Week Four

I have had yet another awesome week in Virginia!

On Monday and Tuesday I continued to work through some issues with the programs I was running to determine the UTC time at which certain events occurred. Then on Wednesday one of our office-mates, Gary, took the other SAGE III interns and I on a little adventure. He wanted to “show us something cool,” and he delivered. He took us to what we had originally thought was a giant crane-like structure used for construction or something, but it turns out it was originally used for astronauts to practice moon landings! If you have seen Hidden Figures, these tests date back to that era in NASA’s history. And the structure is still in use today! It has been repurposed to perform several test landings, including crash tests for Orion. More on that here.

Then on Thursday we had our first “Fireside Chat” with our mentor, Charles. He wanted to prepare us for our tour of Jefferson Lab, a particle accelerator facility. For about two and a half hours the five of us sat and talked about quantum field theory, and my mind was blown. The gist of the discussion was to let go of the notion that the universe is made of these little spheres we think of as particles, but rather to think of “particles” as excitations of a field. Quantum field theory is incredibly interesting and way over my head, so I need to do some further investigation. It’s not something you would normally get to take a class on as an undergrad, so I am glad I have Charles to learn from.

Somehow our fireside chat discussion went down the path of amateur radio. Apparently many years ago there was this antenna that a physicist deemed not suitable for use based on a few mathematical calculations. My mentor returned to those calculations many years later and reworked them himself, and he discovered that the math in that original paper was incorrect. Then of course he BUILT said antenna in a machine shop. Anyway, he told me about all of this, and then said he has been meaning to write a paper about it but has been too lazy over the years. So… He is handing the project over to me! I am quite thrilled to be learning about ham radio hands on, finally.

Onto the tour of J Lab. Particle physics is not something I am terribly interested in, but the facility was awesome nonetheless. J Lab does medium energy particle physics and focuses on the nucleus of atoms, so they are particularly trying to understand quarks, gluons, the color force, etc. It was an interesting place with interesting people. The main takeaway: you need some crazy big magnets to steer a beam of electrons in the right direction.

Upon returning from J Lab, I got a call from the mechanic saying my car was ready to be picked up (I have been having car problems ever since I got here). This meant I was able to go to Richmond this weekend to visit my friend Eric! Friday night we made fried rice with vegetables and some amazing curry sauce with thai hot peppers. On Saturday we had a lovely brunch at the University of Richmond’s dining hall, then went to a wildlife conservation center to see some otters. Turns out there was a lot more than just otters there – we saw several fish, turtles, snakes, toads, alligators, birds of prey, a black bear, and cows! We also got to explore a Japanese garden with a massive, tranquil koi pond. For dinner we had tacos and margaritas, naturally.

I came back to Hampton this morning, did some errands, and then went to the beach of course. Last week there were virtually no shells or rocks to be seen, but today I collected several whole shells! My friends and I had hand stand and rock-skipping contests; it was a lovely time. I was a little sad to learn that I had arrived a few minutes too late, as they had seen dolphins very close to the shore right before I got to the beach. Maybe I’ll have better luck next week.

This week I am starting on a new project, so more updates to come!

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