Week 7: Baby Birds, Making Cheese and Setting Standards

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Monday, July 25, 2016


Samantha Spytek

I have completed the seventh week of my internship. That means I've spent 70,560 minutes or 4,233,600 seconds as an SPS intern. This week held many adventures. The first was our meeting with AAS on Wednesday. We heard multiple speakers, including the Executive Director Kevin Marvel and Nobel Laureate John Mather. The talks covered the James Webb Telescope, exoplanets and Uranus and Neptune. They were extremely interesting and I learned many things I never knew, especially about Uranus. That is one interesting planet. During the break, I got lost trying to find the bathroom, but found my way to the Hubble Lounge, where there was a large bowl of M&M's and some Milky Way candies =)

Hubble Lounge

I did eventually find the bathroom. 

That night there was a slight disturbance in my back yard. A baby bird that was learning to fly had somehow managed to get in our small, fenced enclosure. Our cat was very interested, but we got her inside before she realized exactly what was flapping around under our grill. The baby bird was not so much a baby as a teenager. Most of its body feathers had grown in, but it's head and face still looked shrivelled and angry. It kept trying to fly, but was only getting a foot or so off the ground. We tried to place it somewhere safe in our backyard so that it could rest for the night, but it was a rather excited little thing. So my brother put on some gloves and spent some time with it to try to calm it down. 

Baby Bird in Spotlight

In the end it was really rather photogenic, and looked quite majestic when photographed from the right angle. 

Baby Bird Portrait

It finally settled down in some low bushes we have out back, and the next morning the momma bird came and helped the baby fly away. I suppose the moral of the story is that yes, you can interact with a baby bird and have the mother return for it. 

The following day (Thursday) I went to a cheese making class with my mom. We learned how to make Ricotta and Mozzarella cheese. It was really quite easy, and I will now be making ricotta on a regular basis. Because food is good to look at, here are some shots I took:

Ricotta Cheese with Olive Oil being Drizzled on Top

Ricotta doesn't have to be in a sweet dish, it can also be savory. We added olive oil, salt and pepper to ours. I can't describe in words how delicious this was. 

Ricotta Cheese on Bread

We ate it with bread. I swear that's all you need and you have a meal.

The Mozzarella we made was added to a salad with a light vinaigrette. It was also very photogenic. 

Vinaigrette Salad with Mozzarella

Good food is good.

Friday we had a really big adventure. The interns went to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Two of the interns work there - Vanessa and Jose. While we were there, we saw some pretty cool things. I arrived early and wandered around part of their mini-museum. Now, I'm an art history minor, so I became very excited when I encountered some very old measuring devices from the Qin Dynasty in ancient China. That's the same era as the Terracotta Warriors (if you've never heard of them, look them up. They are super cool and definitely worth your time.) 

Wucheng Oval Measure of Bronze (replica)

Bronze Weight for 8 Jin (replica)

While they are both replicas, they are still accurate (I assume) and interesting to look at.

Another replica I saw in the glass cases was of the standard kilogram.

Old Standard Kg

This is interesting because at the moment they are working to create a standard kilogram that is based off of a known constant, in this case Plank's constant. This is because if you just have a mass, that mass can change over time from natural processees, plus it's not very exact. However, if you can tie the mass to a known constant and some other easily measured quantities, then that standard becomes much more, well, standard since the constant is, as the name implies, never going to change. Never ever ever ever. Seriously, never. So your measurements can be that much more accurate, which in some cases is extremely important. Here's a picture of the new standard kg:

New Kg Standard

It's the thing hanging down in the top middle. This little piece of metal is hanging suspended in a giant container that's inside of a small cell that can be suspended underground (don't ask me how). This is all to make sure the measurements are as accurate as possible. But seriously though, how cool is that?

We also saw the Newton Apple Tree. It's an apple tree that was grown from a clipping of the original Newton Tree. Don't believe me? Read the sign:

Newton Apple Tree Sign

Here's a picture of an apple from the tree (sorry the focus is on the twig in front of it rather than on the apple itself, I didn't notice until later):

Apple on the Newton Apple Tree

We saw many more interesting things at NIST, including lasers that burn your skin, super tiny computer chips and standardized bullets and casings. Let me just say that if you're really into measuring things, this is the place for you. 

Samantha Spytek