Claire Doody is a student at University of Chicago currently completing her research at Albuquerque Seismological Labratory under Dr. David Wilson.
During my first week at my internship, I asked one of my mentors, Adam, to send me what he considered to be good scientific figures. Of the 6 or so good (and bad) figures that he sent me, the biggest thing I noticed was that the good figures were really colorful and relayed important information clearly. The bad figures were black and white and all over the place with what they were trying to say. In a figure, you want to convey as much critical information as possible without confusing the reader with so much information that they lose track of what you're trying to say; the best way to do that seems to be with color. Here's one of the figures that I've done so far that is by far my most colorful, and probably my favorite:
Figure: Model of temperature attenuation with depth in granite (top) and sandy soil (bottom). Both rheologies are able to significantly attenuate out small degrees of temperature change (<0.01ºC) within 3 meters' depth. Overburden with higher degrees of thermal diffusivity (e.g. granite) allow for more temperature stability at shallower depths than those with lower thermal diffusivity (e.g. sandy soil). Therefore, to best thermally insulate a seismometer, sensors should be installed in vaults surrounded by material with high thermal diffusivity. Thermal diffusivity measurements are taken from Robertson, 1988 (USGS OpenFile Report).
I can't remember exactly when I was taught the scientific method, but it's something that is pretty much requisite for people to know by the time they get to high school. First, you have your hypothesis, then you design an experiment to test your hypothesis. After that, you collect data from your experiment, and then based on your data, decide whether or not your hypothesis is correct. That's a pretty broad definition of the scientific method, but up until four weeks ago, it seemed pretty solid to me. It's only when you actually go through these steps with a real (not pre-designed) experiment that you realize that there's one step missing to really following the scientific method: the everything-falls-apart-and-you're-not-sure-what-to-do-so-you-restart-from-square-one step (I tried to think of a more cohesive, catchy name than that, but nothing could do the full connect-an-entire-phrase-with-hyphens method justice).
When I first started my experiment, my mentors and I came up with a simple setup to test how temperature variability affects sensor output. We put a big light bulb in the middle of a vault to create heat, and we were sure that we would see the seismometers "go crazy" from even that small change in heat. Therefore, we wanted to test whether Styrofoam boxes or water bricks did a better job of insulating the seismometers from a heat source. With our experiment all set up, we locked the vault and went on our merry way, excited to see what kind of craziness the seismometers would cook up. But a few days later, we hit the EFAAYNSWTDSYRFSO step. When looking at our data from when the light bulb was cycled on, we saw a temperature change of about 0.1 oC in the vault, and changes of a couple of magnitudes lower in each of the insulating setups; we thought that this would be more than enough to see the seismometers respond. And yet, our data showed nothing. At the degree of temperature change we induced, atmospheric pressure variations dominated the response of our seismometers. What we assumed would be a pretty simple hypothesis to test had just proven itself to be not so simple after all.
With our experiment having proven unsuccessful, we turned to scratching our heads and reading. Every reference we could find said that 1 microoC should have thrown our seismometers off the deep end, and yet our sensors had only dipped their toes in the water. For a day, it seemed like no one had any clue what was going on (me most of all). And so, we headed back to the drawing board. If our light bulb in the middle of the vault didn't cause enough change to the seismometer output, then we would bring the heat source closer using battery powered heat tape. We left the temperature cycling for longer periods of time so we could get more data for each variation. We even ended up using different types of seismometers to see how the weight of a seismometer's moving mass affects its susceptibility to temperature changes. We were essentially starting a new experiment over. But now, we knew our problem better and could design an experiment that tested what we wanted it to; this time, it worked.
No matter what field you are in, people don't like to talk about failure. I think it's pretty safe to say that everyone would rather talk about their successes than their failures. But in scientific research, like anything, success requires failure. It requires things not working correctly, being perplexed, starting over, and trying again. When I tell people about my research now, I'll still talk about the successes, but also highlight the failures that got us to success. My current experiment is more interesting and fruitful because the first one failed. Failure makes you appreciate the success even more, and I'm glad I'm getting to appreciate that.
When we were asked to do an elevator speech as an assignment, I was a little less than thrilled. Elevator speeches are extremely useful ways to get accross your experiences to someone without losing them along the way in unnecessary tangents. However, writing them feels like the cheesiest thing in the world. The only reason it sounds cheesy is because I'm "dumbing" my summer reasearch down for myself and so, to me, it seemed silly; I might as well just come up with something on the spot that's tailored to someone else's interests in my research. But an assignment is an assignment, so I spent 3 hours writing one anyways.
When I was done, I thought I had done a pretty good job of summing my research goals up concisely and simply, so I enlisted my youngest brother, who is 13, to listen to it. I gave my speech to him, and then asked him what he understood of it, and what parts were confusing. Even though he harped on some things like what "temperature gradient" or "thermal noise" meant (I didn't really expect a 13 year old to get that part just yet), he also had some really good points about bigger ideas like exactly how I am testing my hypothesis and what kind of results I am trying to get out of this summer. Some of my logic made sense to me, but even someone older than 13 (or more knowledgable in seismology) would probably get lost in parts of it without a more thorough explanation. So I sat back down and outlined again, making sure that I hit the big points of my hypothesis, methods, and (hopeful) results really well, and left out the more minute details like the level of confidence in earth tide measurements on seismometers to consider them "quiet."
In the end, an assignment I dreaded turned out to be a good exercise in writing in general. Your thoughts always make sense to you, but when writing, it's important to put yourself in another person's shoes. The best way I found to do that for myself was to be a toddler and ask myself "why?" over and over on every statement I made to make sure that those questions were answered in the rest of the speech. Sometimes, the answer ("Why are you doing this research?" "Because it turns out that no one really knows what's actually going on.") meant adding a phrase, but other times, it required deciding which sentences to take out because adding another sentence of background made the speech make more sense as a whole.
I still won't be writing elevator speeches for fun in my free time. But after this, I don't think I will be attempting to wing an explanation of my research from the summer to anyone. Having a plan and understanding its flaws turns out to be (surprise!!!!!) a really important tool for becoming a better communicator.
After finally making it to New Mexico, I got to start my first week at ASL this Monday! The 100 degree heat has been a little bit of an adjustment, but I'm just glad it's not humid.
Since I will be designing my own experiment to carry out this summer, a lot of this week has been dedicated to getting my bearings around the facility, learning data analysis methods, and thinking about what kind of experiment we want to do. The details are still in the works, but things seem to be coming together nicely thanks to the help and ideas of a ton of the ASL scientists. As of now, the data I'll be collecting is the non-seismic noise signals produced by the seismometers we set up. Using these data, coherence will be calculated to determine how much "noisier" (or less noisy) the signal we collected is from the self-noise models we should expect. The coherence will also be compared with other seismometers set up nearby to determine whether they are all picking up similar signals.
I'm excited to start collecting data next week and see where the results take us!!
After a crazy 18 hours where I took/turned in all of my finals for my classes right after getting back from the IRIS orientation, I am finally done with my school year!! I'm now taking a few days back home in Northern Virginia to see my oldest younger brother graduate high school, and then on Friday, I am off to Albuquerque. I loved New Mexico so much while I was there, that I am really excited to be able to go back and spend my summer there. There's going to be a lot of things to learn right off the bat, but I'm hoping that I'll get a lot done in my 9 weeks at ASL. I love making lists, so here are my goals for the summer (in a more or less chronological order for the summer):
1. Get a rudiemntary understanding of seismology as it relates to my summer project (I have no classroom training in seismology really, so this is probably the most important to start with),
2. Develop a solid understanding of my project and develop a plan for the summer with my mentors so that we're all on the same page as to each others' goals,
3. Introduce myself to and talk with the employees of ASL and find out more about their careers in geophysics, and what led them to choose this profession,
4. Set up my experiment and get it up and running (hopefully with few mistakes, but mistakes are always a good way to learn and learn well in my opinion),
5. Get data, and learn how to process it and present it in the most intuitive format for conveying the results I want to,
6. Have results to show and to later present at AGU,
7. Explore the city of Albuquerque and do lots and lots of hiking and stargazing, and
8. Come away from this summer with a grasp on how to do research in seismology and having met some amazing people.
These goals are pretty over-arching and there will be a lot of smaller goals that pop up underneath each of them, and maybe some bigger ones, too. Not all of these goals will be easy to reach, and as stated earlier, there will be a learning curve, but I can't wait to start giving them a shot in a week's time!
Hi!! We're currently at the IRIS 2017 Orientation Week learning how to use our blogs. I've never really done one of these before, and am not the biggest into sharing stuff online, butI'm excited to give it a shot. This summer, I'll be working at the Albuquerque Seismological Laboratory studying noise characterizations in seismometers with Drs. Adam Ringler, Rob Anthony, and Dave Wilson. I am currently a junior at the University of Chicago (and still not done with the year..) studying Geophysical Sciences and East Asian Language and Civilization with a focus in Japanese. My geoscience background right now is mainly in computational mineral physics, so I'm excited to be able to study seismology this summer, as it is an area that I'm also really interested in. Everything's a little over my head right now, but I'm really looking forward to start at ASL and learning more!!