higgsiness

Dec. 15th, 2011 03:45 pm
clevermynnie: (and then?)
I wore my Quantum Fielders shirt on Tuesday, in honor of the very hyped CERN/LHC announcement on their progress in the search for the Higgs boson. They have preliminary but promising results; while I don't think particle physics would be much fun to work in, and where the field goes after the LHC is anyone's guess, it's fun to follow their progress.

The best article I saw about the hunt for the Higgs boson, which is theorized to give other particles mass, is at the Economist and worth reading if you are interested in fundamental science!
clevermynnie: (mask)
This chart comes from the Survey of Earned Doctorates via Sociological Images:



Note that the x-axis is a bit compressed, so it only runs from 10-80%, not from 0-100% as you might initially guess, and the middle of the chart is 45% rather than 50%. But even with that, it reflects a lot of cultural norms about what type of work certain people do. The overall trend is an inverse correlation of the economic rewards for being in a field with the percent of the field that's female, but then you see big outliers to that trend, like philosophy and to a lesser extent biology. But you also have to keep in mind that this is at the Ph.D. level, and further along in careers the divides are even worse... which is partly due to the effect of history and when older people started their jobs, but also partly due to the cumulative effects of narratives surrounding gender and work.

Also, take that, physics.
clevermynnie: (i carry your heart)
As of right now, the plan is for Ben and me to both finish our PhDs this summer, and go to jobs that we have lined up in Dublin in the fall. This is a pretty amazing and exciting road ahead for us, and since I think I've told the story sort of disjointedly, here's how it happened.

Read more... )
clevermynnie: (Default)
Paper submitted! As always, it took longer than I thought it would to write everything, modify the figures over and over, and get comments back from people who were giving helpful edits. But now it is submitted, I can start crossing my fingers that it gets accepted (preferably without major revisions), and perhaps most importantly of all I can stop working on it because I am so tired of rereading it!

Near the end of the paper cycle I really didn't want to work on it any more, but I had to, and since I was doing it alone for the most part I had to try some strategies for retaining focus on something uninteresting. Playing slow Podrunner mixes was a help, because they don't have lyrics but they do have driving beats which makes you feel productive. I also got really sick of doing edits in my office, and I never wanted to work on editing at home, so I found that being outside in the shade with a cup of coffee was a nice way to edit. Especially when the edits were tricky, like "these two paragraphs are vaguely redundant and need to be combined to save space, but in a way that still reads smoothly and keeps all the pertinent information".

Yay, finished! Boo, waiting. Time to start something new!
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
These are a couples of pictures from CERN, where my friends Joao and Gersende work. Joao took me around to show me what is cool there.

cern 2

Read more... )
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
The 50th anniversary of a very famous Richard Feynman speech is approaching, which was called "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom". The speech is kind of famous in nanoscience because Feynman, in 1959, predicted a lot of the breakthroughs that would come: improvements in electron microscopy, miniaturization of computers, issues of energy dissipation at small scale, possibilities of nanoscale lithography, and other things. It's a pretty impressive speech, and it's fun because it's almost like watching someone brainstorm. The speech starts:

"I imagine experimental physicists must often look with envy at men like Kamerlingh Onnes, who discovered a field like low temperature, which seems to be bottomless and in which one can go down and down. Such a man is then a leader and has some temporary monopoly in a scientific adventure. Percy Bridgman, in designing a way to obtain higher pressures, opened up another new field and was able to move into it and to lead us all along. The development of ever higher vacuum was a continuing development of the same kind.

I would like to describe a field, in which little has been done, but in which an enormous amount can be done in principle. This field is not quite the same as the others in that it will not tell us much of fundamental physics (in the sense of, "What are the strange particles?") but it is more like solid-state physics in the sense that it might tell us much of great interest about the strange phenomena that occur in complex situations. Furthermore, a point that is most important is that it would have an enormous number of technical applications.

What I want to talk about is the problem of manipulating and controlling things on a small scale."

If you're interested, you can read the rest here.
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
Two of the best things about my job right now are my journal club and a class I'm taking.

The journal club is specifically for hard condensed matter papers; it was started by another student and basically there are six of us who rotate choosing papers, and some subset of those six show up to meet and discuss the paper each week. It's great because I've been following the literature in my field for a while now, but sometimes you will see a paper that seems interesting but hard to understand initially: this is perfect for that. It also helps that the other people in the journal club are all relatively smart but extremely nice, so it's easy to ask questions and have a real discussion without anyone feeling intimidated. It's also fun to joke around, and overall I both learn from these meetings and enjoy them.

The class I'm taking is advanced solid state physics, which I have been waiting for. It was offered my first semester, when I couldn't take it, and then was supposed to be offered again but kept being put off. I was waiting on it for my last class credit until professors told me to just finish with my courses already, so this spring I took optics... and then it was offered again. So I'm just sitting in, but I'm getting so much out of this course! The official topics we're covering are band theory in depth, response and correlation, electron-electron interactions, transport, and superconductivity. But the course seems to be constantly useful for understanding talks, papers, or my own research. Just so far we have talked about the Hartree-Fock method which was immediately used in a colloquium on trapped atom cooling, why it's difficult to gate graphene (something we are looking at in our lab), how you get heavy holes from the effective mass tensor which I had been trying to figure out, and the k*p method for band structure calculations which I had just been trying to understand in a paper. There are also consistent references to useful experimental methods or currently interesting materials, and overall the class is extremely well-organized and straight forward to follow. I've had this professor before, for quantum mechanics, and at the time I thought he was organized but a bit dry and boring much of the time. I can see now that he's a great teacher, the problem was just that at the time I was completely sick of quantum mechanics and found the course to be too easy and thus also boring.

I've really never had a class be so immediately useful in my work. The only sort of comparable thing was how I worked in the CCD lab for 6 months before taking solid state physics, and had been sort of teaching myself solid state but when I took the formal course a lot of things snapped into place. But here it's even more immediately applicable, directly relevant to the kind of knowledge I'm supposedly trying to generate. It's great!

Also a nice last class to go out on... since I've passed my candidacy exam and will have all my needed course credits by the end of this semester, I'll receive my master's degree and then be put on thesis status. That doesn't actually mean I'll be writing a thesis, but it makes me cheaper for my advisor and indicates a transition to nothing but research, and hopefully a series of publishable projects which will then become a thesis. I already feel like I have a great road-map to the end of grad school, and by the way, our revisions to our paper were accepted! Now we just have to ok proofs and our paper will be published.

work

Sep. 18th, 2009 04:21 pm
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
Good news, everybody! The paper that I was working on early in the summer got accepted, to Nano Letters! They asked us to make a few minor revisions, which we have now done, and we submitted our revised manuscript today. We'll get a proof to check and then it'll be published, probably fairly quickly since they prize their fast turnaround time. Hooray!

A short blurb that I found about Nano Letters, for those who have no reason to know what it is: "Nano Letters is the most highly cited journal in nanoscience and nanotechnology. The monthly publication—a title of the American Chemical Society—presents preliminary, experimental and theoretical results on physical, chemical and biological phenomena, along with processes and applications of nanoscale structures. Its content is eagerly awaited by those in academia, industry and government."

At work I am waiting anxiously for my brazing goggles to arrive, so that I can begin my work using a blowtorch to redo some wiring. It's pretty routine except that I get to use a freakin' blowtorch, and I found it really funny that the safety goggles I need have all these reviews about using them for a mad scientist costume or at a rave or for cosplay. But the torch plus the goggles do give me a good idea for an update to my currently wedding-related facebook picture...

success!

Aug. 28th, 2009 02:53 pm
clevermynnie: (see us waving)
I passed my oral exam. :)

I spent yesterday practicing my talk more and looking up physics for questions I thought I might be asked. Of course, most of the extra stuff I researched I wasn't asked about, and I was asked about some things that I had no idea about. For example, a lot of questions about the shells on core-shell nanocrystals which I didn't expect to talk about so much, questions about varying transition rates, questions about how changing the trap population causes the electrostatic potential in the nanocrystal to change. I didn't answer every question perfectly, but I felt that I answered most of the questions quite well, and my slides seemed good and felt natural and clear to present. I often got a question which I could answer with "I'll be discussing that on the next slide", which made me seem well-organized. Two students from my group came, and told me that my talk was clear and well-done (they saw my much rougher practice talk Tuesday, poor things). The professors asked a lot of questions during my talk, but not so many that I couldn't maintain focus, and when I was talking about possible avenues for future research it felt a little like we were all brainstorming together, which was cool. They asked the students and me to leave for a few minutes while they discussed my work, then called me back in to tell me that I passed. Sweet, sweet stress relief.

Choosing two very smart professors who ask a lot of questions for my committee seemed smart at first, then crazy, but they weren't so bad. They asked questions but not in a mean way, and it's very gratifying to know that they think I'm doing good work. It wasn't as bad as I thought it might be.

And I'm done! For the last month I have been preparing for this, for the two months before that I was writing a paper. Finally I can get back to experimental work, which means soldering and welding next week. Hooray!

oral exam

Aug. 26th, 2009 05:18 pm
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
I am basically in oral exam hell right now. The exam itself is Friday morning. I turned in my research statement last Friday, which I spent forever on considering my profs probably won't read it. I worked hard on my slides up until yesterday morning, when I had a practice talk with my group. It was one of those "this is painful but good for me" experiences, which honestly the oral exam as a whole could be described as: my talk itself was half an hour, but with all the questions and nitpicking it took two hours to get through. It was mostly tips on presentation order, what to put where, don't forget to mention this, and then a lot of picky or devil's advocate questions which are as necessary as they are infuriating. Unpleasant to sit through, so unpleasant that I was kind of zonked out for the rest of yesterday... but fundamentally really helpful, since I would much rather get hard questions from my group than from my committee.

Also, I underestimated how hard it is to give a coherent talk when you are constantly getting interrupted and derailed! It would often be hard for me to remember the narrative thread or what argument I was making... but of course, the real exam will be like that too. FUN.

Today I have been completely immersed in my slides and my talk, going over my notes for what to change/add from yesterday, as well as some notes that someone took for me as I gave my talk (which was immensely helpful because it was difficult for me to absorb all the advice while actually trying to give the talk). I have a list of things to check/study which is dismayingly long. Up until yesterday, and through yesterday even, I was feeling a sense of dread and unhappiness about the whole thing. But that isn't the attitude that I can go in with; I feel overall confident and pleased about my work, and about my knowledge. I don't know everything, and I'm hoping for some great and insightful suggestions, but I'm completely capable of rocking this. So I need to talk myself up into that state of mind. As my talk improves and comes together, it's getting easier to think positively about it, although I need to practice it more to make sure I'm comfortable with everything. I will be nervous Friday, I am always nervous for solo performances, but there's a difference between nervous and panicked. I have a practice for a real person lined up tomorrow too, a friend in my year whose oral exam is in a couple weeks and agreed to listen. That should help.

I am learning a ton though, and probably establishing a lot of the basic slides/experience/knowledge that I will need when it comes to my thesis defense in a couple of years. I'm also kind of hoping that I'll get asked some hard questions now and then not again at my defense, or if they are asked then I'll have looked them up. I can't deny that this is a good experience for me, just a painful one, especially considering that I picked professors for my committee who are notorious for asking a lot of hard questions. It seemed like a good idea at the time...
clevermynnie: (Default)
Back when I worked on CCDs, I did mostly testing and building testing setups. We got our devices from a foundry, did some in-house fabrication and mounting with them, and then I (and most of the people I worked with) would take the finished product and do performance tests. The fab guys would come to our group meetings and give updates and progress, and the stuff they were doing always sounded so nebulously cool. I loved my work, but who wouldn't want to use a plasma etcher?

Now, I didn't realize that this would be the case, but in my lab now the way we study nanocrystals is by putting them on chips. And we make those chips, from whole, blank wafers, ourselves. So now I am getting to do various parts of this fabrication process, which are like soldering in that if you had to do them day in day out, you'd probably be unhappy, but learning how to do them and doing them occasionally is loads of fun. I have been doing electron beam lithography for some time, to write electrodes and patterns in various metals on the silicon surface, but recently I started doing photolithography as well. (Our chips have large and small features, and while we had been doing both using e-beam, doing the large features using an optical mask and UV lithography is much faster.) It's very fun, although it continues to be a matter of getting exposed to even more ways to break or destroy very expensive things. That is science.

Doing this stuff is extra fun because the reason I am doing it is that my cryostat project got as far as it could go without installing it in our atomic force microscope, and we are going to get more normal results before the downtime required to do that.

work

Feb. 4th, 2009 01:19 pm
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
The last couple weeks have been packed, and there is no sign that this will change in upcoming weeks. Trying to find time for everything is... difficult. Trying to find time to write about everything is something I'll try to be a little more on top of.

At work, my main project continues to be this AFM cryostat. Basically, I cool it down and see how cold it gets. If the number is low enough, I add a piece or try to get it closer to the point where I could actually install it in the AFM. If the number is high, I try to figure out why and fix it. Most recently, I decided that a piece was too difficult to adequately tighten, so that the joint connecting it to a previous piece was not transferring cold efficiently enough. So I took it to the engineering machine shop and had them machine the end into a hexagon, so that you can use a socket wrench to tighten it. I was very excited to find that that's possible to do! Unfortunately, when I went to test it, I discovered that my method of mounting the temperature-sensing diode I use seemed inadequate, causing the temperature to read high again. What takes perseverance and patience here is that each cycle of testing takes several days, to pump the cryostat down to vacuum and cool it with liquid nitrogen, and then to purge the nitrogen and heat it back up. I am so determined to get this working, get some data, and publish this year. So I am being very persistent, and trying to optimize things as intelligently as I can.

I'm also taking the last class I ever need to take, on Modern Optical Physics and Spectroscopy. The subject matter of the course is described as "topics including propagation and guiding of light waves, interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter, lasers, non-linear optics, coherent transcient phenomena, photon correlation spectroscopies and photon diffusion." So far it is interesting but not hard. There is some homework, but it's mostly math. By that, I mean that to me physics homework has two stages: understanding the physical system in the problem well enough to know what equations and conditions to apply to it, and doing math to solve. The first stage has always been the harder one for me, and I remember in my first physics class ever how much I struggled to set up the problems when math homework had always been a breeze for me. But all of the critical thinking and physical understanding is contained in the first stage. Well, our homework is structured such that the professor will be doing some derivation in class, and will stop barely into it, tell us the rest is an exercise, and then write the solution. So there is not a lot of critical thinking involved in the homework, just carrying the math through. That is not hard, although it takes practice. I'm enjoying the course, though; I never got a thorough treatment of optics, just tangential bits of it in quantum mechanics and electromagnetism courses. Plus our instructor is an experimentalist, so he often explains why some measure is important (i.e., something which tells you over what distance a beam will be focused) or how something works (like a switch between optical fibers). I don't do much optics in my research much, but it seems like useful information which is also interesting generally.

I wish my department had taught the advanced solid state class again, like they said they would, since that's what I was waiting for to finish up my course requirement. But that class is gone forever, and I'm glad I ended up taking this one instead.
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
This started as a response to [livejournal.com profile] smandal's question of what my hypothesis is as to why physics has a particularly low population of women, compared to the other sciences/engineering/math. It got long, so I am posting it separately.

First let me give two quick links to previous things I posted, an article about the success of women in physics and a long memo summarizing a lot of studies. You may have seen these before but I'm putting the links up anyways as a refresher.

Obviously there are lots of factors which contribute to keeping women out of science/engineering/math in general, like straight-up gender bias in terms of giving grants and accepting papers, the publish-or-perish mentality which usually rewards lots of papers over a few high-impact papers (women usually publish fewer, more highly-cited papers, probably because they are so underrepresented and feel more pressure to do well), the time commitment combined with the heavy load of child-rearing which is still mostly shouldered by women, etc. etc. But you asked about physics in particular versus chemistry or biology, which have done a lot better. My ideas on factors that specifically impact that:

1. (This is the most important one) Women, regardless of what field they go into and whether or not they have children, are taught from a very young age that they need to be nurturing. They have to care for others, help others, be supportive. Look at the predominance of baby dolls and miniature strollers, and what gender of child has them (and is encouraged to have them, and sees other kids of the same gender on tv and in ads with them). There is so much pressure to be nurturing. And to me this is a lot of why you find a correlation between how directly a scientific field can "help people" and how many women are in it. Men, on the other hand, are encouraged from an early age to play with objects, build things, take things apart: various skills that speak more to the less helping-people bits of the physical sciences. So I have known a lot of women who liked science but chose biology or chemistry (or med school) to help people, or who went for physics or EE degrees but then turned in their research to the interfaces with biology. Yes, most science aims to help people--technology developed from my research, for example, could lead to new electronics or solar cells or machines which would improve lives--but the more biological sciences do it in a more evident and tangible way. This combines with the following effect in a very interesting way.

(Making my point for me: while I was writing this, a female physics graduate student who had been planning to work in our lab came in to tell us that she wanted something with more biology and is joining a different lab.)

2. Now, physics is kind of a weird field, because it can be one of two very different things. It can be experimental, applied, in some ways very close to engineering in terms of thinking of new inventions or apparati and then building them, or studying some interesting and important system which has never been created before. Or it can be intensely theoretical, mostly math and simulations, not hands on at all; this is much closer to math than engineering. But both things are physics. And within this, I would posit that there are two main goals you can have in physics, those goals being the development of new technology which improves the human condition, or knowledge for its own sake. Yes, they can feed into each other. I think that in general, the theoretical stuff maps more onto "knowledge for its own sake" and the experimental stuff maps more onto "improving society", on average, but I emphasize that there are exceptions.

Given that, I have found there to be a lot of elitism in physics about the 'purity' of the field. Some of the people in my year at grad school consistently made disparaging comments about various subfields of physics (like condensed matter, my field), saying that it was "just engineering", whereas they were in particle physics which they saw to be "real physics" because it was so abstract, at the heart of things, but also not useful. I saw a lot of disdain for the more experimental, more helping-people parts of physics, from physicists. Physicists are also often snide about chemistry and biology, saying they are just "applied physics" because in an ideal world you could derive all of those fields from physics, and also because chemists and biologists often mess things up due to a poor grasp of physics. (We won't get into how the physicists greatly underestimate the complexity of biological systems and screw things up in an equally stupid way.) Women often have lower self-esteem than men, and less confidence in their own abilities, for reasons that in my opinion amount to unfair societal pressures. And, they value biological sciences more highly to begin with because of the pressure on them to be nurturing. The result is that women, more so than men, are turned off by this elitism, both in terms of confidence in themselves and in terms of their respect for biology.

You could make here the counter-argument that math is even more abstract and pure, but has more women than physics does. I think that math is so disconnected from reality that it doesn't feel like the source of everything, the way some theoretical physics can; it feels to me more like learning a new language or figuring out the rules in a bizarre logical alternate universe. I never felt the math elitism because of that disconnect. This isn't to say that math isn't at the root of everything; it is, and it is more "pure" so to speak than physics. But it doesn't feel that way, at least not to me. I am not in a math department though, so I could be off here.

3. Speaking of math. Physics is the math-iest of the sciences and engineering fields, most definitely. If you think about it, most physics problem sets are very difficult math problems within a set of constraints, where the constraints are the physical laws. You learn harder math just to get a degree in physics than you do in any other science or engineering field, unless you take the initiative and learn more math than necessary in those other fields. And women are told, over and over, that they are innately worse than men are at math. If you tell a group of girls that studying hard improves math test scores, they do just as well as boys, and if you tell a group of girls that women are innately worse, they do worse. Also, the math test score gap seems to be very cultural and vary a lot in different countries and in different ethnicities. To me, this screams "sociological effect", and I think that women on average are probably just as good at math as men. But that isn't what they're told, and so they are more intimidated by a math-heavy field like physics than by biology.

4. Something that really just amplifies (2) and (3) is the fact that the classes you take up until your second or third year in physics graduate school are mostly theoretical, which is to say mostly math and mostly not experiments. There aren't many lab classes, and in some schools there may only be one, so unless the students get some laboratory research experience they may not be exposed to that side of physics at all. I think in biology, chem, and engineering, there are a lot more labs. And as I said above, because they are told they are bad at math and because of the unappealing elitism of theoretical physics, I think more women than men are likely to drop out of physics before getting to the part where you can choose to be an experimentalist. I know that I would have, if not for my research experiences.

There might be factors that I'm forgetting, and of course there are a lot of other effects which serve to drive women out of the sciences in greater numbers than men. But those are, in my experience, the most important ones.
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
Cool thing #1: Imaging single hydrogen atoms with transmission electron microscopy. See, hydrogen is the smallest atom and thus the hardest to image, but if you use graphene (single-layer hexagonal sheets of carbon, like an unrolled carbon nanotube) as a substrate, the graphene is almost completely transparent to TEM, so you can see single hydrogens adsorbed onto it. Wow.

Cool thing #2: Surface imaging is great, but haven't you always wanted to image what's right below the surface of a solid? Enter near-field ultrasonic holography; if you use vibrational sound waves instead of photons to image, you can see below the surface of things when sound passes through but light can't. Thus you can reconstruct what's happening just inside a cell wall, for instance, without using fluorescent markers or radioactive materials. This is mostly useful for biologists, but I am really impressed at the idea and the technology.

the works

Jul. 19th, 2008 09:46 pm
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
Oh, and my lab will be on tv, on a show on the history channel about tools, next Thursday. I probably won't be able to watch it because I'll be in Mammoth with no tv (like I have a tv here... uh huh). If anyone sees it, tell me how it is and what they talk about. They filmed a segment with me but the instrument noise in the room was pretty loud, so I'm not sure that'll be in the show. My advisor certainly is, though. It's sort of weird to have your advisor come in all dressed up, and say, 'guess what guys, we are going to be filmed today!'

This is the show.
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
"Most engineers forget that matter is made up of atoms" - said jokingly (one hopes) by the professor in my graduate-level materials science class

I am enjoying the nanomechanics class a lot, especially the lightning coverage of elasticity and deformation we just did, which wasn't a review for me since I had never seen the material before. And for some reason it came to me, as I was looking around and realized for the bajillionth time that the other girl in the class had dropped out and I was the only female there--one of the most valuable things I carried with me out of my childhood was the idea that I could do anything if I worked hard. It sounds really cliche, I know, but it was something my parents told me (mostly) and I heard in Girl Scouts a lot. And I think it accounts for a lot about the speed that public education pre-college runs, because there's a lot of wasted space that isn't filled because parents are afraid of overtaxing their kids and the kids are told it would be too much. It also is a big factor in women's scarcity in science/technology/engineering/math (STEM fields, it's called) because from a very early age, women are told that it is unfeminine to enjoy these things, and women are bad at them. And by the way, both women and men are told STEM fields are really hard and only really smart people can do them. A lot more people could pursue these careers if they weren't pushed away like this, and we aren't doing ourselves any favors in terms of public science education by telling everyone that it's too hard for laypeople to understand even basic science. This is where intelligent design comes from.

I wish I remember the reference, but I saw a study awhile back where they took a group of black students and a group of female students, divided each group into two, and gave them all competency exams. Half the black students were told, "Traditionally black students do poorly on language exams, though that is statistical and doesn't necessary apply to each of you," and the other half of these students were told, "Students who work hard and pay attention can improve exam scores," then both groups took a language test. Half the female students were told, "Traditionally female students do poorly on math exams, though that is statistical and doesn't necessary apply to each of you," and the other half of these students were told, "Students who work hard and pay attention can improve exam scores," then both groups took a math test. I hope you are not surprised by the fact that students who were told that were told that hard work pays off outscored the ones who were demotivated at the beginning. Just being told that you can work to achieve whatever you like, and while some subjects are more work than others none are out of your reach, makes a huge difference.

That actually reminds me of another study, in which students who were told that they were gifted did more poorly than students who were told they must have worked hard to get so smart, especially when given the opportunity to retake an intelligence test and improve. Students told they are gifted tend to view poor performance as a sign they are not gifted, and become discouraged, whereas students told they must work hard only view it as a setback.

I'm not sure where I am going with this, except to say that a lot of the trends in our society are directly correlated to messages we send to young people. When I tell someone what I do and they say, "That is so hard, I could never do that," it makes me kind of angry and kind of sad, and they probably don't believe I'm sincere when I say, "You could."
clevermynnie: (Default)
The amount of work I have in the lab has drastically increased recently. This is mainly because I am the primary atomic force microscope user in our group, and my advisor decided I should be collaborating on more projects. So now I am doing AFM measurements for someone else's project on fluorescing clusters of nanorods, AFM/EFM measurements for a collaborative charge trasnport project, and some miscellaneous fellowship applying and vacuum pump repair. This is on top of the one class I'm enrolled in, in which I recently did x-ray diffraction for the first time ever and chemistry for the first time since high school, and also the one class I'm auditing. Both classes are in the materials science department, that crazy place where no one remembers how to diagonalize a matrix but they all know about principal stress. And I am still working on the cryostat for the AFM... it is slow and disheartening, but if it ever works it will be a font of new experiments that I'll likely base my thesis off of, and once I realized that I had an easier time maintaining motivation for it.

For the last week, all this work has been a big hindrance, because Ben got called for jury duty and was actually selected for a rather nasty case, which he just finished yesterday, so he has been stressed and having to cram in all his homework in off-hours, since his classes didn't stop for jury duty. I was going to say that the upcoming long weekend will be nice for destressing, but then I looked it up and Penn doesn't celebrate Presidents' Day. Fine... maybe we will get all our to-do list done on Saturday of this weekend, and spend Sunday lolling around, drinking tea and reading and cuddling.
clevermynnie: (al fresco)
This'll be my first semester at grad school not teaching, excluding last summer when I didn't do anything but research. I really enjoy teaching, but it is frustrating to come up against limitations in the curriculum, and frustrating to feel that only by putting in a lot of time can you do a good job. I was at a luncheon about TA issues, and we were in small groups sharing various trials. I mentioned that it bugged me that good teaching requires a lot of time, but I see a lot of other TAs doing just enough to get by, totally uninterested in doing a good job. The other TAs I was talking to were shocked, and asked 'why would you be in graduate school if you aren't preparing to teach?' I had to explain that it's different in the sciences; in the humanities the only real profession for a Ph.D. is professor, but to be a physicist a Ph.D. is just your foot in the door. So it'll be nice to have a little time off. I did get my teaching evaluations from last semester back, which were something like 2 mediocre reviews and 40 of high praise; I feel very happy in my teaching capabilities. Though it would help me further to teach a lecture class. But I'm not preparing for a teaching career anyways.

What I am doing that's a first is taking courses from the materials science department. See, for condensed matter physics my department offers surprisingly few electives, even fewer for me because I took an equivalent course at Berkeley (solid state physics). And I need an extra elective because I skipped out of math methods but still need the same overall number of courses. So this semester I'm taking nanofabrication, and after today I decided to audit nanomechanics/nanotribology. Both seem to have a lot of interesting information that is not taught in physics classes because it is 'trivial consequences', like how temperature affects x-ray diffraction or why resistance is so different at small scales. It is a little silly, though, how much they avoid talking about quantum mechanics directly, and it is weird to me that anyone in a graduate physical science program would not be familiar with the Pauli exclusion principle. Another bonus, though, is that the nanofabrication course actually has a series of labs, which I am really looking forward to.
clevermynnie: (al fresco)
I had a lot of things to finish up at work last week, like submitting my reimbursement papers for the physics cookies and writing a paper for the seminar I took (which I wrote about spray-on-foam insulation for the space shuttle, which was really interesting). I also had a positive development in the teaching frustration front. I was talking with the other TA for the lab-only class that had me so frustrated, and he had the idea of discussing the course with the undergraduate chair, since it's primarily undergraduates who get screwed if the labs are bad. He was sympathetic, and eventually told us that if we put together some documentation of the state of the lab and ideas to fix it, he would show it around and try to drum up faculty support. What we gave him last Friday was firstly, a page discussing the problems that the labs have (poor instructions, lack of time available, boring lab selection) and their potential solutions (rewrite labs, allow students to work at home, throw away the worst labs and replace them with something fascinating). Our main suggestion here was to make a TA position that only has one section to teach (1/3 the normal teaching load) but has the responsibility of rewriting the labs in a brief, clear, standardized fashion and testing them on the students. We also each rewrote a lab the way we think they should be done, to demonstrate. I really hope that this goes somewhere, because it's fixable without needing work from overworked professors or lab staff, with a little intelligence in how the matter is approached. The TA position we suggested would also be an ideal resume piece for anyone wanting to be a professor, so hopefully some graduate student who is not me will volunteer. Though I would trust myself the most not to botch things, just because I have background in writing. One can't do everything oneself, though.

I still have those damn NDSEG essays to write, but I guess I'll be writing them in New Mexico. Fine, whatever. And I tested the cryostat today with high hopes... urgh, more failure. In July, it got down to 90K, which is good performance. I ordered new copper pieces to take better advantage of the geometry, and in October couldn't get below 150K with them. Most people in my group agreed that my vacuum wasn't good enough, so I spent two months replacing gaskets, eliminating tiny leaks, until I improved it by two orders of magnitude. And today when I add liquid nitrogen... 210K. WTF, science, WTF?? When I return in January, there will be some angry experiments involving dipping copper into liquid nitrogen and measuring the temperature, because I'll be damned if I'm going to try it in vacuum again until I have more insight into what's wrong.

And finally, I am trying to pack today and not forget anything, but it seems that I'm getting sick. Right before flying too, so I can infect everyone on my two planes. Sorry, everybody!
clevermynnie: (wealthy young woman-about-town)
It's nearly the end of the semester. This means that I am finally done with teaching, after having to get a lot of make-up lab students in this week. It also means that I'm done with classes, though the only class I was taking was this seminar. I have a short paper due next week that I'll have to get on this weekend. And then there is research... blah. I learned a lot of cool microscopy techniques this semester, as well as some device fabrication, and had a lot of fun doing mini-projects with that. But my main project, the cryostat for low-temperature AFM, is a big pile of fail. The vacuum is bad and the current theory is that that's causing the cold finger to not get cold. Figuring out why this is happening and how to fix it has taken a lot of time and waiting on materials and machining, and doing it in parallel with everything else has made it really drag on, to the point where I'm just sick of the equipment and hate working on it. But I persevere, mostly so that I can someday finish this project and get one that's actually fun. The low-temperature AFM we would be able to do if this ever succeeds would be very interesting.

And just as I'm writing this, I get an e-mail about needing to specify my classes next semester. I think I'll be taking a course on Nanofabrication, but the course is crosslisted and the two listings sound really different, so I'm trying to find out more about that. And I might take a mathematical physics course... I don't know. I wish I knew whether they were going to teach Advanced Solid State physics next fall (I inquired with the professor and the graduate chair and neither knew). But I shouldn't be teaching, so I should have a lot more time available for research.

I also need to do a couple more fellowship applications, in the 'not very likely but please give me some freaking money' category. The NDSEG is due at the beginning of January, and the GSRP is due at the beginning of February. And of course they have different essay prompts than the NSF. Time for fun!

But I am getting paid to learn about strange and beautiful things, like liquid crystal domains or blinking nanocrystals or quantum dots.

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January 2017

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