"The Classic Unsolved Problem of the Student"

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Sunday, July 21, 2019


Nolan Roth

Intern’s Blog

Stardate 73012.1


It’s hard to know what you want to do for the rest of your life if you don’t really know what’s out there to be done. “Oh, the classic unsolved problem of the student! However can it be approached?” You may ask. Ah, but I offer an effort towards a solution: One of the great things about this internship is that it works towards a remedy to that problem. Throughout the program, the interns at each location (NIST, NASA, OSA, ACP, etc) have to organize a tour of the respective locations—it could include labs the interns work in, their office space, project showrooms, libraries or display cases; really anything in the location! These tours help show the variety of physics; the sides that tend to sleuth away from the spotlight. Physics is not just research—it’s writing, communication, education, outreach, design, humanitarian, historical, and social. There are many people that could benefit from seeing these different outlets of physics, or from diversifying their network of research opportunities. I definitely have.


On Tuesday we tromped around the nation’s (in some ways ailing) brain, the Capitol. Gia showed us the congressional offices, the congressional hallways, the congressional statues, the congressional bathrooms, the congressional food court, and we even got to meet with a congressional congressman! The highlight of the day was definitely the (45 turned 60 minute) meeting with Illinois rep Bill Foster, the only congressperson to have a Ph.D. in Physics. The meeting with him was riveting! He spoke on his past, the moral issues of the present, and how to make a difference in the future. He gave book recommendations (one of which, Sapeins, by Yuval Noah Harari, may be my new favorite non-fiction book of all time) and asked each of us a little about our summer work. It was a wonderful opportunity, and I believe each of us walked out with a little extra knowledge on the direction of science and science policy.


Much like a back-to-back gunslinger duet of networking, Thursday featured the NASA tour (which in turn featured the annual NASA Summer Jamboree.) Our feet zigzagged across the campus of Goddard, popping into buildings, walking through research labs, visiting giftshops, and notably the Summer Jamboree.


Each summer, NASA hosts a large event open to the public (-ish, you still need badges to get on campus) during which many of the large projects set up booths and bring demonstrations or models to teach other people about what they do. It was a hotbed of science research, and I loved it. I wended my way through the crowds of curious people gathering the many pounds of free stickers, bags, posters, and fliers. A few projects caught my eye; I chatted with the presenters and bounced around until I found project leads. I introduced myself, talked some more, exchanged cards and learned about some amazing science being done that I would love to get in on, two of which are the TEMPO space communications network project and the DISCOVER supercomputer in the NASA Center for Climate Simulation.


It’s still hard to know what I want to do for the rest of my life, but now I know a little bit more of what’s out there. The “classic unsolved problem of the student” may not be completely solved, but at least it has been chipped away at.


Keep chipping,

AOC's office

Nolan Roth