Week 8: Did you hear about the guy who got cooled to absolute zero?

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Monday, August 1, 2016


Tabitha Colter

He's OK now. 

With the beginning of August comes the end of week 8 and the falling action of my summer in DC. It also means I only have two more blog posts to wow you with physics jokes and that might be the biggest tragedy of all. This week’s joke is directly in line with an experience we had during our tour of NASA so I thought I should take a minute to explain it too.

Absolute zero is the lowest theoretical temperature at which all fundamental particles have minimum motion and no heat energy remains. In Fahrenheit, absolute zero hits at -459 degrees. However, temperatures at that level are often measured in terms of the Kelvin scale which marks absolute zero at zero degrees. Or to put it another way, absolute zero is OK. See, science can be funny too! Absolute zero is a theoretical temperature that can never be achieved entirely although using various techniques of cooling scientists have managed to come within a billionth of a Kelvin in order to see many unusual properties that matter demonstrates after being cooled to that level.

So how does that relate to my last week? Well on Wednesday afternoon, we all got the chance to tour the NASA Goddard facility with Dahlia and Maria and one of the first labs we went into spoke about their own experience with extreme cooling. While most labs focus on getting very tiny areas of material cooled down near absolute zero, this lab managed to get a dinner plate sized material down near absolute zero which is incredible. Other highlights of our tour included getting to see the James Webb telescope (the successor to Hubble that will launch next October) hiding in the corner of its cleanroom, the mission control room for Hubble, and a sound chamber to test equipment at levels of up to 250 dB (a 1 ton TNT bomb explosion hits only hits about 210 dB if that helps put 250 into perspective). The NASA tour was definitely one of the highlights of the summer and while I personally don’t plan to pursue a career in astrophysics, an amazing look into what the life of such scientists looks like.


Following the NASA tour on Wednesday, we had another great tour on Friday! Friday was the day the interns came to the Hill to explore the area Demitri and I have been working all summer. That day was also a fun one for me because I did a guest takeover of my university’s snapchat as well and got the chance to show both our intern group and all the students at my university what I’ve experienced this summer and how important science policy is. We began the morning with a briefing on human space exploration then headed off to a personal tour of the Capitol. I had only been on one tour before and really enjoyed having a second opportunity to really pick up some of the information about the Capitol. After the tour, we headed to lunch and the gift shop before having a meeting with the Chief of Staff of Demetri’s Committee. He spoke to us with the background of scientist who now works in policy and his talk was a great follow up for me to some of the other conversations I’ve had this summer with professionals in science policy and a great introduction for the other students.


After the official tour concluded, I took Victoria and Jose and Marissa with me to see the Library of Congress and Supreme Court. We decided to wrap the day up with a quick walk through the Archives so I could finally see the Declaration and Constitution up close and personal. After a quick stop in Union Station to grab a cold drink, Victoria and Jose and I began walking at a very fast pace to make it to the Archives before it stopped entry at 5. We hit most of the lights correctly and arrived at the entrance at 5:01 and were denied. Victoria and I had also tried to see the Archives on the Fourth of July and this second denial was just as devastating. Instead, the three of us headed over to listen to some Jazz in the National Sculpture Garden and took a picture with whatever this thing is.

The weekend was another great one with two of my best friends from college coming down to visit me as well! With them, I explored more restaurants and areas of the city as well as made it to my first DC underground comedy show! Plus, they went out of their way to make sure I finally got to go to the Archives and saw the amazing founding documents (I only teared up a little bit). Overall, week eight was pretty great! 


Tabitha Colter