Sunday, June 15, 2014

First Week in New England

Last Saturday, I hopped on a plane to be the furthest I've ever been from Colorado while living in New England for nine weeks. I'm living in Nashua while working in Westford at the MIT Haystack observatory through a NSF REU (research experience for undergrads). First big difference: green forests everywhere. Second: people drive very fast here. Third: Springtime actually lasts longer than three weeks here, and it's nice. Fourth: I can't walk up a mountain that's a ten minute-jog away anymore. It'll be fun though.

My office building.

Talk about fire hose. My first day was kinda crazy, and I didn't have coffee in the morning. The drive to work is cool, though. It's a half hour commute through the green forest. My mentor gave me a bunch of MATLAB code. And by a bunch, I mean a boatload. I now have a few subprojects: One looking at a storm on Oct 14, one looking at the convection patterns, and one that is supposed to clean up a former REU student's code (which is terribly disorganized and not well-documented...c'mon people--it's CompSci 101) and check if it actually does what it says it does. Yikes. I've gotten to run some MATLAB code, which I had missed dearly, but no writing. Science-wise, I feel like I need to know what's going on.

Today was less overwhelming. I spent the morning researching what I'm doing and getting the jargon cleared up by reading papers. One of the things I'm supposed to understand is the South Atlantic Magnetic Anomaly. This is an area on the east of South America where the magnetic field is much weaker, which poses problems to GPS and spacecraft flying through this area. So that was cool learning about. I also tried to learn about how sudden stratospheric warmings affect the ionosphere, which is the area of the atmosphere I'm studying this summer. After meeting with my mentor in the afternoon, I had a better picture of where I'm going, at least in the short term. I then fought with MATLAB over shading and interpolating the plots I was making and making a movie out of them.

Right before lunch, we were notified about free food in the conference room. There were delicious muffins and coffee (my would-be second cup). The day before, I went to Target and bought some K-cups because the office does not have a regular ole coffee maker, and buying the K-Cups in the vending machine will add up. Still, my coffee habit will cost me $40 this summer, assuming I drink two cups a day only on workdays and manage to get another box of K-Cups on clearance when this box runs out.

I made a movie before 10AM! Great start to the day. The rest of my day consisted of making more movies and freezing frames that were interesting. Then I looked into what scintillation was before looking at the scintillation patterns that corresponded to the interesting time. What is scintillation? It is bad. It messes up GPS stuff with refraction and diffraction.
We have seminars at 4PM some of the days. Today the Radar Equation came back to haunt me, which I kind of learned in Intro to Electromagnetic Methods. 


It was really good programming weather today, as it rained all day. It was nice to drink coffee and code with the drip drop of rain. The only downside is that my hair is super frizzy and poofy. Maybe I should straighten it. 

I spent most of my day looking at one piece of code and making a similar script that gets scintillation data rather than TEC (total electron content) data, and from a different database. At lunch, it felt like I had done nothing, but I got a plot to work by the end of the day. MATLAB isn't visualizing the data how I want to that's the struggle now. 

I'm starting to get into a rhythm now. The days are really running together, and I only have a few hours of free time after work, exercising, and then cooking and eating dinner. The summer is zooming by already. 


I still fought with MATLAB for hours today, trying to overlay some data on some plots. I might need to do it in Python. My mentor is trying to find me the code that does it in Python. 

This morning a scientist from the MIT electrical engineering dept. came by and gave a seminar. I really enjoyed it because a). There were donut holes and coffee b). She was really awesome c). The technology she was talking about was very interesting. Stuff like being able to track people's movements with WiFi. 


This weekend was the first my fellow interns and I ventured into Boston, and was a lot of fun. Yesterday we went to Cambridge and checked out Harvard. The buildings are so old and cool. We went to Harvard's museum of natural history. I ended up in a conversation with one of the people who worked there about Mines and geophysics. Random. One thing that this museum had that Denver's doesn't is gross animals in clear jars including millipedes, eels, and spiders. Boston was pretty cool. We walked along the whole Freedom Trail, past Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church, and leading up to the USS Constitution. Oh, and along the way we ran into this parade in Charlestown that had colonial-era to current era living history people, as well as bagpipes. It was strange to run into, but a pleasant surprise. We then went back by Faneuil Hall and ate a bread bowl of chowder...yum. 

Downtown Boston
I'm really enjoying getting to see different places. I'm sure we'll hit up Boston again, as well as visit the MIT campus. I really want to explore Nashua as well. But it's been a great week! 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Geophysics Field Camp Week Four: Onwards, Upwards

The view as our caravan left Pagosa Springs, CO

"Remember this moment," Dr. Hale said to us at the end of the final presentation. "There have been only a few times in my life where the geophysics gives something completely unexpected."

We did it. We survived Colorado School of Mines Geophysics Field Camp. And in style, too, as our professors, industry people, and our beloved department head said it was the best Geophysics Field Camp they had seen in their years at Mines. All the early mornings and those two late nights and the weird weather and the orange vests and wanting to kill our classmates and loving our classmates to death and funk music and spilled coffee and being annoyed at geophysics and being convinced that geophysics is awesome went into those four weeks. And in the end, it an incredible experience.

It is such a privileged to be able to do geophysics in every stage of its process on an area that no one has seen down in the subsurface before. "You're right, this isn't Kafadar Commons anymore," Andrei said to me after we got so excited from the preliminary seismic section. Doing geophysics on Kafadar is incredibly uninteresting, when it comes to the subsurface. Doing geophysics on the unknown is exciting. It's like being an explorer.

Here I am getting ready to drive and operate the vibroseis truck.
Andrei is in the background, waiting for me to hurry up. 

People hate airports and fly all the time, but for me, it never gets old. I rolled to the United terminal and the sign above me advertised Mines. As if it needs my attention some more.

Where is the water coming from? Where is the water going? Two important questions when doing a geothermal investigation.

Where are we coming from? Mines.  And before that, other various places that all combined to lead us to here.

Where are we going? 


"So how does it feel to officially be a senior?" Michelle, the Geophysics Department assistant asked at the End-Of-Field-Session BBQ right after our final presentation.

I responded with 10% sarcasm: "It's surreal. I feel like this year and field session have all culminated in my geophysical journey though Mines as a sort of rite of passage to make us seniors."

"But now there's Senior Year..."

"Yeah. But in all seriousness, as I told Austin earlier, we've made it through Junior Year, and now we've made it through Field Camp. We can do anything."


I actually ate breakfast that morning at the airport. I never eat breakfast other than coffee. While I finished my sandwich, the television report showed something about California Chrome. I laughed. California Chrome was the name of Craig's (one of the TAs) van. I guess Field Camp held some fun times.

I was exhausted. My brain had been going non-stop since...well, January. The swift transition from school to Field Camp to summer internship had left me no time for processing (mental processing, not data processing). Even while going through security my brain did not fully comprehend that those four weeks were over, and I was moving on to Massachusetts for my summer internship. I was so glad that Field Session was over. And thinking back, I was pretty miserable academically right before that, yearning for Field Session to start. I had spent my time looking forward to things ending. I even dreamed about graduating during those four weeks.

Where am I coming from? I knew this.

Where am I going?

I buckled up and sat for a while, waiting for the plane to take off. It began rolling. It began rolling slightly faster. Then it pivoted onto the runway. It stopped. Then, WHOOOOSHH! 

It was then when I realized where I was going; where my classmates were going.

Onwards, upwards.

The 2014 Colorado School of Mines Geophysics Field Camp (photo by Dawn)