Week 1: Any two five elevennis?

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Monday, June 10, 2013


Alec Lindman

Monday the third of June was our first day at work for the summer, and everything looks quite exciting. As we’ll hopefully continue to do throughout the summer, all of us who are staying at GW walked to the metro station at 7:40, and we were at the American Center for Physics at 9 on the dot. Hopefully the delay-free timing of the metro will persist throughout the summer.

We heard from, as far as I could tell, all the SPS staff, and many of the heads of AIP’s subdivisions. It’s exciting to hear from those working in policy, journalism and all the other fields which support and augment traditional “physics.” During our lunch, consisting of just the interns and the incomparable but delightfully down-to-earth John Mather, I learned a great deal from my colleagues about their motivations and their hopes for the summer – and their varied goals have helped me expand my perspective as well.

Soon after lunch, we dispersed to our work locations: myself and Darren to Goddard, others to NIST and Capitol Hill, and some just a couple of floors up in the ACP. Upon arriving at Goddard, we were met by Dr. Lucy McFadden, Chief of University and Higher Education. As we walked towards her car to drive to our building, I noticed a bike quite similar to the Capitol Bikeshare bikes which usefully occupy many street corners in DC; Goddard has its own bikeshare program, and this bike was available. She pointed me to the water tower barely visible over the trees to the northeast, and told me to meet her there. After laboring up the final hill to the tower, traversing many parking lots, and even a stoplight on a four-lane road – all within the center – I can tell you that Goddard is big. Another useful figure is that 3000 civil servants and 7000 contractors work there at once.

Our destination was Building 34, a shiny new space peppered with overflowing whiteboards in the halls alongside academic posters and mock-ups of spacecraft hardware; the models are the most useful landmarks in a somewhat labyrinthine building. Even Lucy got turned around a bit, but everyone we encountered was nothing but helpful and eager to help us locate the offices of my and Darren’s mentors.

The team with which I will be working is young and vibrant, and this fits their project: creating the hardware to study light from the first moment the universe became transparent. The team consists of my mentor, his postdocs, an intern from the spring who is continuing, and a few others who help with semiconductor fabrication and testing.

My lab has a large cryostat which reaches 150 thousandths of a degree above absolute zero, and the blackbody source I am designing will mount inside along with a detector to reproduce the conditions in space. This is looking like a most excellent project, perfect to go along with my (physics-)fun-loving fellow interns and exciting location.  Go physics!

Alec Lindman