designed the code to be weighted for the most common amount of humidity in the air based on a Rayleigh probability distribution. I've been tasked with writing up my work so that the methods and decisions will be understandable when I'm gone.

While work was mostly uneventful, I got a chance to explore a lot this weekend. Mark and I went up to the National Arboretum, which is a huge piece of property in the city full of labeled trees and USDA experimental farms and gardens. We were there for about 3 hours and only saw about half of the Arboretum. Deciding that we were hungry and definitely up for an adventure, we walked another 2 miles to a place called TaKorean. As the name implies, it's a Korean barbeque taco joint in the middle of Union Market, a place we didn't know existed, but has a lot of cool counters inside, including a cheese counter and a dairy that sells fresh milk and their own ice cream. Sunday, several of us headed to the Botanical Gardens and relax in the sculpture garden. We followed this up with a carousel ride and frozen yogurt, which was the perfect course of action.


Week 5, June 23-29, 2014

Lab Company, Finally!

As Felipe returned to the lab after an eventful journey back from Mexico, my surroundings have become a little less silent. This week I finished up the draft of my paper, sent it to Dr. Chuss and Karwan for review and also got to get my hands a little dirty in the lab. After some electronic chip testing had gone on in the dewar this week (at ~0.1 K), Felipe and I dismantled it for new tests. We checked the resistances of some circuitry to make sure it was all intact, pulled out the chips and replaced a few of them. One we'd tested a few weeks ago in another building where another project Dr. Chuss is involved in, PIPER, is housed. The other was a smaller "BUG" chip that we had to mount on gold-coated alumina with rubber cement in order to keep it in the casing. On Thursday and Friday I was in the PIPER lab helping a Johns Hopkins grad student build a test grid for the modulating mirror for CLASS. The wires help filter in polarized light. The grid we were developing was deemed a "test grid" because the wire we received from the manufacturer was badly oxidized and would not be able to serve its purpose as a sensitive filter, but was still good enough to practice construction techniques and do some mechanical testing. I was helping the grad student mix and apply a strong polymer adhesive called "Stycast" to delicate, finely spaced, and precisely tensioned wires wound around a cylinder. After the epoxy cures, the grid will be cut from a cylinder to a flat sheet, tensioned, and transported to Johns Hopkins.

Last weekend, my sister and brother-in-law came to visit on Saturday and Sunday. I was sad they missed Jazz in the Garden Friday night where Caleb, Mark, Ashely and I had a wonderful time absorbing Funk. But as is the case with my sister, the weekend was full of things to do. We went on a capitol tour, sandwiches in hand for the journey. We stopped for an excellent snack of chicken fingers and onion rings, then headed up to the World War II memorial for a ranger talk. We met up with an old friend in Foggy Bottom for burgers and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Sunday morning, we walked down to peruse the Lincoln, Korean War, World War I, and Vietnam War memorials before heading up to Goddard. I took them through my building which contains some cool images and models, showed them my lab, and then went to the Visitor Center. They headed home, and I went back to relax for the rest of my weekend.


Week 6, June 30-July 6, 2014

I need arrays. (A Raise? get it? puns...)

After further discussion with Dr. Chuss and Karwan, we needed to change the optimization method. Instead of optimizing the CMB power over the bandwidth to the total power (which increases with atmospheric opacity), I'm optimizing it over the total photon noise, which has a more complex relationship with the overall power. I also needed to develop a method for optimizing both band edges as opposed to fixing it at a certain width. This results in very pretty colormaps of band edges.

very pretty colormaps of band edgesBasically this plot shows that the best start and endpoints of the observing bandwidth are at the deepest red in the center. Now, I just have to deal with the arrays in some clever way that I have yet to perfect to isolate the maximum, or the most ideal bandwidth.

Also, over the past week, I've been learning how to solder and attempted, unsuccessfully, to start on some delicate wiring for the new detector. Hopefully with some diligence I'll be able to improve and contribute to the wiring.

After a pretty busy week, it was nice to head home early on Thursday. For the 4th, we headed out to claim our spot for fireworks viewing at about 11am. While the idea was vaguely preposterous, it served our needs well. Not only did it ensure our group prime viewing for the evening fireworks display, our sunny spot also served as a group base camp for everyone who was doing various activities on the mall. We watched the fireworks with diffraction glasses, which should be required for all fireworks. It. was. awesome. We had an endless supply of snacks and lemonades for the day, and it was delightful.

Last weekend, while not as epic as a DC Independence Day celebration, was still fun. We sunned on the national mall for a few hours on Saturday, and Sunday we tackled the Air and Space Museum and the folklife festival. I decided I want to live in the Air and Space Museum. That, or become an astronaut. I've probably decided this about 10 times in my lifetime, but it just keeps getting reinforced. While the folklife festival was very interesting and the Kenyan goat stew I tried was delicious, I couldn't help but walk away with a vague uneasiness about the event. It felt vaguely imperialistic and exploitive to try and summarize two vastly different nations' cultures in a couple of tents in our federal back yard.


Week 7, July 7-13, 2014

After an epic 4th of July, my weekend was very laid back. Saturday, I caught up on laundry and Star Trek (TNG) episodes. Sunday, Ashley and I headed to the Pentagon City Mall for a day of shopping.

This week, I continued working on soldering some detailed wiring for the new cryostat (with several failed attempts). I have used my code to evaluate the bandwidth for the 150 GHz and 220 GHz observing windows and calculated the energy. Nick and I are working on planning a tour of NASA for the other SPS interns next week, and we met with Kendra on Wednesday to go over some itineraries that we're developing.

Friday, most of us went to NIST for the tour Kelby and Ben prepared for the group. The equipment we saw was really cool, including a neutron beam facility, scanning electron and helium ion microscopes, a bunch of advanced cleanrooms with a bunch of electronics and materials testing equipment inside. After a brief look in the biomolecule sensing lab she and Ben are working in, we headed over to an excellent lunch at the Dogfish Head Alehouse. I had a massive burger (with onion rings on top) and fries that kept me completely full for the rest of the day. After heading home to pack up a small bag, I got on a bus in Chinatown to visit my sister and brother-in-law in Philadelphia.


Week 8, July 14-20, 2014


As my project is nearing its conclusion, corners are being straightened, wrinkles ironed out. Tuesday night, the interns gathered at the Aviation Museum in College Park for a dinner with our mentors and sponsors, including Dr. Mather and his wife, with whom I spoke for a very long time about her dancing career and what exactly it's like to win a Nobel Prize, in terms of the number of formal gowns you need.

A major task I undertook this week was helping plan the tour at NASA for the other SPS interns. Nick and I revised schedules, arranged meetings, and coordinated staff and interns. Overall, I think it turned out well. Thursday morning, we were at NASA early to get some lab tours in before heading to the Science Jamboree, an expo of all the work being done at Goddard. The tables ranged from the flashy space telescopes to climate science and geology to cataloging all derivative technologies. We ate lunch with Dr. Mather, peeked in the flight control center for the Hubble Space Telescope, and went on a tour of the TV and animation studios. Dr. Gull took us around the massive clean room facilities and various payload testing equipment, like the sonic chamber and the centrifuge.

As the week started winding down, I started working on my final presentation for AIP.


Week 9, July 21-27, 2014

Loose Ends

Monday, we got to spend the day exploring the Federal government. First thing in the morning, we went on a tour of the Pentagon. After that, Ben took us on a very detailed tour of the Capitol Building, and Ashley showed us around the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology chambers and offices. We met with some PhDs working on Capitol Hill in science policy.

As I prepared my presentation, I discovered that when I replaced my hard drive earlier this summer, I lost my Microsoft Office license and no longer have it running. I'm sure the product key is somewhere in my 'files' at home, but that's almost 500 miles away. Now it's time to innovate. The result was that I wrote the presentation in Latex. I was thoroughly impressed with myself. As is the case with all presentations, it was subject to scrutiny for content and time, so I kept updating my code and tweaking my slides. Thursday was spent partially at AIP practicing presentations and watching the other interns' approaches. Thursday night, everyone was talking about presentation attire, and that's when I got nervous. When I'd packed for this summer, I included the typical undergrad conference business casual wardrobe for the final presentation and decided that what I had wouldn't quite be enough. Ashley graciously lent me her assistance in emergency suit shopping before the stores closed. I walked away very content with my newest wardrobe investment.

Friday was a very long day. I woke up early to make sure I had everything in order before we headed to AIP for the presentations. Everyone's went very well and we all looked quite dapper. After lunch I headed over to Goddard for a meeting about CLASS development with my lab and others involved with the project. Still in my suit and heels, I took the metro to the airport to catch a flight. I spent the weekend with my family (ALL of it) in Sacramento for my cousin's wedding. It felt very short, mostly because the flights were 6+ hours each way, but also because we had lots of things to do and people to see in a very brief period.


Final Reflections, August, 2014

My last week at Goddard and AIP was a very good review of what I'd done all summer. I reviewed my slides and my work (also in Latex) in order to create a poster for the NASA intern poster session. My project was very well suited to my skills and the time period allotted. I learned lots of new things, met lots of new people, and got to have some really unique DC experiences. In my final week, I went out to lunch with my labmates and said farewell to my mentor and colleagues.

I printed and hung my poster Wednesday afternoon for the poster session the following day. After a few hours of standing in front of my poster telling anyone who would ask about my research, I headed to lunch with the Eta Carina crew to celebrate the end of our time at Goddard. Thursday night, we met with a few graduate fellows and other professionals on Capitol Hill working on science policy for an informal networking event.

Friday and Saturday were full of goodbyes and mixed feelings: glad to be heading back home after a long, intense summer, but regretting leaving new friends, connections, and genuinely positive work environments behind. I'm truly grateful to SPS and AIP for this experience, as it has prepared me for future research and has exposed me to physics in all its forms, not just the scientist in a lab. My work renewed my passion for experimental physics and the skills I've learned this summer will empower me throughout my career.



Cosmic Microwave Background Polarimetry

NASARecent cosmological results have indicated that the universe may have undergone a period of rapid accelerated expansion within its first fraction of a second. This expansion, known as cosmic inflation, would have produced primordial gravitational waves that imprint a faint tell-tale polarized signature on the relic cosmic microwave background radiation. NASA Goddard is currently developing technology for two pathfinder experiments to measure the polarization of the cosmic microwave background to search for evidence of cosmic inflation in the early universe. The enabling technologies currently under development include highly-sensitive cryogenic detectors and quasioptical polarization modulators.

Kirsten is working with the team to further the detector and modulator development. She is testing existing devices, analyzing test data, and designing laboratory test structures.

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