Posted on June 27th, 2010 No comments
Alright, I’ve been here in Davis, California for about a week, so I figured it was about time for a blog post.
So, getting introductions out of the way first – I’m Miguel Fernandez; I’m a Physics/Math double major, and I’ve just finished my second year. After applying to several REUs, I got in here at UC Davis. Protip for underclassmen: Apply early, spots can fill up really fast (after all, there’s tons of competent people out there!).
I got in last Wednesday, after an unpleasantly long flight delay, and I started working the very next day. The project is in granular materials – we have a rotating drum filled with small ball bearings. Some of them are welded into pairs (dimers), and some are welded into sevens (hexes – the seventh ball is the central ball). Video is taken over hours as the drum slowly rotates, and we extract just the frames before and after an avalanche. The idea is to get some information about what kind of circumstances cause an avalanche.
I’ve said “we” so far, but I haven’t done any of that work yet. This has been an ongoing project, and my job, so far, has been to fix code written by previous students. Given that the code is poorly documented, and my personal ineptitude with computer programming (Protip to self: Take more computer science…), it’s taken some time – especially since I’ve had to learn some IDL on the fly. The computer is also less than stellar – some really old (I’d say, 2002) Unix computer. Since IDL is tied up in this computer, and buying the software costs somewhere in the thousands, this has been my workstation. On the other hand, I’ve been looking for an excuse to use a Linux/Unix based computer, and here it is. It’s been quite a learning experience, especially writing/fixing non-trivial programs.
As for the living situation, I’m staying at the dorms (room and board all paid for), which, at least this particular dorm, I’m pretty sure used to be an old motel/hotel. There’s a freaking pool in the middle of the place. It’s awesome.
We’re 14 students working under the REU program here. We’ve all been packed into about 3 dorms rooms, which are suite-style. It’s three rooms per suite, 2 beds per room. As far as the city goes, a little exploration has yielded a great frozen yogurt place (Yolo Berry!), an adult playground (right behind the dorms!!), and a large concrete slide. We’ve also done some fine dining at a local Nepalese restaurant. I wish I could tell you what I ate, but I arrived late, and we all just picked food off of each others’ plates anyways.
We’re about 30 minutes away from the Physics building via walking, about ~13 minutes via bicycle (very kindly provided by the professor in charge of the REU). Speaking of such, pretty much everyone bikes in Davis. It’s a pretty bike-friendly city, so if you like biking, give the place some thought for grad school.
There’s also plenty of fields trips planned (six, if I recall correctly). Just yesterday, we all headed out to San Francisco to visit the Exploratorium. The Exploratorium is basically an awesome interactive science museum. It’s absolutely fantastic, and there is an interesting dynamic when you have a bunch of physics students talking about the science behind the displays (ranging from the purely mathematical like Voronoi Diagrams, optics, acoustics, electricity and magnetism and more). The most fun was probably playing with magnets.
After lunch, we headed to Muir Beach, in the way going across the Golden Gate Bridge. The Pacific is one cold ocean, so we mostly walked along the shore. After finding an old, large (~1m diameter) piece of rope, as well as a trail into small thicket, we settled into a game of Rock, in which we throw rocks at a target (a stick embedded in the sand), hoping to knock it down. This lasted about 30 (great) minutes, until we realized we had a frisbee. Shortly afterwards, we packed up and headed for a hike at Muir Woods, a national park chock-full of redwood trees. My lack of camera was made up by the modest pictures my cellphone took; I might post pictures later.
We wrapped up the day by heading to Muir Beach Overlook, having a beautiful view of the Pacific, and eating the dinner made by the professor. Exhausted, we arrived late at night, and most of us went straight to bed.
It’s been a good week here at Davis. With some luck, I’ll also have the programs fully running by middle of the week, and maybe take some new data myself by the end of the week. Tune in again soon!
Posted on June 9th, 2010 No comments
I’m doing an REU at Harvard University this summer, funded by the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN) REU Program. I was running a 2-hour simulation, drinking some tea, and reading The Feynman Lectures on Physics when I decided, at Miguel’s suggestion, to give the blog a post.
Let me start with a discussion of general living circumstances. After over three weeks of lazing around Springfield, and also reading some physics articles and researching graduate programs, I jetted over to Boston on Sunday and found my way to my dorm at Harvard in a rather dangerous taxi ride. There was a simple check-in process, and while there was a slight hurdle finding my room that involved some major condescension from a security guard, I eventually found my way to my room to unpack.
The room setup is quite different from any dorm I’ve experienced (this description is essentially superfluous): from the main hallway (where some 60 summer interns in various programs, mostly research-oriented, live), you enter a suite and find a large (perhaps 20′x20′), empty room with a red phone on the ground. Off to the side, there is a narrow staircase, either up or down (mine goes down), which leads to a miniature hallway with several doors: three locked doors marked A, B-D, E-F (or something like that); two doors marked EXIT, one of which actually leads to a bathroom which is shared with the adjacent suite; and a door to a small, empty, triangular room. Inside the E-F door, there is a short hallway with space for hanging clothes and a mirror which connects to two non-lockable doors to individual bedrooms. Having a single room is nice, though it is quite small (perhaps 8.5′x8.5′). The bathroom is efficiently laid out and has two showers, two toilets, and three sinks. Most of the summer residents in research-type programs have gotten to know each other somewhat by hanging out in the common lounge on the first floor, which is fortunate. We’ve gone out to eat a lot, in fragmented groups, which is good for socializing purposes but not sustainable for the whole summer. There’s a kitchen, but I need to get my suite rolling on renting a microfridge, and I need to find a good place to shop (I regretfully feel that a Walmart would be quite convenient right now)–thankfully, there’s a small Trader Joe’s a mile south of where we are, so I’ll check that out soon.
We all met on Monday morning for some orientation sorts of things that lasted through lunch, and on Tuesday morning, we had some safety training that lasted through lunch. Those afternoons, and all day today, I have been hanging out in the lab area being paid to think, which is awesome.
The research I’m doing is strictly speaking in “Applied Physics,” and it is a bit of an engineering challenge.
I can’t do much meaningful experimental work until I have full access to the clean room. There’s a giant, super-high-tech (well, the computers all run Windows XP), absurdly well-stocked lab in there, and my work is sensitive to things like dust. But the graduate student I’m working with has gone through the fabrication techniques with me and also has shown me the focused ion beam (FIB) , and I’ve done plenty of technical reading on the broad subject, so I’m well prepared for when I finish the training for all the equipment I need (hopefully by next week). Additionally, the work I did at the REU at SIUC last summer on nanowires is going to prove quite useful–many of the techniques transfer very nicely.
We’ll see what the future has in store. I don’t know how often I’ll get around to writing on here, but I will try to do better than I did last year. I know this ran rather long, but I don’t exactly have an editor over my shoulder, here. Thanks for checking it out!