Week 8: NIST, NASA, and meetings!

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Sunday, July 20, 2014


Simon Patane

Scenes from the Center for Neutron Research at NIST!Many new things to journal about for Week 8! Two of the highlights of this week were by far the tours of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Kelby and Ben gave an amazing tour of the user facility and its gorgeous campus, while Nick and Kirsten gave an equally awesome tour of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. At NIST I saw quite a few unexpected things. We started off at NIST with a tour of their Center for Neutron Research. The neutron source and all the instrumentation taking data from the neutron source are housed in an enormous warehouse. Taking in all of the experiments going on in that one building really made me understand the necessity of big science. I can't imagine many other opportunities to get so much basic research done all in one place! I also saw the inside of the nuclear reactor used for their setup and it was quite daunting. Although I knew I was quite safe, there is something humbling about being so close to such a raw part of nature - fundamental to the cosmos and yet entirely foreign to humans in our day-to-day experience. Our next stop was the scanning electron microscope lab where we were briefed on some amazing nanoscale imaging technologies.

Scenes from the Center for Neutron Research at NIST!While at NIST we also visited the Nanofab facilities within the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology. Touring the clean room observation area was a glimpse into the science that drives much of the technology emergent in society today - the silicon based technology that, for example, drives the computer with which I'm writing this journal! Seeing the research and development of these technologies, as well as learning about the financial costs, really inspires a great respect for the numerous and ingenious researchers who drive technology forward.

Graft of Isaac Newton's apple tree at NIST.One notable find at NIST is an apple tree grown from a graft taken from Isaac Newton's infamous apple tree/orchard. Following NIST, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Dogfish Head, right across the street from the user facilities. Ending the day, the group split, with a few of us going to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and the rest returning to Foggy Bottom. The Udvar-Hazy Center is an extension of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and is definitely not to be missed if you are in the D.C. area. A converted aircraft hangar, the Udvar-Hazy houses many historically significant aircraft such as the Space Shuttle Discovery, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the Concorde.

The SR-71 Blackbird at the Udvar-Hazy extension of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum!On Thursday, 7/17 Nick and Kirsten gave an excellent tour of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. We first stopped by Kirsten's lab and met with the crew working on cosmic microwave background polarimetry and then stopped by Nick's lab where he is studying Eta Carinae. Soon after we stopped by the Science Jamboree where many of the labs presented their research in an accessible, easily digestible way. There was tons of free NASA souvenirs and plenty of people to talk science with! Working at NASA must be an endlessly fascinating job. Our lunch was with Nobel laureate Dr. John Mather who kindly set aside some time to talk with us about our tour and science in general. In the afternoon we went on a tour of the Flight Dynamics Facility where, among many other projects, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is being tested and assembled. Prior to JWST, the Hubble Space Telescope was built here, so this facility has a long history of advancing astronomy research! There were many enormous projects happening outside of the sealed clean room as well. There was a chamber used for testing the acoustical properties of spacecraft as well as a giant centrifuge that could spin all sorts of large objects, including cars!

Inside Goddard Space Flight Center.At work we had our July 18 Advisory Committee meeting for the teacher's guide and the day went off without a hitch. Jake, Sine, Sharina, and I gave a well-received presentation on the teacher's guide and all of the resources that we've been hard at work refining over the past 8 weeks. The Center for History of Physics brought in several outside researchers and leaders in the African-American physics community as well as members of the different societies within the American Center for Physics complex (such as the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Physical Society) to help expand our work to the greater physical science community. Besides giving some excellent critique of the teacher's guide work, the outside researchers helped formulate an excellent list of oral history candidates and interviewers. All in all, Week 8 has been one of the most productive and fun weeks that I've had all summer!

Simon Patane