Greetings from California!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!
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