Thursday, June 1, 2017By:
If you had told me, two years ago, that I’d ever be working at NASA, I probably would have laughed.
My career trajectory has been a nontraditional one: I found physics after a series of professional detours, including a prior degree in the liberal arts. In 2015, I went back to school after losing my corporate job. A subsequent summer research position introduced me to the Society of Physics Students, and the rest — if you’ll pardon the bromide — is history.
I’m living in D.C. for the next couple of months, along with the other SPS interns — 13 twentysomethings who seem to like physics as much as I do. (That isn't something I'm used to: at the City Colleges of Chicago, where I recently earned my associate’s degree, I was one of the only physics majors.) We’ve all been assigned a placement site, where we’ll spend ten weeks working on our respective projects. The projects culminate in a final presentation, which consists of a conference-style talk given at AIP headquarters to an audience of staff scientists. Each intern’s mentor will also attend.
I should note that not all of the positions are physics-intensive. My roommate, for example, is working for AIP as a science policy communicator. Other interns specialize in outreach, education, and the history of science. I am one of two placed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (some 15 miles out of the city). My project addresses one of the major unanswered questions in solar physics: why the corona — the outermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere — is millions of degrees hotter than the photosphere (that is, the Sun's visible surface).
There’s never a dull moment in Goddard’s heliophysics division. Within 30 minutes of my arrival, I was sitting in on a meeting between my mentor and several of her colleagues. I’ve spent the better part of the week learning MATLAB and reviewing the relevant literature — which, half the time, means scouring the Web for alternate (read: undergrad-friendly) explanations. It boggles my mind to know that some of the folks I see quoted work just down the hall.
This blog will serve as a chronicle of my activities as an SPS intern, both work-related and otherwise. D.C. is a fabulous city, and there's so many things to explore! My cohort and I are kicking off the summer with some outreach tomorrow. We’re scheduled to participate in the annual Astronomy Festival on the National Mall, sponsored by Hofstra University’s Physics and Astronomy Department. Check back next week for photos.