Research Journal

Friday, September 25 2009

Wow what a great summer! I didn't get as much relaxation time as I would've liked (a week off after wisdom teeth removal does NOT count), but I did enjoy myself. I mentioned back in May that I managed to lang an internship at the Naval Research Lab at home in DC. I thought I'd give a bit of an update on how that went and a little about what I did.

Despite the not-so-great 45 minutes - 1 hour commute every morning, it was a wonderfull experience. I got to pick my own hours which actually allowed me to miss most of the horrible traffic. It also gave me some time to myself at home in the afternoons and time to hang out with friends. The Dept of Solar Physics was where I was placed, and I worked under a guy named Karl Battams. Most of the department works on various atmospheric science related topics. However, another portion of the department works on the sun and studying various aspects of it. The most popular areas right now are solar flares and CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections) because the regularly affect Earth and its magnetic field. I mentioned earlier that they use two sets of satellites - SOHO and SECCHI to collect data; however, these satellites are alligned in such a way that it is very easy to catch comets as they fly by the sun. That was my job - cataloguing, measuring trajections, and creating programs that dealt with the comets.

I went into the internship knowing almost nothing. I had a little background from my astronomy class last semester, and fairly good math skills ... but that was pretty much it. No programming skills, and very little computing skills. My work from the lab last semester was actually a great preparation for the internship. They use linux systems at the lab, and it helped that I already knew how the OS system worked and it made the transition a little easier. Having some experience with HTML helped as well since I ended up doing some minor website work for Karl (updating files, adding links, etc - all very similar to what I did at the laser lab). The great thing about the lab though, was that I was taught everything I needed to know. I learned how to create IDL programs and by the end of the summer I had created several programs gathered data about the comets and their paths around the sun. I also got to listen to various presentation on solar physics and CMEs over the course of the summer. While I didn't understand all of it, it was nice to see how a researcher presents his or her findings to a group of people. It was particularly usefull since I will more than likely have to do the same at some point down the road. By the end of the summer I was: 1) creating software that tracked the position of a comet backwards and forwards in time, and plotted it on a corresponding image, 2)running fluidly through linux systems and wishing that my computer ran it, and 3) had several scientific publications of comet data with my name on them posted on the SOHO website.

For any of those who are interested in applying to NRL, here is the application website:
NRL Application
Here's also a link to a list of their other departments. They have a lot of Bio-Chemical, BME, Chemical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering related departments as well. Not to mention a Laser and Optics center! If you're interested you should definitely check it out. The internship IS paid, but if you don't live in DC it may be a bit difficult. If you have connections that helps, however it shouldn't be too hard to find an apartment in DC that will be near the Lab.
NRL Divisions and Departments

Friday, May 1 2009

First off - Happy May Day! URECA went splendidly and everyone did a wonderful job of presenting their posters. No accidents, no mishaps with the posters ... I'd say everything went pretty smoothly. And I have discovered that I do a MUCH better job of explaining/presenting to a smaller audience compared to a classroom full of people. While URECA went well ... the one for WISE did not. I got through all the information, but I feel like I could have explained things better and done a better job of going through the material. I had a hard enough time understanding the material, I can imagine the girls with no background in optics just not getting it at all. Oh well. Next thing (believe it or not, no I'm not done) to do is finish up the report and put it up on the webpage.

Monday, April 27th 2009

I wasn't kidding when I said I was going to be here over the weekend, or that there would be a lot of cramming done! Wow, I was in the lab most of Sunday and pretty much all of Monday. But, it got the work done and that's what matters. The only thing that's left now is putting together the rest of my poster. It would have been done tonight but we ran out of paper - go figure. Everything is done and written though - just waiting for the supplies to do it.

The graphs turned out pretty well! The data is actually fairly accurate and is very close to what we predicted. We measured the wavefront tilt (after Dr. Noe had to explain it to me a million time ... sorry! >_< )and referenced it to what the predicted wf tilt should have been - and the data was VERY close. The slope of the line was a bit higher than it should have been, but the data WAS linear so we know that the relationship we were using was correct. The last thing for now is the URECA presentation on Wednesday and then the WSE 187 presentation on Friday.

Friday, April 24th 2009

Well you may have noticed but these journals are getting more and more spaced apart, and for that I apologize. It's just a busy time of month! Especially here in the laser lab. URECA is next week and I'm going nuts. I've spent most of the week going over the data and trying to fit it into excel sheets and create appropriate graphs. At first I was finding the centroids of each picture, by taking the centroids of each row of pixels ... but that was EXTREMELY tedious. While it gave me good practice with excel, Dr. Noe found a better way. We derived a sumsquare function for the relationship between the centroid, peak intensity (or amplitude), the peak width, and the background. By playing around with the numbers a bit we were able to come up with the least sumsq (or the least amount of error) and those corresponding values were the ones that we took as our data.

The next step is just putting everything together over the weekend. I've got a few graphs to create over the weekend, and I imagine I'll be here finishing up the last bit of work.

Friday, April 17 2009

GREAT NEWS!!! I got a job! Well, more specifically - an internship! I didn't say anything earlier because nothing was finalized, but the interview over the break went really well and they accepted me. It's at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, DC and it looks like it's going to be a blast! I can't wait to get started. It's a really horrible commute, but I think it will be worth it. Supposedly I'm going to be working on analyzing images from the SOHO and STEREO satellites. Most of the time I'll be looking for comets and using IDL software to calculate some astronomical measurements (path trajectory, size, etc). It looks like I'm going to get a lot of programming experience and a lot more work with Linux. It's a good thing I've already got some start on it from the lab!

As for the project here at the laser lab - we're down to the last couple of days. Dr. Noe wasn't here today since he had to go to a conference up in Rochester, but Soni and I managed to get some work done ourselves. I need to start thinking about what I'm going to put on my poster for the presentation on the 29th (just over a week! Yikes!). All of the pictures have been converted to .pgm files and stored on laser. I still need to figure out how to get them into excel. It's not formatting nicely at all. So, hopefully we'll be able to get that worked out on Monday as well as maybe get some more data. I'd like to be able to put some nice graphs on the poster - just so we have some images. I'll also need a diagram of an original Shack-Hartmann sensor next to a drawing or diagram of our simulation. I'm going to need at least something showing the differences between the two.



Friday, April 3 2009

Well it's the day before spring break! Most of this week has been finishing up abstracts and working on what I'm going to do next in the experiment. The abstract was finished snd turned in on time, so we're all set for that. Now I just need to figure out how to convert the images into numbers. Unfortunately I couldn't stick around for long today, since I had to take the train and get back home! Finally! Be back in a week!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Dr.Noe and I threw together a rough draft of the abstract for the URECA project today. They're due on Monday so we need to have them in ASAP. We managed to get it done, but there's more editing to do over the weekend. Looks like we're in good shape and ahead of the game though.

Monday, 23 March 2009

The first set of work on the new project was done today! Dr. Noe and I got it set up adn running, and after some tweaking we managed to get a pretty good picture on the computer. It's really fun to watch it move around on the screen too when the air is heated! Now it's on to taking data! We may mess with the setup a bit to fine tune things, but otherwise everything looks good.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Dr. Noe and I really made some progress today on what I'm doing for my project. We went over the list, and after talking about adaptive optics and the Shack-Hartmann sensor, I think we decided to go with that. While he worked with Soni on some of her polarizer data and matrices, I searched the internet for ways on how to build one, or at least model one in the lab. Dr. Noe and I came up with a few ideas, and we went over some similar projects from a few years ago, but we've still got a few things to work out in that department. I've actually got some reading on it that I'll go over and try to get some ideas on how to set things up.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Today I was pretty much working on coming up with a coherent project. While I have tons of ideas, none of them are very well thought out or put together very well. So, I took the time in the lab to set up an ideas page and start getting things at least semi-organised. I know I want to do something with telescopes, but I think adaptive optics and wavefront scanning is looking increasingly interesting. Although I wasn't able to put up much on my ideas page on the topic, I still think it's something that I really want to look into. I'll look around for some links to addin from other astronomers' research. I'm sure I'll find something good.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Not much to report on today. Despite it being Friday the 13th there were no accidents in the lab, or anything remotely disastrous. All in all, it was pretty quiet. I spent most of the class working on the ray diagrams and figuring out more of BEAM TWO. While Soni was figuring out how her polarizers worked, I was learning how to put in rays and lenses to create a diagram that made sense. I figured out how the axes worked pretty well, the only problem I really had was understanding the "U" variable. However, after some reading and talking to Dr. Noe, I realized that it was just the direction cosine. That is, it was the cosine of the angle between the ray and the Z-axis. It basically allows the user to create rays that come in at a different degree (other than 0 or parallel).

Monday, 9 March 2009

There isn't much to report on today. Soni was here today and she and Dr. Noe started playing with the new polarizers that came in. The trick was finding out how they were polarizing light, because apparently there's no label. I don't know exactly what they came up with since I was working on the ray tracing program. Right now, I think I'm going to get started on modeling telescopes and the ray tracing program should help me get started and put things together. I spent pretty much all of the class period fiddling around on the program and testing out all the models and studying how they were created. The really interesting one was the ray diagram based on the Hubble Telescope's design. I want to look at that one again on friday, since I'm not quite sure that I got it.

Friday, 6 March 2009

It was just Dr. Noe and I in the lab today. Soni was sick and couldn't make it. So, he and I had a much needed one-on-one session and we made some real progress on ideas for the project. I know I want to do something in astronomy, but I'm not sure on the details yet. Here's a list on what we came up with:

Spectroscopy: possibly something with Fraunhofer lines, diffraction gratings, and/or resolution.

Adaptive optics: Wavefront analysis would be an interesting area; We talked about the Shack Hartman Sensor and scanning wavefronts with a camera.

Telescopes: I think so far this is my favorite, with Spectroscopy as a close second (but then again, the mirrors in Adaptive optics are fascinating as well ... so many choices!). I'd really like to learn how to build a telescope, or work on the computer with modeling them - just to understand them a bit better. There are a few types, like the Newtonian and the Cassegrain, but I'd really like to understand how the physics behind making them works. It's one thing to look at a textbook and have it give you a picture, but it's quite another thing to actually do it yourself!

We spent quite a bit of time tossing around these various ideas and figuring out what would be feasible. Like I said, I think the telescopes idea is what I would like to start with ... and then maybe integrate some adaptive optics into it if we could. Now that I think about it, spectroscopy may be a bit difficult to come up with something ... but we'll see! Maybe there's some way we can tie it all in together. I'll have to see on Monday.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Snow day today! So no laser lab today. I did manage to get some transferring done though.

Friday, 27 February 2009

We had visitors today! A couple of Soni's and my friends came over from our physics class to check out the laser lab and see what we'd been up to down there. So of course, we had to show them all the little toys like the pig and the coin bank. They were quite fascinated. Then the real fun began when Soni and I (with a little help and input from them) tried to figure out how polarized light works.

Dr. Noe gave Soni a piece of glass that polarized light on one side, but not on the other. By using that and a combination of the plate and a linear polarizer, we were able to determine how to get polarized light. We found that linearly polarized light can be formed when two circularly polarized light waves going in different directions (left and right) combine. Elliptically polarized light is formed when two linearly polarized waves of different magnitudes combine, just as circular is formed when the linearly polarized sources have equal magnitudes. An easy way to think about it is in vector form and polar coordinates!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Remember how I said last week was a long week? Well, I take it back. This one was longer. Two midterms, orchestra rehearsals, and pretty much everything else under the sun jammed into 5 days. So even though the date of this entry corresponds to what happened in class that day ... the actual date happens to be the 27th. But, it hasn't been horrible. Astronomy is progressing nicely and I think I did really well on my midterm, but I reserve judgement until I actually see the paper.

As for class on Monday, we delved more into complex numbers and Young's Double Slit experiment. Last friday we started looking at the concept and Dr. Noe told us how a lot of textbooks just gloss over the details. Well, he went about rectifying that problem quite thoroughly. We spent pretty much the entire class period deriving the equation for the intensity of the light produced. By going through tons of algebra (yes, really do make sure you learn it in high school, oh and trig identities!) and manipulatiing e, i, and various trig functions we found that the Intensity(I) can be expressed as a function of cos(2*theta), in terms of the distance between the two slits, and the angle theta. We probably would have gone into more detail, but I had to run out for my Geolgoy midterm. I have a feeling we're not done and are going to see more of this on Friday (later today).

Friday, 20 February 2009

Dr. Noe may have said this was a short week for him, but it was a long one for me! I barely managed to get anything done! And I have two midterms this next week. Joy. I did get SOME work done on transferring notes into my official notebook though, and slowly but surely I'm learning my way around Linux. Progress has been made! I'm actually typing this from my own computer now! And so far, so good ... I have yet to mess anything up.

Today we explored how polarized light works. Dr. Noe showed Soni and I how cellophane changes colors when put on top of a light, and a film is placed over the top. When the film is rotated, the color of the light changes! We also got to see how one of the lasers worked and how slits could be created within the light. The "slits" of darkness that were created were actually minimum points caused by the diffraction patter and interference of the wavelenghts. This was originally noticed by the scientist Young, when he did his Double Slit experiment. We spent the entire last portion of class talking about the experiment and deriving how he came up with his equation. However, Dr. Noe mentioned that our textbooks kind of "fudge" a lot of the details and use a lot of assumptions to explain the relationship between the wavelenghts produced. Apparently it can be much more accurately explained by using complex numbers. Which is where things REALLY got interesting and Dr. Noe showed us the most interesting equation I'd ever seen in my life: e^(i*pi)+1 = 0. And if you think about it really hard ... it really isn't nonsense, it pretty much ties every concept you have every learned in math together in one nice little bundle! Aboslutely Brilliant!

Monday, 16 February 2009

It was the beginning of our third week in the lab! After checking up on our notebooks, Dr.Noe dove right into optics and reviewing various concepts. We discussed the shadow problem and figured out why it blurs on the edges. This is because the sun acts as a collection of point sources, which form a series of shadows at different angles. When the hand is closer to the wall, the shadows' displacements are very small, yielding a clearer image. The farther the hand is away from the wall, the greater the displacement. We then segwayed into discussing hte small angle rule and applying it to various objects around the room, including a small fluorescent lamp that we set at the appropriate distance and found that the angle from our eye to the lamp was equal to that from our eye to the moon!

The last half of class, we started using glasses and a magnifying glass to see that the diopter magnitude of a lense is equal to 1/f(that is in fact the definition of a diopter). Where f is the focal lenght of the lens. The table is in my notebook, and for the most part the relationships work out. Now we have to draw a few ray diagrams to explore how the light travels through the lenses and see what kinds of images it forms, depending on the distance of the source. By what kind, I mean whether it is a real or virtual image, inverted or upright, and magnified or diminished.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Well, it was day 2 in the lab this week. Technically, day 4, but the second day of working on optics and starting on our projects. I was having trouble setting my computer up to access the linux computer in the lab earlier last night, so I brought my laptop in so Dr. Noe could take a look at it and make sure I was doing things correctly. The last thing I wanted to do was fry the computer! After getting Soni's and my computer hooked up and set up so that we could work remotely from home, we got started on optics. For the most part it was basics and review from high school. You would THINK that I would be able to get it all off the bat, but no. I obviously need to break out the old physics notes from Robinson (either that or read ahead a few sections in Astronomy and Physics) so I can refresh my memory. After taking some notes on reflection, refraction, diffraction, interference, and various other properties and aspects of light we took ourselves outside to play. Yay for solar optics!

It wasn't all play though, and it was harder than I thought it would be! Like the magnifying glasses from last time, we experimented with focal points. Except this time we used actual reading glasses with different prescriptions. The difference was - they never completely focused .. and I'm still stumped as to why not! Realistically speaking they can't because if the sun was focused directly into the eye that way, the poor guy/girl with glasses would have his or her eyes burned out [if they looked at the sun]. As for scientifically I'm going to need a couple more days to review my notes and do some research. Another thing that I have to think about it why our shadows get more and more blurry as our distance from a wall increases. Somehow a lot of it [this] has to do with the small angle theorem, but as I said there are details that need to be worked out.

Oh yeah, and lastly, it was really interesting to find out that the angular distance to the sun is the same as the moon! You can verify this because of [from] the small angle theorem, and the simple fact that the moon is able to completely cover the sun in a solar eclipse! Without that equal ratio, it would be impossible.

Monday, 9 February 2009

For the past few days, the main order of business has been to get used to things around the lab. For the most part, that meant learning how to use Linux, set up an account, write a Bio (that I still need to edit), and learning to use a ton of new commands. This last one is particularly hard for me since all electronics seem to hate me ( I know, bad rep. for an astronomer right? I'm hoping I grow out of it) and I'm not all that savvy with computers to begin with. But, I'm slowly but surely getting the hang of things and working my way up from ground zero, so to speak.

We did get to do a bit of optics work last class. Oh it was fun! But then, playing with fire always is. We experimented with a magnifying glass and black paper ... and it turns out when their distance [separation] is equal to the lens's focal length - it causes the paper to burn because the light is so intense! it was also really neat to watch the light refract in the smoke and cause "rainbows" to appear! For those who read this - there's a picture on the website and you should check it out! :) [you can add a link later] For me, the next thing to do will be to get my notebook in order. Right now I've got a general one that I scribble in during class, but I need to transfer and translate that mess and put it in the official one that Dr. Noe gave us. I'm still working on my "ideas" page, but it's coming along. I know I really want to explore and delve into telescopes and how they work. However, after this last section about light and telescopes in Astronomy class (AST 203) ... I'd like to be able to look more into spectroscopy as well.

Shannon Hicks
February 2009
Laser Teaching Center