Week 3: Getting paid to learn

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Friday, June 16, 2017


Kristine Romich

A particularly memorable moment from NASA’s intern orientation earlier this month was the following instruction (paraphrased) from Dean Kern, Deputy Director for Goddard’s Office of Education: 

“If your mentor sends you to fetch them some coffee or make them some photocopies, you come and tell me.  Because that’s not what you’re here for.”

Stereotypes aside, internships offer students an unparalleled opportunity: to learn and get paid for it.  In preparing for my project, I’ve already learned a considerable amount about MATLAB programming and time-series analysis, both skills that can be applied to a broad range of problems.  (It should be noted that these problems aren’t limited to the natural sciences:  time-series analysis, for example, is commonly used in finance.)  I’ve also been learning a good deal of physics, especially as pertains to the Sun. 

time series 
What’s surprised me the most is how much heliophysicists don’t know, given their relative proximity to their object of study.  For one, the mechanism behind the acceleration of the solar wind still isn’t well-understood.  And then there’s the coronal heating problem, which my work with Dr. Viall will investigate.

This afternoon I went to the heliophysics division’s weekly seminar to hear a set of brief talks on the upcoming solar eclipse.  During a total eclipse, the Sun’s wispy corona — usually obscured by the photosphere — becomes visible in ordinary light.  At any given location, however, its appearance is fleeting.  In August, researchers from NASA and other agencies will monitor the coast-to-coast total eclipse (the first of its kind since 1918!) using equipment strategically positioned along the path of totality.  This will grant them an unprecedented 1.5 hours of continuous direct observation.

eclipse goggles

In other news:  remember Liz MacDonald, creator of the Aurorasaurus citizen-science platform?  (I mentioned her project in my previous post.)  I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be contributing to Aurorasaurus as a guest blogger this summer, along with a few other Goddard interns.  I’ll also be helping Liz’s team validate incoming reports of aurora sightings during my off-time.

Here’s what my SPS cohort has been up to this week: 

pride parade


Kristine Romich