Week 7: All about collaboration

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Dahlia Baker

Last week was full of huge strides in my project, and a lot more information on the James Webb Space Telescope than I ever expected to get.

The beginning of the week was spent preparing to write the abstract that NASA wanted on Wednesday. My struggle was that I still needed a more solid view of what my project would entail. Up to this point, I had only been able to discuss the theory of it, and produce a model of what my absorbing coating might do when tested over a broad range of wavelengths. As I wrote the abstract with my mentors, it became more clear what I needed to get done in the next couple of days.

So, on Friday I had the chance to actually put it all together! A collaborating scientist from Villanova came to Goddard and brought me the graphene loaded epoxy I needed to begin making optical targets for absorption tests. The morning was crazy, beginning at 10am when Villanova team arrived. My mentor needed to get started on the measurements they visited to take, and I was in a hurry to machine the test plates to the specifications I had just learned about. As I was drilling and filing and putting the last touches on some of my test equipment, I had the chance to see what a real life scientific collaboration looked like. The lab was packed with people from 10am until 6:30pm, and I worked tirelessly into the late afternoon to make sure my samples were finished before I left. I’m not a fan of overworking, but the hours I spent working so closely with my mentors and some extra helpers made the difference between having data and not having data on my project. It goes to show that a real scientist can never work alone, and the best projects come from the largest collaborations.

Speaking of collaborations, this past week I had the opportunity to hear John Mather speak about the James Webb Space Telescope – twice!

Wednesday afternoon, the SPS interns got to visit the American Astronomical Society and meet the Executive Officer, Kevin Marvel. He gave a talk about the AAS, their meetings, their aims, and how they can benefit us and our careers. Afterwards, we heard from John Mather who explained the Big Bang Theory (or the expanding universe theory, as he prefers to call it), as well as the JWST project, including the future plans for the telescope. 

The very next day was John Mather’s big presentation to the Goddard interns, and coincidentally, he gave almost the same exact talk as the day before! It was a treat to hear him go into greater detail about the theories behind the cosmic microwave background, and about the impact of his work. I have never had so much exposure to a Nobel Laureate, but my involvement with SPS has made it possible to talk to him several times this summer and see how he has taken his great work and given back to the community, both STEM and non-STEM. 

It was a busy week, but a rewarding one. I'm excited to see what the next week will bring!

Dahlia Baker