Week 7: Abstract Thinking

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Friday, July 19, 2013


Darren McKinnon

The beginning of this week was set to be a sad one of sorts. My mentor was departing for Canada, and he would not return before my time at Goddard had ended. However, once I had checked my email Monday morning, I found that there was no time to waste. Apparently all the interns were responsible for presenting a poster on their research at a poster session on August 1st. Somehow that memo had slipped through the cracks, so this was my first time hearing of it. The abstracts for the posters were to be due on Friday, so we quickly set to work on figuring out exactly what my poster topic would be. After helping find a little direction, Ted wished me luck and headed on his way.

The next few days involved a lot of playing around with the topic, title, and abstract content. Tom graciously provided me with correctness checks, as well as with a few pointers on how to improve my abstract. In my own opinion, it turned out quite nicely. It is likely the finest piece of scientific writing I have taken part in (which isn’t saying a lot, as my scientific writing background is slim). I have included it below, as I feel it is a great example of yet another skill that I’ve been developing while here at Goddard.

“Eta Carinae, a massive, highly-eccentric colliding wind binary, boasts a sidereal laboratory of great astronomical interest. It is an exceptional example of a pre-supernova environment, having survived a non-terminal stellar explosion in the 1800′s that left behind the incredible bipolar Homunculus nebula. The central interacting stellar winds are resolvable using the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) aboard the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Three-dimensional (3D) data cubes (2D spatial, 1D velocity) of numerous spectral lines that form in the colliding wind regions have been collected at several phases during Eta Car’s 5.54-year orbital cycle using the HST/STIS. By applying differencing techniques to these data cubes, we can compare and measure temporal changes in the two massive winds. Initial evaluation of these changes supports current 3D hydrodynamical models of Eta Car’s colliding winds. The observations can also be used to help constrain Eta Car’s recent mass-loss history, which is important for determining the current and future states of this likely nearby supernova progenitor.”

At the end of the week, we had the tour of NIST. It was full of many interesting stops, but the one that held my attention the most was the final lab that we stopped at. The group in this lab was a conglomeration of physical and synthetic chemist, physicists, and engineers. They were working on developing the means to cheaply and efficiently map an individual’s entire genome. I found it to be incredibly intriguing. This next week will include a couple tours of the other workplaces, all of which should be entertaining.

Darren McKinnon