Wednesday, August 31, 2011

NASA names new fellowship after prominent female astrophysicist

Yesterday, I received the following announcement in my inbox:

ROSES-11 Amendment 23: New proposal opportunity: Appendix D.9,  The Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship (RTF) Program in  Astrophysics

A new NASA program, The Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship Program in Astrophysics, is named after a very a very distinguished American astronomer. Nancy Grace Roman's celebrated career included multiple scientific and technical achievements at NASA and her important contributions to the design of the Hubble Space Telescope.

From the announcement:

The goals of the Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship (RTF) program in Astrophysics are to give early career researchers the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to lead astrophysics flight instruments/projects and become principal investigators (PIs) of future astrophysics missions; to develop innovative technologies that have the potential to enable major scientific breakthroughs; and to foster new talent by putting early-career instrument builders on a trajectory towards long-term positions.
This is a 5 year fellowship, which is the most substantial NASA astrophysics fellowship to date, compared to the typical 2-3 year awards that have previously existed.

This is really great news for Astrophysics.  Why?  First it is a new early career fellowship - these are very important to those of us just starting out in our careers.  Second, it is named after a woman.  This matters.  Celebrating brilliant women in physics helps future female physicists know that they are welcome to the field.  Physics is truly lacking in equal participation by women and we are missing a key source of intelligence, brilliance, and creativity in our field by not having equal participation by women.  So, thank you NASA!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


So, I have been sort of in a rut lately.  From a work standpoint and a personal standpoint. For work, I am a physicist, but I rarely get to sit down and do any physics.  My days are taken up by writing papers (not research), fixing other people's problems (not research), reporting my lack of progress on my research, and editing papers for other people (not research).  It can sometimes really annoy me.

On top of this all, I constantly am feeling quite guilty about living 1000 miles from both my family and my wife's family.  My kids only get to see my parents about 2 times a year and they get to see my wife's mother about 4 times a year.  Not all that often.  And it is all because of me.  I chose to be a physicist and I chose to take a postdoc 1000 miles from my family.  Now, to be honest, it was the only job offer I had.  Though, it was my dream offer, so I still feel guilty because I would have picked it no matter what I was offered (most likely).

This guilt has left me feeling like where I have lived for 3 years is not home.  I have never taken an interest in my neighborhood, the town or the region.  I really don't have any close friends outside of work and have never really felt the need to have them.  Why?  Because I don't view this as home yet. 

So, sometimes things just start to pile up on my emotionally.  I don't have a lot of outlets to get away to - everything I do is with my wife and kids.  No close friends - no hang outs - no nothing really.  Don't get me wrong - my wife and kids are great.  But even just once a month - to be able to get out and away - would be priceless.  It is my fault really - I don't ever make the effort to meet people or connect with the people I do happen to meet.

This all starts to add up and affect me in ways I don't always see.  For the last month or so, and especially the last week, I have been incredibly irritable.  Snapping at the kids and wife.  Don't get me wrong, I have never been a person who really thinks before responding.  I say things without thinking all the time. I wear my heart on my sleeve and you can quickly and correctly ascertain my mental state simply by the look on my face.  I don't really have an inner firewall that stops me from saying stupid and hurtful shit.  It just comes out. 

It is usually not a problem because I am usually a very easy going, laid-back person.  In general, I am very happy and so that cruelness that I have had lately is so very surprising to me.  So, I have spent the last few days - since Thursday really - trying to pin it down - where is it coming from?  I think it is that I just don't have any releases anymore.  I don't have any outlets other than talking with my wife. 

And, really, one person can only take so much bitching and moaning.  On top of that, I am not a talk it out kinda guy.  I am a let it process and work it out on my own type.  I am also the kind of person who always looks for solutions which - I find out from my wife - is not what people usually want to hear when they have problems.  They just want someone to listen.  I have been working on that also... but I digress.

So, this lack of an outlet and feelings of guilt are sort of culminating into a nasty little rut.  What I really want to do is spend a night out drinking with my wife and friends, then spend the next day really hung over.  But all my good friends are 1000 miles away. Then I need to remind myself that I really love my job - I usually look forward to work (other then my kids not being here with me) - and that I have a pretty great life.  Sometimes, though, I just cannot see the forest for the trees.

Friday, August 19, 2011

13 year old uses Fibonocci sequence to increase solar array efficiency

So, every year the American Museum of Natural History has an award called the Young Naturalist Awards which "is a research-based science competition for students in grades 7-12 to promote participation and communication in science."

The spiral on trees showing the Fibonacci Sequence.
One of this years winners, Aidan, 13 year old from New York, investigated how high latitude trees used the Fibonocci sequence to boost solar collecting efficiency and applied this to the problem of solar array efficiency.  The Fibonocci sequence is 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,... you start with 0 and 1, then add the previous 2 numbers to obtain the next number in the sequence.  Fibonocci initially used it to describe the breeding habits of rabbits.

His essay, The Secret of the Fibonacci Sequence in Trees, is actually a really great read.  I found it extremely inspiring.  Here is this 13 year old kid, just letting his curiosity guide him, investigating how nature has solved a problem and applying it to the problems on mankind.  Brilliant! 
Diagram of tree model that Aidan made with his computer.

It also makes me feel much less worried about the future of the world.  Maybe as adults, we should listen to the kids more often, instead of shooing them off to play video games.  Something to remember as a parent and as a scientist.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Haiku Monday - Air Conditioning

Air Conditioning
Stagnant air dripping
Air conditioning has failed
Stinky physicist

Friday, August 12, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

All the cool kids are doing it

So, as is typical of the Berserker Clan, the weekend was spent all together.  Since both of the grownups are so busy with work during the week, we try to spend every possible minute together as a family on the weekends.  We all go to the grocery store, we all go to Target, all go to Home Depot.  It is sort of a production, but it is what we are about.  Yes, I know, I could get it done in about 1/10th of the time alone.  But I miss my kids.

So, Sunday, Beautiful Wife and I brought the kids out to soccer practice.  We both play so we thought why not bring the kids.  We are trying to start a new adult club here, so we both really wanted to be there.  Well, one of the wives of the players volunteered to watch the kids as we all practiced... SAWEET!  An hour in or so, she asked to take them to the bathroom in the church next door.  We said sure, and THANK YOU SO MUCH!

So, a while later, we are wrapping up practice and we realize they are not back yet.  I brush it off - they probably found something fun to do in the church.  I see them all holding hands walking back through the parking lot 10 minutes or so later.  Well it turns out that Little Berserker Spawn had to go poop, not just pee.  So, this person who I have met a total of 2 times was kind enough to wipe my 4 year old's butt.  Now that is a good person to know!**

The funny part is this:  We are sitting at lunch after practice at the dining table and LBS says to Beautiful Wife, "I have two underwears on."  BW and I just look at each other, skeptically."Just kidding," he says quickly afterward.  We just brush it off.  It turns out 4 year olds have weird things running through their heads and they like to say them out loud a lot.  We completely discount it. 

That night, getting the kids ready for bed, it turns, yes, in fact he is wearing 2 pairs of underwear.  The outer one is on backwards too!  Great!  That must be comfortable...

So, our 'friend' (I only put it in quotes because I hardly know the women - she is actually very nice and kind and we both really like her, but we are not really friend yet) must think we are really on the ball parents.  Little boy running around with 2 sets of undies, one on backwards...  Parenting fail.  PARENTS 0 - Berserker Spawn 1. 

Well played son, well played.

**The real test is next week - will she watch them again? DUN DUN DA DUN.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Earth's Antimatter Radiation Belt

A great paper came out on the arXiv last week: O. Adriani et al., The discovery of geomagnetically trapped cosmic ray antiprotons, arXiv:1107.4882v1. Here is the abstract:

The existence of a significant flux of antiprotons confined to Earth's magnetosphere has been considered in several theoretical works. These antiparticles are produced in nuclear interactions of energetic cosmic rays with the terrestrial atmosphere and accumulate in the geomagnetic field at altitudes of several hundred kilometers. A contribution from the decay of albedo antineutrons has been hypothesized in analogy to proton production by neutron decay, which constitutes the main source of trapped protons at energies above some tens of MeV. This Letter reports the discovery of an antiproton radiation belt around the Earth. The trapped antiproton energy spectrum in the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) region has been measured by the PAMELA experiment for the kinetic energy range 60--750 MeV. A measurement of the atmospheric sub-cutoff antiproton spectrum outside the radiation belts is also reported. PAMELA data show that the magnetospheric antiproton flux in the SAA exceeds the cosmic-ray antiproton flux by three orders of magnitude at the present solar minimum, and exceeds the sub-cutoff antiproton flux outside radiation belts by four orders of magnitude, constituting the most abundant source of antiprotons near the Earth.
The red data points are the measured antiproton flux in the South Atlantic Anomaly region.
 So, most people have heard of the Van Allen radiation belts.  These are composed protons and electrons trapped by the Earth's magnetic field at a certain distance above the Earth's surface.  The proton component is thought to be due to the decay of neutrons produced by galactic cosmic ray interactions with the Earth's atmosphere.  The cartoon description is as follows: A galactic cosmic ray (fully ionized, highly energetic heavy ion) and an atmospheric molecule experience a nuclear interaction.  A neutron is produced which decays into a proton (and an electron and an antineutrino).  In addition, there will be a contribution from direct proton production from the nuclear interaction - that is ion + neutral nucleus --> protons + lots of other stuff.  These are the basic process which produce the protons that are trapped in the Van Allen belts. 

The production of the antiprotons is not from decay, but only from the direct interaction.  With enough energy (which cosmic rays have - there are particles in the cosmic ray spectrum with energies orders of magnitude above that CERN uses), antiprotons will be produced in the nuclear interactions.  Some of these will escape the atmosphere and should become trapped in the Earth's geomagnetic field.  Now the PAMELA experiment, as reported in this article, have confirmed this experimentally!

Introduction and Brief History of Particle Physics

There is a really great article over at Physics Today written by Steven Weinberg on particle physics entitled Particle physics, from Rutherford to the LHC. 

From the article:
It is clearly necessary to go beyond the standard model. There is a mysterious spectrum of quark and lepton masses and mixing angles that we have been staring at for decades, as if they were symbols in an unknown language, without our being able to interpret them. Also, something beyond the standard model is needed to account for cosmological dark matter. 
It is now widely understood that the standard model is just an effective field theory (see the box above), the low-energy limit of some more fundamental theory involving a scale of mass much larger than the masses with which we are familiar. That means we should expect the standard model to be supplemented with interactions that are not renormalizable in the usual sense—in fact, with all interactions allowed by symmetry principles—but suppressed by denominators proportional to powers of the large new mass. Infinities are still absorbed in a redefinition of the constants of the theory, but the number of constants that need to be redefined is no longer finite.
 The box he is talking about is here:
There is a great layman's introduction to effective field theories - which I find very interesting and did part of my dissertation on.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Haiku Monday - Frustration

Tense frustration builds
"I love you" is my mantra
Sometimes the kids win
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...