So today is the first day of spring quarter! Aaaand, in addition to classes starting up again, I just found out that I was awarded a SURF for this summer!! But before you go thinking about wetsuits and waves, let me clarify that SURF = Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. I’m sure all you prospective students have heard about all the AMAZING and abundant opportunities for research at Caltech. A SURF is just one way you can partake in this! It is a paid position in which you get to work with a prof and a mentor (usually a postdoc in the prof’s group) on a project that you’re interested in. *Disclaimer: your job (at least as a frosh) is not going to be THAT intense and world-changing–however, it’s a step in the right direction, and you get to get your foot in the door of research!Basically here’s how it works: you have a subject you’re interested in. You find a nice professor who studies that kind of thing, and if they agree to take you on, you write a nice pretty proposal, and submit it! And it’s that simple, and hopefully if you do it right, you get accepted.
My SURF for this summer is somewhat unique. Since I absolutely LOVE to write, and I also LOVE space and astronomy, why not combine the two?? I will be working for Professor of Astronomy John Johnson, who is writing a book on exoplanets–planets outside our solar system–and how we identify them from our tiny little home in the Milky Way. His research group is called ExoLab (some group members below).
Big happy ExoLab family at work! My mentor is Jon Swift (a postdoc), the guy on the far left in the white shirt.
In addition to learning everything there is to know about potentially habitable planets, I get to dig into historical literature background of exoplanets and find parallels to things we’re doing now. What’s crazy is that, there’s actually a lot of controversy as to who discovered the first planet outside our solar system. I get to interview these guys who wrote the papers announcing they what they discovered, and find out their side of the story. Talk about science journalism dream!!
This picture is one that’s super significant and inspiring in studying exoplanets. Famously dubbed the “Pale Blue Dot,” this is a view of Earth from Voyager 1: 3.7 BILLION MILES AWAY. Look how tiny and lonely we are! Carl Sagan made an excellent speech on this photo. Here’s an excerpt that’s particularly meaningful to me:
“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Now there’s something to digest!
Back on the topic of the SURF. Another awesome perk of my summer job is maintaining the blog for the Johnson research group. Hopefully by then I’ll be a seasoned blogger :) If you’re interested, check out the research group’s website!https://exolab.caltech.edu/
Keep posting comments and questions and suggestions to how I could improve this blog! And if you have anything you’d like me to write about, let me know and I’ll try to get it in!
Almost a year ago now, I was just about to start my first Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at JPL. NASA had sent out an email to all of their summer interns containing a social media template to announce that we had been selected as NASA interns. Excited to show my NASA pride, I posted it on my Instagram story, unaware of what would come out of this small action.
Hey hey! We’re starting a series where I walk you through my best finds for food and drinks in the Pasadena region, and in the LA metropolitan area. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, if you will (although, for copyright reasons we can’t call it that). As you explore your college options, I firmly believe that food and location are more important than your high school guidance counselor may lead you to believe. And I’m here to share my best finds from my time at Caltech with you.
Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to intern at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) under the mentorship of senior research technologist Dr. Xiaoqing Pi. Dr. Pi’s guidance and mentorship has been instrumental to the development and success of my internship at JPL, where I use machine-learning to enhance the accuracy and integrity of navigation and communication signals. In addition to helping me develop an understanding of atmospheric and ionospheric remote sensing and machine-learning, Dr. Pi has often offered his insights on how to improve my researching skills. Dr. Pi was generous enough to take the time to answer a few questions regarding his research and advice for future student interns. I believe many students can benefit from some of the lessons that he has taught me:
The transition period to remote learning was a very uncertain time, especially for research and the Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program. Many hands-on projects had to pivot at the last minute to facilitate off-campus contributions. However, many Techers were able to take advantage of the research opportunities offered at Caltech and JPL to make the best out of remote learning and research. To paint a picture, I’ve interviewed a few talented Techers for some insight on what researching from home looks like for them.