Week 1: Welcome to DC

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Monday, June 13, 2016


Victoria DiTomasso

I haven’t been to Washington, DC since I was in the 8th grade, when I came here for a school trip. That being said, I’m already developing warm feelings toward this city after only a week of living here. I arrived three days before the start of my internship. My parents drove me, and as much of my stuff as would fit into our car, from Brooklyn, NY. Friday night was spent unpacking and journeying to Target with Dahlia and Vanessa to do some preliminary grocery shopping and get a few left-behind necessities. My parents stayed the weekend, so I spent Saturday tourist-ing around downtown DC with them. We took a trolley ride around the monuments and visited the National Museum of Natural History. Hailing from the American Museum of Natural History myself, visiting DC’s equivalent was one of my top priorities (our whale is bigger but the DC museum has mummies, so I’ll call it a tie).


On Sunday I picked up some curtains to hang in my room (as much as I love natural light, I was tired of it waking me up at 6:30am). I had a final meal with my parents and saw them off. On Sunday night, nine of us interns went out for dinner. The food was good and the company was great, it made me really excited for our next ten weeks together.

Monday morning, all of us interns got up bright and early to head to the American Center for Physics for our orientation. We got to meet a whole slew of people from AIP and we talked about how to get the most out of our internships. We got to have lunch, one on twelve, with Nobel Prize in Physics laureate John Mather. It was amazing to talk to him about astronomy, outreach and the future of science policy.

After taking group pictures, we each went to our internship assignments. Samantha and I met with Greg Good, our mentor for the summer, and were also introduced to the two graduate students who will be working alongside throughout the summer. We’ll be adding to five years worth of interns' work, editing lesson plans about the history of women and minorities in physics, as well as creating some of our own. The goal is to have these lesson plans published, easily accessible and logically organized online by the end of the summer so that teachers everywhere can use them.

I spent the rest of the workweek editing lesson plans about two topics. The first was a single lesson plan that showcased two perspectives on what it was like to be an African American physicist in 1960s America. It centers on an article written by Herman Branson, chair of Howard University’s physics department at the time, and a response letter from Tannie Stovall, who was a physics professor and researcher in Paris. They both commented on the state of contemporary black physicists and how they saw that situation changing in the future. I found their view points, which addressed the lack of opportunities for minority students and the debate over whether or not physicists are unbiased (aka not racist), to be similar to the points of view I hear in the physics community today.  It was a little disheartening to see that how similar things are now to how they were fifty years ago, but it made me eager to make an impact through my work this summer.

The second topic I worked on was about constellations and the mythology and cultures behind them. These lesson plans examine four different myths related to the stars we include in the constellation Orion, three of which are of African origin. I created four lesson plans, each for different age groups, complete with worksheets, powerpoints, quizzes and handouts. These were really fun lesson plans for me to work on because they combined my interests for astronomy and anthropology. I think they will serve to help students think outside of their own cultural point of view, which I believe is an invaluable skill.

In addition to work, I also had a bunch of fun this week. I had finished the day on Monday by meeting up with a friend from home who was visiting DC. We got dinner at Union Station and walked around downtown. We walked through Chinatown and saw the White House. Tuesday night, all of the interns went to Cathy’s house for a BBQ dinner. It was casual and a lot of fun, a great way to end our first real workday.


Wednesday and Thursday after work I did some exploring around DC. Wednesday, I went to Dupont Circle and I thoroughly enjoyed the abundance of small clothing/jewelry stores and independently owned bookstores. On Thursday I had a similar experience walking around Adams Morgan. While in Adams Morgan I saw a really cool drum performance. Batala Washington, an all female Afro-Brazilian band, was performing on the street as part of the Festival AfroBahia. I really enjoyed watching them. They were having a great time and got a lot of the people watching to dance along.


Friday night was Astronomy on the National Mall. About thirty scientific institutions, organizations, and universities set up outside the Washington Monument to “bring the universe down to earth” for the public. I spent a few hours showing kids and adults what causes the phases of the moon using a beach ball and the sun (hint: they’re not caused by the Earth’s shadow). I love doing outreach and I felt like people walked away having learned something. I also got to talk to people from the other organizations including NASA and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

The weekend went very well too, but I’m going to wait until next week to write about it.

Until then!

Victoria DiTomasso