Wow, sorry, just realized none of that post saved for some reason...let's try this again. I guess now this is my fourth attempt, using the 30 minutes of free wifi in the Johannesburg airport while I can. Here's what I meant to post yesterday:
I wrote this awesome, last post yesterday afternoon, then as soon as I hit submit, the webpage locked up and I lost the entire post. So I re-wrote the whole thing super quick before heading off to a Fourth of July barbeque, but, as I hit submit, I lost internet connection and lost the entire post. Here's my third attempt at telling you guys how this past week went:
Right now it's 4:45 am and I'm sitting in the Raleigh airport (for the 6th time this summer) on my way to New York to make my flight later this morning to Johannesburg, South Africa. I'm running on 90 minutes of sleep and so excited and nervous and in disbelief that I'm leaving for an entire month. This last week was crunch time for me, because I needed to get as much done as possible before taking off and totally forgetting where I'm at with my project. It was a long week, but I broke some serious ground, so I feel like I'm leaving at a good spot. One of my biggest goals for this summer was to have a preliminary abstract for AGU before leaving, and that got accomplished this week! I finally got my codes de-bugged so they produce some data that makes sense! Now I have quantitative details about infrasound in the area that I can actually use to start drawing conclusions, which is awesome.
I feel like I've finally gotten through the hardest part of my project, but Danny and Jonathan have been giving me some good advice on moving forward from here, which they both say is actually the most difficult part. Now, like a real scientist, I have to figure out what my data signify in order to draw an important conclusion. I have to investigate the interesting or questionable signals and try to come up with the story of where they came from and why they arrived at the array at the time they did. I've been doing a lot of reading about infrasound propagation in the atmosphere, which is really complicated, but very interesting. Just before I left I started grouping events in clusters to start thinking about possible sources in the area and calculate azimuth ranges to put in my AGU abstract. When I get back, I hope to look into this more to see if I can credit some of the high inclination angles to refractions/reflections in the stratosphere (or higher).
Outside of lab, this week was...humid. It has been so hot and the humidity is just stifling. I find myself looking forward to going to the desert, which is sad. But I'm still managing to enjoy my summer while I can. On Thursday, Jonathan, Rebecca, and I went to Occaneechee Park, which Jonathan calls "The Yellowstone of North Carolina." It was really gorgeous, and great to get out in the morning and hike before work. We were so ridiculously afterward, though. Then yesterday I went over to Jonathan's for a pre-fireworks barbeque. Classic Lees lab: why waste a good explosion? After work on Thursday we set out a seismometer, a geophone station, and three infrasound sensors to see what kind of signals we pick up. The fireworks were awesome--not quite the same as detonating a shockwave-producing TNT explosion, but still cool. smiley
So, this is it, I don't know when/where/if I'll have internet in the coming month, but I will try to sneak in an update if I can. I tried to add pictures to this post the previous three times I submitted it, but I think that's why I was having problems, so I had to cut them out. Other than that, see you in August!
Better late than never, right? Last week was kind of a blur. My days were so full that they seemed to just fly by. I got back from Buffalo last Saturday, then woke up Sunday morning with a terrible cold. I think all of the traveling finally caught up to me--I was almost expecting to get sick with how busy and exhausted I've been. So I was pretty miserable Sunday, and it only got worse on Monday, so I came home from the lab a little early and slept all afternoon. Apparently sleep was exactly what I needed, because I felt much better Tuesday...back to the lab! All week I worked on my project (with the New Mexico data) while everyone else scrambled to organize the massive amount of data we collected in the field. It was kind of cool, because last week, for the first time, I felt not only independent, but capable. While Jonathan and Danny and Rebecca worked on their own projects, I found myself solving my own problems and figuring things out by myself. Coming in, I knew pretty much nothing about programming or analyzing infrasound signals, but last week I realized that I finally know enough to not have to ask for help every time I'm stuck. It's not like I don't get stuck anymore (let's just say it's a bumpy road where if I don't run into a problem I get suspicious), but I have the tools to figure out what's wrong with my code or where I need to tweak my equations. Sure, sometimes it takes me a long time to find that one little bug in my code that's messing everything up, and I'm tempted to go ask Jonathan how to fix it because I know he could find it in minutes, but it feels so satisfying when I find it myself and get things working on my own. Last week I was able to finalize the code that sorts my signals, pulls up only the good ones for me to make arrival time picks, saves those picks to run through my celerity code, and spits out azimuth, inclination, and celerity for each event. That's huge! But, of course, there's much more to do, because now I have to decide how I'm going to use the results and what conclusions I want to draw from them.
Life was pretty busy outside of the lab last week as well. I had to write and turn in my senior thesis prospectus, which is super exciting, but also difficult when I've been thinking about my project here so much. There's also a lot to organize for the big trip to Namibia, so I've been running around taking care of boring last minute details. We found out that we won't be able to get an invitation into Angola, which means we can't get our visas and won't be able to go. Namibia will be fantastic, though, so I'm still just as excited and anxious and nervous as before. Thursday I went out to lunch with Rebecca to watch the sad USA vs. Germany loss. I don't follow soccer at all, but every one of the guys I live with watches religiously, so I've been getting into it. Then Friday night we had a girls night and just hung out, drank champagne in pajamas, and binge-watched Orange is the New Black which is SO ADDICTING, do not start it if you have a big project you need to finish...or start it anyway like me and watch the whole first season in three days... I also cooked an artichoke for the first time in my life. Let's just say it was an interesting experience.
Well, sorry guys, I tried. All my pictures are either too big or the wrong format, and I can't get any videos to upload either, so there won't be any field pictures on the blog. HOWEVER I made an album on Facebook--hopefully it's accessible with this link: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.771242439594039.1073741826.100001248691367&type=1&l=a20f2491ae. I'm really not good at posting my pictures, but I'll try my hardest to keep it updated all summer
Sorry for getting behind with updating the blog--the past couple of weeks have been insanely busy in the lab. Last Saturday we traveled to Buffalo, New York to take part in an international volcanological initiative, which was absolutely awesome. So, leading up to last week, there was little time to work on my project as the whole team was needed to test our equipment before the trip. We tested everything outside of the geology building on campus and then loaded it all into a car and drove to a farm outside of Chapel Hill where we set off some dry ice bombs to collect infrasound and seismic data. Did you know you can buy dry ice at the grocery store? Anyway, the tests were successful, so we packed our microphones and seismometers very carefully for a week of observing some real TNT explosions.
We hauled all of our infrasound and seismic equipment up north to participate in a week-long field campaign where groups of researchers from around the world came to collect data and collaborate. The bulk of the field work was done in a rural open field in Springville, New York, which is about a half an hour away from Buffalo. We had a few days to set up, and two official blasting days to collect data. It was hectic with so many different groups all collecting different things at the same time, but also very exciting. Over 20 explosions were detonated, ranging in size and burial depth, strategically placed amongst 5 separate blasting pads. I think our group brought the most equipment, so our setup was pretty extensive. We had a "far" array of 3 infrasound microphones and a seismometer connected to a Reftek data logger, which we placed about 50 meters from the blasts in the middle of some tall grass. It was a nice surprise each morning coming out to put batteries in each of the microphones and finding slugs and grasshoppers crawling all over them...there are some weird bugs living in Springville, NY, and they obviously didn't like me because I left each day covered in bites. On the first day, I got stung by something weird and my whole hand swelled up. It looked like a balloon, or like one of those cartoon Mickey Mouse hands. Pretty gross.
We also had a "near" array of 5 infrasound microphones that we set on the ground closer to the explosions. Then, in order to observe the vertical propagation of sound waves, the microphones that will fly on the NASA project at the end of summer were placed in soft-sided lunch boxes and mounted to a 25 foot flagpole in three locations (top, middle, bottom) to create our "flag" array. It was kind of a crazy setup, something no one had ever tried before, but it ended up being super successful. As if we didn't have enough equipment, we were given accelerometers and another seismometer from PASSCAL to observe the explosions, so we had to collect data from these as well. The two accelerometers that PASSCAL gave us were super nice and expensive so we had to be careful with them, but we were curious to see how the ground accelerates really close to the explosion site. We decided to build two cheap accelerometers of our own which could be blown up without consequences. I hadn't used my knowledge of circuits and electricity from freshman year physics since the class ended, and suddenly I was using my hands to solder things to a circuit board. I loved the hands-on aspect of electronics, and I feel like I actually gained some practical knowledge. I don't think I will ever find myself soldering in a hotel room ever again--quite an adventure.
After a few long days in the field and lots of sunburn, we packed up our equipment and celebrated with ice cream and cold beer. Then, on Thursday, we took some time to be tourists and trekked over to Niagara Falls, which was gorgeous. We had perfect weather, and spent the day walking around and enjoying the falls. But, of course, in a group full of scientists everything becomes an experiment, so we took one array with 6 microphones with us to collect some infrasound from the falls. Two other groups came with us--one brought an infrared camera to do thermal imaging of the falls, and the other brought a high speed camera. I was walking around with a Reftek shoved in my backpack as we moved between three different sites within the park. We definitely got some weird looks when we laid out all of our equipment. I'm sure some people thought we were crazy. It was a great day, though, and produced some cool data. Also, that night we went out for buffalo wings in Buffalo, which turned into a challenge of who could eat the hottest wings--seriously hilarious adviser-intern bonding.
Although the week was unbelievably exhausting, I had such an amazing time meeting people from around the world and learning more about other types of volcanological research. I was by far the youngest person there, but I loved being able to get to know scientists from different backgrounds and hear their advice and perspectives on going into a career in geophysics. The week was extremely valuable to me in so many ways. The blasters let me detonate not just one, but two of the biggest explosions on the last day, which pretty much made my week. But, even better than that, I made connections with an amazing group of researchers while experiencing all the stress, hard work, and reward of being in the field.
P.S. I have so many cool pictures and videos I want to share, so hopefully I can figure out how to get them on here--next entry should be way less words, way more pictures
We've really gotten to know each other over the past month. Back in May, two large side-by-side screens welcomed me into the lab and provided me with a workspace of my own for the rest of the summer. What started as intermittent flirting has flourished into a full-fledged commitment. We went from seeing each other occasionally throughout the week to spending entire days face-to-face, cultivating an intimate relationship that makes us nearly inseparable. Except when my butt, back, and neck get sore from sitting in this stupid chair and I get sick of working on fixing the same few lines of code for four hours straight and I start staring out the window wondering how loud the crash would be if I threw one of these screens out of it.
I believe I've hit the stage in my internship where, now that I have a full grasp of what I'm doing and have jumped into the real work for the summer, things are getting a little rough. My computer and I are definitely out of our "honeymoon phase," and, as in all successful relationships, we'll have to get past our rough patches if we want to become a strong, dynamic power couple. Okay, reading that back just now I realize how weird it is that I referred to myself and my computer as a power couple. I guess what I'm trying to say is that a huge portion of my work this summer will be done at my computer because of the type of data I'm working with. My dataset this summer came to the lab as a hard drive loaded with thousands of files. These have all been downloaded to my computer and contain a record of all infrasound and seismic signals from the Socorro array throughout the months it was functional starting in 2010. So, it's a lot of data to go through, which is why my computer and I have been spending so much time together recently.
First, I did a visual sort through all of the signals to look for big events. For this project, I'm mostly interested in distinct events, like explosions, that produce strong, easily detectable signals. These are sure to be picked up by all microphones at the array and will provide the clearest data to work with. To find these events, I used a program called SEISSIG, written by my adviser, which reads in the files and allows me to look through a continuous feed of collected signals. In small increments (minutes at a time) I paged through four years worth of signals. Translated: I clicked through page after page of wiggly lines and picked out the ones that looked like explosions. Once all of these "picks" were saved, I could begin the actual analysis of my data. The bulk of the work I'll be doing this summer will be in R. Using R, I can write my own functions to manipulate the data in ways I see useful. Since returning from New Mexico, I've written a code to sort through the signals I've picked and get rid of any overlaps (ones I may have picked out twice by accident). This shortened my list of picks, but not as much as I'd hoped--I don't want to further analyze thousands of picks when I don't have to, so sorting now is to my advantage. I created another code to examine the signal-to-noise ratio of each signal and sort out the ones with low ratios. Major events like explosions will be very strong and occur very suddenly, so they have a very high signal-to-noise ratio. By eliminating any picks that have low ratios, I've created a more accurate and manageable list to continue working with. With my final list of picks for each year, I'll use another program created by my adviser called SWIG to, again, visually examine the signals. This time, I'll locate and save arrival times of the waves which can be used in my celerity calculation. For other seismologists, SWIG is very similar to SAC except for a few additional buttons and different formatting of data.
Like I said, I've been spending a lot of time at my computer trying to work through these programs and teach myself as much as I can. My adviser has been super helpful, answering questions when I need help and generally pointing me in the right direction. Programming is so much more than just learning how to code--for me, it's been more of an exercise in learning how to think logically, which is challenging but (I never thought I'd say it) weirdly enjoyable. So, even though things seem rough now, I don't plan on breaking off the relationship I've established with my computer any time soon.
There are so many things I would love to accomplish over the course of this summer, so I thought writing my goals down here will hold me to them. Although I worked in a lab last summer, I have never been a part of a formal internship program like this where I'm starting completely fresh and forced to learn new concepts and techniques from the ground up. To be honest, it's intimidating, and a lot of the time I really do feel like a clueless intern. So, instead of overwhelming myself trying to learn everything all at once (like I'm prone to doing), I figured I'd split the summer into thirds and set goals for each one:
1. Since I've been out of school for almost a month now, I'm in the third week of my internship not counting the orientation week in New Mexico, which is just about 1/3 through my time here (10 weeks total). I'm taking the month of July off to travel to Namibia and Angola with my lab group from home, collecting samples for paleomagnetic analysis, which will become my senior thesis. This presents me with a huge challenge, though. My time here in North Carolina is limited, and, although I'm coming straight back to Chapel Hill afterwards, I need to make sure I have a firm grasp early on of what I'm doing before I leave for a month. That is why my goal for the first part of the summer is to bite the bullet and learn how to program. Now, I know I'm setting myself up for failure if I expect to learn an entire language in a month, because programming is something that sure as hell doesn't come naturally to me. I am terrified of programming. I don't know what it is--maybe I'm still traumatized from the intro Java class I took my freshman year which was filled with budding Mark Zuckerbergs. Anyway, I've built it up in my head that I absolutely cannot program. But I want to prove myself wrong. I'm going to face my fear, put in as much time as it takes for me to understand what's going on, and actually learn how to code. I know it will be frustrating and I will feel like an idiot as I try to figure things out, but I really need to show myself that I am capable of doing this. By the end of the first month of my internship, I would like to have a working code of some sort.
2. In the second third of the summer, I want to complete and submit my abstract for AGU. I know the deadline isn't until the last week of July, but I would like to have it done before I leave in order to make sure I don't accidently miss the deadline because of some silly internet connection problem. This is my main goal during the middle weeks of my internship, because writing the abstract should also give me a better feel for how to go about putting together my poster. This also pushes me toward an overall goal I have for the summer, which is to become more comfortable with writing professionally. I'd like to be able to communicate knowledgeably about my research and put forth a scholarly discussion of what I've been working so hard on this summer. I know that I need to get better at writing concisely, and I will push myself to ask for help and get feedback on my writing so that putting together scientific descriptions becomes more natural for me.
3. When I come back in August for the last three weeks at UNC, I want to be focused on bringing my project together so I can be sure I have meaningful results to present at AGU. One thing I have always struggled with as a student is confidence in myself and my work. I don't want to be afraid to ask questions if I don't understand something, and I'd like to have enough assurance to put forth my own opinions and actually contribute to the scientific discussion. So, that's exactly what I hope to do with my last weeks here. I want to finalize my code in order to discuss my project in front of my lab group and get their opinions on how I could make it better. This will require me to become comfortable with defending my work, which I'm hoping will provide me with confidence going into my senior year.
Coming into my internship, I was met with a steep learning curve, so I know it will take plenty of time and effort to accomplish these goals this summer. But hey, I'm always up for a challenge.
Although the trees had just barely started to bud in Connecticut, summer was in full swing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which came as quite a surprise when I showed up in early May. Danny, the grad student I'm working with this summer, picked me up from the airport to take me to my new place, but it turns out I'm living in a forest (literally) and it took us a few tries to find the house. It's a really nice place, despite the fact it's buried in trees--it's got that whole rustic, "secluded in the woods" vibe going on. I'm living with four guys, two of which are UNC Law students who live in the house year-round, and two who are undergrads also doing internships for the summer. Honestly, it's great living with guys because they never hog the bathroom. However, I can tell they hate it when I claim the remote and turn on HGTV.
I came to Chapel Hill absolutely exhausted right after finals period ended, which was a pretty quick and stressful turn around. The day after I arrived I went on a run, got terribly lost (turns out most backroads are just people's driveways...), and didn't make it home until 2 hours later, sunburnt and thirsty. So my first impression of North Carolina was shaped by the suffocating humidity and relentless hills that made my workout a bit more painful than expected. But, I gave myself the weekend to explore the area and get settled before starting work in the lab, which led me to discover how beautiful Chapel Hill is. I had no idea a campus could be so full of trees but still be considered urban. It's weird because I'm used to going to school smack-dab in the middle of a big city, and UNC is very spread out, calm, and quiet. I showed up completely burned out from a long semester, but after a weekend of sleeping, strolling around the city, and binge-watching The Mindy Project, I was ready to roll with my internship at UNC.
My house is about a mile from the building I work in, so it's a nice walk every morning and late afternoon. The first few days (actually, pretty much the whole first 2 weeks) were a whirlwind. I met my adviser, was introduced to my project, was introduced to other projects going on in the lab, was told to write my first code in R, was presented with four years worth of data in the form of squiggly lines, and was presented with the challenge of learning an entirely new operating system in order to start working on all of the above. In short, I was completely lost, smiling and nodding my way through the beginning. Although information was being thrown at me left and right, I didn't feel as overwhelmed as I thought I would. Actually, I felt excited about stepping into an entirely new field, learning new skills and concepts, and having the chance to work with a new group of people. I expected to be given a list of tasks to complete, or papers to read, but instead my adviser gave me an overview of what I'll be working on and left me to decide how I want to approach the project. I have the freedom to solve problems any way I want, which is a huge amount of independence I've never had before. Although I work in a lab back home, this is the first time I feel like the project is truly my own, which excites me and helps to make a 10-hour day in the lab fly by.
After the first two weeks at UNC, I flew out to New Mexico for the IRIS orientation, where I met an inspiring group of people from around the country. I cannot express how much of a relief it was to be able to commiserate about not knowing how to program with people who are in the same position. We spent a lot of time outside, hiking until my feet were blistered, installing seismometers, and performing an active source experiment. There were also classes and lectures which provided exposure to various topics in geophysics, along with tutorials in MATLAB, GMT, and SAC--three computer programs often used in seismology research. My favorite part, though, was having the opportunity to meet so many people from a multitude of backgrounds and careers. Almost every activity throughout the week was led by someone different, who shared with us how he/she got to where they are today. There was also a career panel at the end of the week where we could listen to advice and ask away about what it's like to work as a geophysicist in academia, industry, and government. I walked away from the week with a broadened perspective of what possibilities lie ahead for me as I head into my senior year at Yale. I also had the chance to think about what I want to get out of the IRIS internship this summer, both as a student and as a person. In my next post I'll talk more about the goals I've laid out for the summer, get into the specifics of what I'm actually working on, and detail what I hope to accomplish by the time August rolls around.
I'm sure there will be a steep learning curve and lots of new experiences throughout the summer, and hopefully I can capture the ups and downs on this blog to share with everyone. Even though my hair has become a permanent frizzball in this weather, I am so excited to be somewhere new for the summer, and I feel lucky to join such an enthusiastic, driven team here at UNC.
Yay this is my first blog post! I'm in New Mexico for orientation! I am very sunburnt!