Week 8: Tacos, Jellyfish, and National Labs

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Sunday, July 24, 2022


Emma Goulet

As I am writing this blog post from the comfort of Janessa and I's room, wallowing in the fact that we only have one weekend and two work weeks left. This must be getting repetitive by now, but I really can't state enough how fantastic the other interns are—they are wonderfully accepting, hilarious and generous people. I am sad to have such limited time left with them, and I am enjoying any time we get with each other. 

  Taytay's triumph, Janessa ready to fight, Lucy and Taylor's entertainment

Work this week consisted of the same projects that I listed in the week 7 blog post! I am still currently bouncing between six different goals, that were listed and described in detail in last week's post, summarized as the following: 

My projects are (a) polishing the last extensions of my Katherine Clerk Maxwell lesson plan, (b) editing the Émilie du Châtelet lesson plan draft with my mentors, (c) workshopping the Physics Today article with the magazine's editors for Katherine's outreach on invisible technicians and partners in science, (d) discussing back and forth with some sources about du Châtelet's outreach article (more on that soon!), (e) organizing some more side projects, and (f) doing some more general internship responsibilities.  

Since last week's updates, I have made far more progress on each of these goals. However, it will still be a while before any of them are finalized, as I am still waiting on some edits and email responses (I have to get permissions and guidance on a lot of it, so there is a good amount of waiting and working on side projects while doing so). I am pretty much ready to post the teaching guides, I just want to review one last primary source on Katherine Clerk Maxwell before I give it my final stamp of readiness and am waiting on some du Châtelet edits. The Physics Today article is also currently at a waiting-point, as well as a few permissions for the du Châtelet AIP History Newsletter article. While I am waiting for those, I have been working on the Ex Libris Universum library & archives blog post about my research experiences, and combing through the two women's Wikipedia pages to see what needs to be edited and updated! As for final internship duties, I also submitted my final poster, abstract, and presentation draft. It feels surreal to have put together my final presentation and invited my mentors to the symposium, because it signals the end of such a wonderful experience. I also discussed with my mentors where else to take my project on these two underrepresented women to continue with outreach, and I am thrilled to say that I am set to present my work this summer at both the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) conference and the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)! Both of these meetings take place next January, and SPS is kind enough to provide some funding to the interns who want to present their work. This is very exciting for me, as it means that I will not only be funded to come back to DC in October for the 2022 Physics Congress from my school in NH, but I am also able to stretch the funding budget to travel to Portsmouth, Oregon for the AAPT conference and to Boston, MA for CUWiP.  

Overall, work is still going great, even if the amount of projects is a bit overwhelming. Due to the long editing process, I will unfortunately not be able to wrap up my work before the end of the project, and I will likely still be working on my articles into the upcoming college semester. However, I am elated to be able to share what I have learned about these two incredible women, and excited to have my name out there on a few articles by the end of this experience! 

Now for the week outside of those projects, packed with events and even a tour of some national labs: 

Monday came with some amazing food and conversation. Janessa and I held an intern taco night in our room (we have been hosting some form of potluck every week)! Everyone involved pitched in to bring something, and we had some amazing tacos, dessert, and laughs afterwards. Janessa and Justin taught everyone some dances (a Filipino line dance that I was able to learn, and few Spanish dances which were a true workout). As I keep writing in these posts, food is a really great way to bond with people, and we have already picked a theme for next week's potluck (breakfast for dinner, a personal favorite).  


Learning some dances!

On Tuesday, a few of us headed to Franklin Park to join in on the 'Can I Kick it? Downtown DC Summer Flicks' movie series! The free event was sponsored by Whole Foods, so we enjoyed lots of free snacks, music, and a movie. We will most certainly be going back next week, as it was absolutely lovely to watch the sunset in the beautiful park. 

 (Ben took a nap immediately) 

everyone set up camp for the movie

Wednesday brought some more free events, where we were able to go explore the French Embassy! We went for a night of French theater performances, and Lucy and I were even interviewed after the first show. I grew up taking French from Kindergarten to my first year of college, so it was very refreshing to be able to hear the language again. I can still understand and speak it a bit after over two years off  

The performance!

 Getting interviewed in French!

Thursday was then NIST day! Nearly all of us were able to take the day to go tour the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This comes with a huge thank you to Dr. Joe Kopanski (an electrical engineer and role model that was kind enough to act as our tour guide for the day) and the NIST interns for hosting us! We got to see a variety of cool things after we passed the intensive security checks, including some extremely impressive cold vacuum chambers, the acoustic anechoic chamber (which had around NEGATIVE 2 decibels of sound!), and a neutron research center among other things. Although a lot of the physics that the incredible researchers were describing about their projects may have been a little too high-level for me, it was truly inspiring to see many of these scientists doing what they were passionate about and doing mind-boggling work. Even the elevator into the underground labs (as is required for a lot of the experiments that they run) looked like something out of a sci-fi movie to me, with huge automatic metal doors, wire gates, and sirens.  

The acoustic anechoic chamber was an experience that I have never had before (as was every part of the tour). Every surface was covered by sound-absorbing wedges and we stood on a wire mesh floor that appeared to be a few feet above the actual bottom of the room that was made of more wedges. The room was a bit disorienting in a super interesting and unique way-- I felt almost as though I was in an elevator while standing on the suspended floor, and in complete silence we could hear the sound of our own blood! It was wild, and a once in a lifetime experience. We learned all about the 'sticking coefficient when we were shown the vacuum chamber... which is a real thing, and it is genuinely the name for the a high level physics concept of atoms/molecules that 'stick' to surfaces (in this case, literally at the atomic level with negative significant figure amounts of time). The center for neutron research was also amazing, and our tour guide was incredible at explaining it in a way that is understandable for such a complicated piece of technology! The facility held multiple different neutron experiments, with the ability to heat or cool the minuscule particles and create a beam of singular neutrons in a massive and wildly high-tech machine. This is some incredible technology that is a privilege to get to see in a lifetime. The NIST website has a pretty great explanation for why neutron research is so incredible, describing that "neutrons are good at seeing inside materials. The NIST reactor produces streams of neutrons, which pass easily through many heavy materials like steel or iron, but interact strongly with light materials, particularly hydrogen. This makes neutrons capable of seeing what X-rays cannot." (from https://www.nist.gov/ncnr/glance-nist-center-neutron-research-and-its-research-reactor). We went through radiation sensors upon entering the area (we all passed when a machine akin to a metal-detector indicated 'CLEAN' above our heads) and were able to see some cryogenic machines that looked like something out of a movie with liquid nitrogen spilling out the top. SPS also sponsored a free lunch for us along the tour, and I wanted to give a huge thank you to SPS, NIST, and everyone involved that let us see this incredible facility! 

After we got back to the dorms after a long day, I was also able to see one of my friends from home who goes to GW. I have not seen her since we were in High School three years ago, and it was really lovely to catchup and rekindle our relationship! I absolutely have this internship to thank for sparking up conversations with a friend group that I may not have heard from again after the separation of college and COVID, as we already have plans to see each other again in our hometown. Taylor, Saksham, and Ben also joined us to make some cookies, which is always a huge win in my book. 

 *fun* signs that were everywhere 

The acoustic anechoic chamber

Me at THE desk where the Big Bang was discovered!

On Friday, Brad Conrad was kind enough to come to the GW physics building after work to come give us all a career talk! He honestly discussed everything from grad school tips to directly entering work after undergraduate school. The talk was honestly extremely helpful and eye-opening, as many of us are rising seniors and entirely unsure of what we want to do after undergraduate school. I would say that the main takeaways for finding a career all start with first thinking about what you like and don't like, including what specifically you would want from a job/school outside of the actual work (such as how much you would want to travel, what work/life balance you need, how much independence you need in work, etc). Then, to only go for a PhD if you really know that you love something, and if you're going to go to grad school, then take the application process very seriously and apply to a minimum of 10 programs with letters that have been tailored to the specific program, to schools where there are at least three possible professors that you would be interested in researching with. Schools do usually pay for you to get a physics degree, but you need to pick somewhere to go with a culture that supports your needs. If applying for jobs, apply for a job every week or every two weeks, and above all make sure to network and use your connections because around 80% of the jobs needed are already filled by this method when they are posted. The AIP website also has some extremely useful resources, including a list of where bachelors physics graduates go after graduation and career tips. There are also a lot of helpful graphics of salaries based on majors and jobs (https://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-salaries-college-degrees/), but that also really depends on how important salary is to you as an individual, and money really isn't everything at a certain point : ) 

Afterwards, Brad and a two fantastic physics professors from GW came to catch up at Quigleys happy hour two blocks away. Dr. Alexander J. van der Horst and Dr. Evangeline J. Downie were kind enough to join us, and even give us a short tour of the incredible physics history of the college (such as the desk where the Big Bang was discovered, steps where Niels Bohr gave his speech, etc). Both of the GW professors were wonderful company, and I really appreciate the opportunity to get to know such incredible researchers! I had heard of the work that they have done in astrophysics and nuclear research before meeting them, and it is honestly both an honor and inspiring to be able to casually chat with them. 

 A Very Important Slide

Quigley's with our honorary guests

Being nearly 100 degrees of inferno, Saturday brought with it a beach day! Ten of us organized excessive amounts of snacks and games to being back to Sandy Point Beach, where we had been a few weeks prior. We borrowed a cooler from ACP (thanks Brad) and took off with frisbees and plans to swim... until four of us got stung by jellyfish the first time we went in the water. Everyone is alright, just sporting some new jellyfish rashes and swelling, but we most definitely spent the rest of the day out of the water. The size of the shallow water jellyfish do not pose threats if you get a quick sting, but they sure aren't anything that any of us would recommend hanging around! We may not have enough time left in this internship to go on another one of our group trips, so I have been appreciating the time that we have together like this as much as possible.  

After the beach, a lot of the interns came to meet my friend from home and some of her friends. It was a lot of fun combining everyone together, and I'm glad that I got to see her again before she left DC the next day!  


Div's lunch meat.... and hot Cheetos

On Sunday, despite the heat advisory deeming that the 'feels like' temperature was a *minimum* of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, I took myself out on a long walk. I explored the Dupont farmers market and some of my favorite neighborhoods to walk in; there are some absolutely beautiful embassies and houses around Kalorama, especially if you're a fan of gawking at real estate prices. Afterwards, Janessa and I got to just hang out and get some work done before the other interns joined for another movie night. It was a very successfully rejuvenating Sunday in my books, after a fantastic week of friends and free events! Though I don't yet have much planned for the upcoming week, I am very much looking forward to having free time to catch up on some work and enjoy whatever time I have left with the other interns.  

A lovely man that I met who is content to feed the pigeons 3x a day

See you next week!

Emma Goulet