Week #7: Our method of questioning...

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Friday, July 14, 2017


Francisco Ayala Rodriguez

“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” -Werner Heisenberg.

If we think about what has driven innovation through the ages, we will be face to face with a simple aspect of our human behavior: Curiosity. From our childhood, asking questions is an innate characteristic that let us move forward on our learning process. During the week, I had the opportunity to talk about the topic with Dr. Edward Wollack (one of the mentors of the SPS interns at NASA). We agreed that sometimes when you can’t find the answer, the question is the problem itself. Something as simple as accepting a new point of view or a different angle on a problem can make a huge difference. Re-stating the question or changing it does not imply that you gave up. It implies a huge commitment to find the right way to reach for an answer, even when it includes accepting a huge mistake.

This week at the office it has been all related to the reference frame of my questions. I spent the week revising the different clues from every point of view looking for better ways to state them. After asking them to some of the other interns, I could identify some typos and finished the revision of the material. Now is just a matter of adding the artwork and the rest should work itself out. It is going to be time for some tryouts!!!

Out of the office, I had an incredible series of trips around D.C. I joined some of the other interns on a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Even though it was one of the darkest chapters of history, it is good to know that there was still people who risked and gave their lives to help others. One of my favorite parts of the museum was a wall dedicated to the people who saved the remains of a generation, truthfully inspiring and heartwarming.

One of this week’s surprises occurred when Justine Boecker mentioned she had the opportunity to take 2 more people on a tour of the Capitol’s Dome. I attended the tour and I must say that it exceeded my expectations in any possible sense. It was a remarkable way to learn more about the political structure, architecture, and history of the United States mixed with the best view of the city. A unique event that I will never forget.

As part of the internship tours, we stopped by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. It was interesting to know more about the different applications of physics to the environmental sciences as we walked through the science jamboree. After the introduction to the diverse projects, we could see some of the testing areas in the building. We got introduced to the ideas that they had for future telescopes and got updates on the progress. An impressive demonstration of the state of the art science that is being conducted to expand our knowledge of the universe.

The day after the NASA tour, we visited the NIST facilities. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is dedicated to improve the precision of measurements as well as pushing for innovation in technology. From robot testing to SANS (Small Angle Neutron Scattering), NIST is one of the most advanced facilities I have visited so far. I was excited to know more about their testing and calibration mechanisms as well as their current work with the Bose-Einstein condensate. Also, we stopped to visit a direct descendant of Newton’s Tree. A direct relative from the tree in Woolsthorpe Manor that inspired the idea of gravity. I couldn’t think of a better way to make a tribute to inspiration in science.

This week was a tribute to the fact that it is better to ask the right question than just having a right answer. Taking the time to define what we really look for is the real skill behind success. More than a method to know the outsides of our world, it is the real key to knowing ourselves better. Never stop yourself from asking something, the right question might be a few thoughts away.


On the top of the Capitol...
A toxic mirror...
SANS facilities at NIST...

Francisco Ayala Rodriguez