So tomorrow is the penultimate (that means second to last in fancy talk) day of my internship at SETI.
It’s crazy how fast the time here went, and at the same time I managed to pack so many amazing things into ten short weeks. I’m pretty sure that I can say this has been the greatest experience of my life. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, I still have a couple weeks of adventures to write about!
Since my last entry there has been less fun stuff and much more work – not that we skimped on the fun stuff at all. Shortly after I last wrote, I had to give what’s called a Journal Club talk, where we were each assigned a published research paper and then expected to give a fifteen minute presentation to the other interns and a handful of scientists that found the time to attend. This allows for skill-building both in reading scientific journal articles and in presenting scientific work. The paper that I was assigned was titled “Time Evolution of Viscous Circumstellar Disks due to Photoevaporation by Far-Ultraviolet, Extreme-Ultraviolet, and X-ray Radiation from the Central Star”, and was written by my mentor. It provided a really good foundation for understanding my own project, because I was using a lot of the same methods/modeling techniques. All-in-all I would say it was a successful experience.
The next big event for us was a trip up to Lick Observatory for a tour and star party, which was way cool. We got to see the 3 meter telescope – and stood outside the dome at sunset as it rotated around… what a view! While waiting for the sun to set completely, we were given a really cool history lesson about James Lick and the observatory. He’s definitely a really fascinating dude, look him up sometime. Then once it was finally dark we went inside the dome of the Great Refractor, the original telescope built in the late nineteenth century, and each got a chance to look at a few really cool celestial objects through it. And telescope or not, the sky up there was gorgeous – we could see the Milky Way once the moon set!
After the Lick trip the rest of the week was spent by some of us frantically working to get abstracts written and submitted to AGU (The American Geophysical Union), in order to attend the Fall Meeting in December – which is one of, if not the, biggest conferences in the country. I am one of the two or three SETI interns that submitted an abstract, which is titled “An Investigation of the Streamline Geometry of Photoevaporative Winds from Planet-Forming Disks” and can be read here by anybody who is interested! Another cool thing that happened that week was that I got interviewed for a documentary called Madame Mars, which is about women scientists studying Mars… more about that project here.
A lot of work always gets done as the deadline approaches, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t find time to have fun. For our penultimate Saturday a few of us took the train/bus journey down to Santa Cruz to check out the campus of UCSC, which is gorgeous by the way. Most of us are getting to the point where we need to start picking grad schools, so it was definitely a good trip to take. Then we spent the evening at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which – get this – is an amusement park… on the beach! We had a blast. Sunday I slept until noon and didn’t change out of my pajamas all day – which was much needed as I hadn’t had a single day without something planned since arriving.
My next big piece of news is about my big purchase – I’ve acquired a Canon 60D DSLR camera that is totally awesome and with which I am in love. I wanted to treat myself to a big purchase with some of my internship money (I mean, paying off my credit card debt was fun, but who wants to just pay bills all summer? I needed a new toy!) and after throwing a few different ideas around I think I definitely made the right choice. The thing I’m most excited about is astrophotography. I’m sure you all heard about the “super moon” last week, well I got an awesome picture of it. Just from my camera on the ground, no telescope or anything. I also got a cool photo of the big dipper – you might need to click on it and view the full size photo in order to really see it.
Project-wise, I spent a lot of time during my final few weeks just de-bugging my model. That thing did NOT want to cooperate. Luckily, I finally got it working last night at about 11 pm, just in time to get some results for this morning’s presentation. But I’ll talk about that later.
Last weekend was the last one before I fly back out to Florida in a few days, so I sought to make it epic. First off, there was no way I was going a whole summer without a concert – and by a stroke of luck, Echosmith was playing a free show in San Jose last Saturday! How cool is that? The best part about a free show is that I could actually take photos with my camera – concert venues tend not to allow DSLRs, which is a bummer, because I love photographing concerts. Then Sunday I spent all day at the San Francisco Zoo! I love the zoo. And I love taking pictures of animals, which is exactly what I did. My final photo count for the day was 1063 RAW photos, at about 22 MB each – needless to say my memory card was plenty full. I got some AMAZING shots, which you can feel free to peruse here. I’m still working on processing most of them, but I have a good number of great shots done and online already, and I’ll be adding more to that album as I get around to it. And for those of you too lazy to click the link, here are a few below…
As the weeks started to wind down there have been a lot of “lasts”. We had our last lunch outing to the awesome Indian lunch buffet that is five minutes from the Institute. Tonight I went to my last yoga class of the summer (oh yeah, I’ve been doing yoga. It’s neat.) And Friday is our last day. It’s very surreal, and also very bittersweet. This week the work is (in theory) done, and it’s been mostly presentations every day. Yesterday we had to do what are called “Lightning Talks”, in which each student has 3 minutes and 3 slides to get up and talk about their project. These talks were open to the public as part of SETI’s colloquium series, and also filmed and put on their YouTube channel here. Mine starts around 7:35, if you’re interested in watching.
In addition to the lightning talks, we each have to give a fifteen minute presentation of our project in much more detail. I gave mine this morning and I think it went pretty well, but I don’t have a video of that one for you (darn, right?) Giving talks like that is nerve-wracking, but there’s something I do enjoy about getting all dressed up in my snazzy suit and talking about smart sciencey junk.
I’m not going to talk much about the details of my project right now, I’ll save that for when I have it all done and ready to show at AGU – and I’ll have a poster to link as well! But to give a basic overview (this information is all in the lightning talk video linked above), I worked on modeling circumstellar disks, which are the regions around young stars that planets form. Basically, the gas in these disks gets heated by the star and blows outward due to pressure changes from the temperature increase – fluid mechanics knowledge came in handy. This causes the disk to disperse after a few million years, which is why you don’t hear about new planets forming in our solar system nowadays: the disk is gone. My project specifically dealt with modeling the flow of these winds and generating a lot of plots using different cases, in order to determine how the geometry of the wind affects the disk. Simple, right? 😉
All in all, I’d just like to wrap up this entry by saying again what an amazing summer I’ve had interning at the SETI Institute, and I’d give my left kidney if I could participate in the program a second time. I’ve learned so much about my field and my interests, I’ve gotten career guidance, seen some amazing sights, lived in a part of a country that’s as close to paradise as I’ve ever seen (I really hope to move back here one day!) and, most importantly, I’ve met some really awesome people, both in the scientists at SETI and the other students. So I just want to say, for anyone relevant who may be reading this, how truly grateful I am to have had this opportunity to have done everything I’ve done, learned everything I’ve learned, and met everyone I’ve met.
I want to close out this entry by directing you to Dr. Tarter’s TEDtalk here. I hope you all understand how awesome and important SETI really is as a scientific endeavor, and that it’s not a bunch of crazy people with foil hats looking for aliens. 🙂
P.S. No, we didn’t find any aliens during my internship. 🙁