Week 7: A Week with Scientists

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Thursday, July 20, 2017


Riley Troyer

I’m tired. It’s been a long and busy week including taking two of the metro trains to the ends of their tracks. I met more scientists in physics related fields in the last few days than the rest of the summer.

Everyone who works in my committee is extremely nice and smart, but there aren’t many staffers with scientific backgrounds. That’s why I enjoyed interacting with physicists from AIP (American Institute of Physics), NASA and NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) this week. Politics is fascinating and very important, but sometimes it’s nice to take a step back to something less divisive, like physics.

The first trip this week was to the American Center for Physics where we had a potluck for interns, their mentors and employees of AIP. I talked to several people over dinner including Jennifer, one of the AIP lobbyists who helped setup my internship and Mitch, a writer for FYI, the AIP science policy newsletter. I was able to get some different perspectives on the intersection between science and policy and was glad to learn that not everyone in the field has a PhD. Neither Jennifer nor Mitch has a Ph.D., and both are doing amazing things.

The next morning we woke up and headed to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, at the end of the orange line. This is NASA’s main research facility, so it is jammed packed with high level physicists and other scientists. Both Sam and Kristine are interning at NASA, so they were helping to lead the tour. The first stop was an event where research from all across the campus was on display. Perhaps my favorite part of this was getting to talk to a former manager for spacewalks and maintenance relating to the Hubble Space Telescope. After this we toured some of the campus (it’s over a mile across, so we couldn’t get to it all). This included talking to Kristine’s mentor about solar physics, viewing the hangers where spacecraft are built and tested, and visiting Sam’s instrument lab.

After NASA the next day we woke up early to tour NIST, at the end of the red line, since this is where Luis is interning. NIST was one of those places where I had a vague idea of what happens behind the doors, but other than that, not a clue. After touring the facility I have a much better idea. The work that NIST does is incredibly important, but to truly appreciate it I feel that you have to be a giant physics or science nerd. It was a perfect place for the SPS interns to tour. What NIST does is conduct fundamental scientific research with an emphasis on obtaining very accurate measurements and standards for others to use. We toured multiple labs such as a robot testing facility, a neutron lab with a nuclear reactor and my favorite, a Bose-Einstein condensate lab. I was particularly excited to make some connections at NIST regarding the energy storage project I am working on for my internship. This helped to make up for the fact that I didn’t do a whole lot of actual work this week. 

Riley Troyer