Week 5: Astronomy on the Mall and Preparing for Michigan

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Saturday, July 2, 2022


Taylor Overcast

This week started off with Saturday’s Astronomy on the Mall. Unlike most of the interns, I worked with my organization’s table, and all of my mentor’s high school students. I had a blast talking with people who stopped by to play our game and to the students from Thomas Jefferson High School. Since AAPT is an educational organization, it was right up our alley. The rest of the week had less additional events outside of work than my previous weeks. I went to church and lunch with a couple friends from college on Sunday, went to the potluck that most of the interns planned on Tuesday, and attended a lecture titled “Earth, Exoplanets, and Everything in Between” on Wednesday night.

I did not know what to expect to experience at Astronomy on the Mall. I had no clue how many people would be there, and I was excited and curious of how it would go. The event truly exceeded my expectations. I am really bad at estimating numbers of people, especially if they are spread out over 6 hours, so I am not going to estimate how many people were there – but it was a lot. Mark and I had planned a game that would allow people to estimate the distance of the Earth from the Sun if the solar system was shrunk to a scale of the Sun being 2 inches in diameter – I can save you time Googling… the answer is about 17 feet. However, according to a couple folks, it is at least two blocks over or it’s a trick question. I worked the game for the majority of the night, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of participants we had (around 200). The participants were as young as 18 months and others were the great-grandparents of those kiddos. It was fun getting to talk with people from all different backgrounds, ages, home-bases, education, and careers. I even got to talk with a middle school science teacher from California about resources she could implement in her classroom. I also had the opportunity to accidentally meet Alex – an educator that I had spent many hours on a group Zoom call with planning a quantum curriculum. It took us about five minutes talking to each other to realize we knew each other, but it was really fun to meet her in person. Overall, I think the event went really well. It was amazing to see people enjoying learning about physics in an engaging and hands-on way. 

I wish I had remembered to take a single photo, but I did not. Hopefully, some of the other interns were less forgetful and will post pictures. 

On Sunday, I went to church with one of my close friends from college that now lives here with her husband. They always took me to church before they graduated and I always felt like a very small child riding in the back of their car – Sunday did not disappoint to give me memories of the good old times. After church, we walked through a farmers market and grabbed a (very yummy) bite to eat before they took me back to my dorm.

Here is a cute little awkward picture that we took after the greeters were confused how they had a child almost as old as them…  :)

Then Monday rolled around, and the work week started. This week was a lot of finalizing things for the summer meeting in Michigan, which is in a week. I worked on designing a couple of posters for the K-12 room, proofreading some documents for the meeting, and finalizing the rough draft of my presentation on the impacts of attending a low-income school. 

The things I have found have been both expected and unexpected at the same time. I knew there was a disproportionate amount of low-income students in STEM; however, I do not believe I realized quite how different it was. A low-income student is half as likely to have any STEM completion. In addition, a low-income student is less than half as likely to attain a degree in STEM. A low-income student is also about half as likely to attain a Bachelor’s degree of ANY kind. The issue of why low-income students are less-likely is very complicated and multifaceted. However, it does appear that in order for the opportunity gap to be lessened, measures need to be taken when the child is as young as 3 years old. I have really enjoyed doing this research, but I will say that it has been discouraging at times because the issue is so daunting and so complex. 

Outside of work, the interns decided to have a potluck where each room of interns prepared and brought a dish. Nicole and I baked a quiche to take. The interns are surprisingly good cooks, and it was fun to see what people chose to bring. After the potluck we walked down to the Potomoc to catch the last glimpses of sunset. It was a really fun night, and I believe we have plans to do it again before the end of the summer. 

Our quiche fresh out of the oven:

Most of the interns enjoying the potluck:

Overlooking the Potomac river towards Rosslyn:

On Wednesday, four of us attended a lecture that Dr. Knicole Colon from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center gave. The lecture, “Earth, Exoplanets, and Everything in Between,” was the third and final part in a series put on through the Smithsonians. It was fascinating to learn about the exoplanets that have been observed, new missions that are just beginning, and future missions that are being planned. Dr. Colon talked about the James Webb telescope in quite a bit of detail. This was especially fascinating because Dr. John C. Mather, who came and spoke with the interns a few weeks ago, is the senior project scientist on the mission. I really enjoyed listening to her speak. Space is not typically one of my favorite aspects of physics; however, I enjoy learning about it more and more the older I get. Space is an overwhelming thing to comprehend… just like quantum. One is too vast and the other too miniscule to easily wrap our minds around. Physics is cool (which I already knew), and this summer is making me appreciate it more and more. 

Until next week,

Taylor Overcast