Archive for July, 2011


Hey y’all, I realize I’ve been absent …again… but I’ve switched locations …again…


I’m now in North Carolina a little further south, a few more degrees fahrenheit and a lot more accents! It was really nice to get to go home and see my family for a few days, but it seems like this summer is all about jumping house. I should make a map:



Can I hear the Carmen Sandiego theme please?


Where in the world is Abi!? 


Hmm, just doesn’t have the same ring to it…


The Outer Banks, NC


My best girlfriend and I have been coming down to NC together since were were about 6 years old. We spend two weeks down here getting tan, playing in the ocean, jet skiing, mini golfing and consuming massive amounts of chips ahoy cookies with milk.


Unfortunately people grow up.


I’m still in school and hopefully will be for the next 6-9 years of my life (I ultimately want to earn my Ph. D.) Despite sumer internships I’ve managed to get a couple weeks this summer to spend on an actual break (or as much of one as I ever get) My friend on the other hand graduated cosmetology school about a year ago, and recently got her first real job at a salon, and she’s even more recently become floor manager (applause for my friend!) Both the salon and her position there are too new for her to take more than a weekend off at this point so this year we don’t get our beach time together.


It’s incredibly depressing. I have a double room with an empty bed. There’s no one to drink strawberry daiquiris with or try crazy experiments with my hair:


Hmm, let’s see, we’ve had it blue, red, wrapped, braided, long, short, curly, straight, blonde, brown… not all of these were overly flattering (the blue was hideous and lasted for months) but what can I say, I get bored, and my beach time is the time I can mess with it and fix it before anyone important sees it. Don’t even get me started on the changes her hair has gone through, but then again she’s wanted to be a hair stylist for as long as I can remember, and she’s good at it.


I’m rambling.


I just have to make the most of it, and enjoy hanging out with my brother and his friends this year instead.


So let’s get a bit up to speed:




Next time I'll ask for it without the ginormous egg on top...


I eat out down here a lot more than I do at home. A) I don’t have the groceries I’m used to having B) I have to go out to get produce C) I’m staying in a tiny little shack on the beach, the stove causes the smoke alarm to go off and to oven heats the whole house D) I’m on vacation!


It’s easy to gain weight while eating out all the time, basically you don’t know what they’ve put in your food and generally the unhealthier ingredients (butter, cream) help the food taste better with less effort on the chef’s part. This year I’m being really careful what I order when I eat out, but sometimes I cant resist the old favorites, like the amazing Pad Thai from Mama Kwans.


odd religious cereal


However there is also potential to try a bunch of odd local food and produce like this cereal I got to try on my yogurt. I’m not so big on scripture but the contents of the box intrigued me. It basically tastes like a not so sweet granola, and it’s a great source of fiber.















At the farmers market I bought some fresh figs to snack on (mmmmm) and some okra, a very southern vegetable. I’ve never cooked okra before, and I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with it yet, but I couldn’t resist myself.



Being down here means a number of things:


1. I get to drink coffee from my favorite coffee cup:


I don’t particularly like cats, in fact I’m pretty horrible allergic to them though I suppose that’s not really their fault…

This cup is just the perfect size and weight and I love the colors and the rustic glaze at the bottom. I’m weird, I know.

2. I get to play in the ocean! ( I love swimming)


Did I mention I have a waterproof camera?











And by waterproof I mean underwater? Not the greatest framing but I think I’m going to have fun experimenting with this…


3. I still have to keep studying for the GRE



4. That doesn’t mean I can’t still have some fun!


~What do you do to stay healthy on vacation?


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Home, home on the farm…

It’s my first time spending any sort of extended time at home for quite some time. That means:

  1. I have access to a surplus of fresh veggies
  2. I have to break it to my parents that I’ve stopped eating meat
  3. I get to go to as many Tae Kwon Do practices as I want
  4. I get a daily reminder that my baby brother is ~6 ft tall
  5. I get to experience 90*+ weather without an air conditioning
So it’s got its ups and downs, but it’s good to be home, if only for a few days.
The weather yesterday was brutal so I decided to take advantage of the sun and take a few photos of the farm:
Our main garden is absolutely loving the weather (so long as we water it daily) The greenhouse, on the other hand, isn’t doing so well…
              I love all the fresh produce here…
…and it’s interesting to have a bunch of animals running around your yard…
…and your house…
my cat Schrödinger is hitting the books
Today, it rained. So I took the opportunity to get a bit of reading (and a lot of laundry) done.
I absolutely love the rain. It’s so peaceful and does wonders to cut the heat.
(just because I love this photo)
So what does one eat while holed up in an overly hot house all day?
Overnight oats to start with!
Chocolate-Almond Overnight Oats:

"someone is thinking about you"

I decided to try a new type of almond butter while home this trip. The really cool thing about this brand is the almond butter has the consistency of traditional store bought peanut butter. It was perfect for melting on top of my cold oats this morning. I then topped that with some chilled dark chocolate, a shaved piece of Dove dark (I love the totally cliche sayings on the inside wrapper) and enjoyed my breakfast!

Lunch was rather anticlimactic after my overly thought out breakfast, just hummus on rice cakes:
simple, but something I’ve fallen in love with over the past couple weeks of packed lunches in Manchester. I also had a few raw veggies with this (not pictured).
Then TKD practice in the evening and a movie with my high school friends (my nerds). All in all I would call it a great day.
~What’s your favorite thing to do on a rainy day?

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Yes, that’s right. I’m back in the states! And to celebrate I thought I’d write my first fitness post.


Today was my first day back and I was greeted with a breaking and sparring clinic! I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I’m a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. It’s really the only sport I’ve done my entire life and the only directed form of exercise (unless you count marching band or dabbling in dance throughout high school)


I  have been going to the same studio with the same instructor since I was 9 years old. I absolutely love it here, the community is wonderful and our instructor is down right amazing.

Tae Kwon Do has been a part of my life as I grew from child to adult, student to teacher, I don’t know what I would do without it.


Today was my first time back in the studio since Christmas (it’s really my first time back home for any significant amount of time since then as well) and I was so thrilled there was a clinic today. Our breaking and sparring clinics are the time our instructor takes to really adjust our sparring performance and teach us our new breaking combination, an essential component of each belt exam. Currently I’m not preparing for an exam, but it’s really fun to get to break boards.


As a black belt much of what we do is teaching. My instructor always told us: “When you were a colored belt the black belts helped train you. Now it is your duty to teach the new colored belts in return.” I like the cycle this makes. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for some very devoted black belts, and I love teaching in return.


This clinic was three hours long and everybody broke at least 6 boards by the end. My favorite combination of the day was a spinning wheel kick followed by a partial wheel kick. fun fun fun. I love wheel kick, I have really long legs so the pin wheel motion allows me to get a lot of momentum, and spinning kicks always look really impressive.


the aftermath The Aftermath of Broken Boards

I plan on taking advantage of my time home and going to as many practices as possible before university starts again.

 me cracking up while stretching before class

~ Do you do any sports? Martial Arts anyone?



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… don’t know when I’ll be back again …

Today’s my last day in Manchester. This is so sad, it feels like I just got here, and I really am not ready to go home yet. I did get to watch the shuttle landing on the big screen with the Astrophysics department, and I get one last Thursday Ale Night tonight.


Tuesday marked my last day at Jodrell Bank, I will miss this telescope dearly.



I will also miss the fact that we have to keep the microwave in a faraday cage in order to prevent radio interference in our data. No, really. I’m not joking.











One thing I will not miss is my apartment. Living on the ground floor really creeps me out. Even with a window lock and chain I’m just not comfortable with my window being two feet off the ground. My apartment in Manhattan is happily on the 12th floor. It’s worth waiting in the elevator.


For my last meal I decided to use up all my garbanzo beans and make falafel. I guess I really do miss Soho… I had never made falafel at home before, but thanks to my lack in trust in directions it came out well.


I started by making a dry mixture of chickpeas, flour, cumin, coriander, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. I then placed this in a pot with about a cup of cold water (added a bit of veggie bullion), a bit of olive oil and at the last minute some cayenne (I realized I didn’t have any hot sauce to put on the final product)



Mixing this results in a thick liquidy substance that I was instructed to bring to a boil, then simmer while covered for 5-15 minutes (until the proper consistency is reached) This is where I ran into problems. It became clear as I brought it to a boil that it would very shortly bee to thick to consider “simmering” and if I let the paste sit there it would surely burn. So I forgot about the simmering idea and stirred it constantly until I felt it was a stick moldable consistency.



At this point I took the goo off the heat and let it cool to a touchable temperature. Mold the goo into balls, slightly smaller than a golf ball.






Then you can fry the result in some oil, until golden brown.








And serve hot with hummus. If you have any pita (which I did not) you can make a sandwich. I can’t wait to try this at home when I have veggies and home made hummus to go with it!



Well guys, this is it. My last post from Manchester. It was great, and I will miss it dearly. See you state-side!


~What type of food reminds you of home?

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So, maybe we’re getting a little homesick?

Or at least on the foodie frontier.

I absolutely love it here in Manchester. I love my job, I love the people, I love the city … But the one thing I don’t love is the food. Sure there’s a lot of great foreign food, wonderful Indian and Thai restaurants, but the actual British food is famously sub par. And the whole vegetarian thing limits my options even more. Though, I have found that eating out the UK is much friendlier towards vegetarians than the US, I have yet to find a restaurant (even a pub) here that does not list a “V” next to each vegetarian option they offer. But last night me and my flat mate decided to try to make an American meal that we could eat together.

Did I say American? Sorry, let me be more specific, Southern. Corn Pie and Fried Green Tomatoes (or Fried Chicken in my flat mate’s case). Perfect for watching the new episode of True Blood. Now I realize I’m about to spend two weeks down south with my family, but there’s something in me that sometimes gets a craving for spicy Creole cuisine (disappointingly hard to do without the fish), or a nice bowl of grits for breakfast. I’ve gotta be careful or I’ll start speaking with the southern twang of my childhood summers.

Yes, I know that's red.

Corn Pie:

The Corn Pie is a very slightly altered version of my flat mate’s recipe:

for some reason I think these are adorable

3/4 cup oil (her recipe is 1 cup margarine)

1 cup flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 cup sugar (her’s reads 1 cup)

4 eggs

4 oz. Green chiles (drained)

1 lb. cream corn

1/2 cup jack cheese (shredded)

1/2 cup cheddar cheese (shredded)

1/2 tsp. salt

  • Preheat the oven to 180*C
  • Blend wet and dry ingredients separately, then slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet.
  • Pour ingredients into an oiled and floured 8 x 12 baking pan.
  • Place the dish in the oven and REDUCE HEAT TO 150*C
  • Bake for ~1 hour

Not very healthy, but alright in moderation. Does anyone have any ideas on how to improve it’s health factor (let’s start with the oil!)

The pie tasted pretty good, though sweeter than I liked it. I’m also afraid that the peppers once again proved too spicy for my flat mate. It’s bizarre, our spice tolerances are so different that in the same dish she can’t eat I can’t taste even a hint of spice. Also to improve the health factor (and because it’s impossible to find here) we made our own creamed corn, with soy milk, flour, salt, pepper and of corse corn.

The Fried Green Tomatoes were quite easy to make, though quite difficult to find. I had to settle for “fried semi-ripe but not quite green tomatoes” instead. I served these with a Creole Remoulade:

~ 1 cup lt. Mayo, 1 Tbs. tomato paste, 3 Tbs. Creole mustard, paprika, cayenne, salt, 3/4 lemon (juiced), a dash of worcestershire sauce. Basically I just added spice to taste then let the flavors blend while chilling in the fridge. This would be better with some chopped capers and onions.


And what would a southern dinner be without Pralines for dessert? I followed this recipe for Buttermilk Bacon Pralines, except I vaganized it. I used a vegan “buttermilk” 1 Tbs. lemon juice and fill the rest of a measuring cup with soy milk. Don’t use rice milk, it doesn’t have the proteins needed to react with the acid. I wanted to use those soy bacon bits people like to put on salads but I couldn’t find them. I did, however, find some bacon flavored crunchy potato chips and crushed those up to use instead. I also sprinkled the final product with some sea salt.

This was fun, but I think I’d like to buy a candy thermometer when I get home. The whole “soft ball” test is messy and a bit aggravating.

After all that the episode of True Blood really wasn’t that great, but at least we had a fun time preparing for it.

~What’s your favorite Southern dish?

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No, that’s not a typo, it’s actually how you spell “Cardiff” in Welsh…

I apologize for going almost a whole week without even a brief post, but I’ve been in Wales at the Amaldi Conference since my last post.

As you can probably imagine I’ve been insanely busy, what with 16+ lectures a day, work, meeting people and trying to see a little bit of Cardiff.

I had a wonderful surprise when I got here and discovered my friend L. came all the way from Texas to attend the conference. L. and I lived together earlier this summer on South Padre Island, TX where we were two of very few girls at the UTB Summer School on Gravitational Wave Astronomy. It was a very fun, but difficult program and the students grew pretty close commiserating over General Relativity homework around the pool.

UTB on South Padre Island, TX

I was thrilled to see L. Here, she didn’t warn me she was coming at all. I thought I was going insane when I heard someone calling my name in a southern accent in Wales.

So most of my week would probably be quite boring to most of you (for an overview on the topic of the conference see my last post) but we did get some time to relax our brains and see a few cool things outside of the lecture halls.

Cardiff Castle:

In the center of town there is a small castle that has some features dating back 2000 years. Unfortunately most of what’s there now is a restoration after WWII, however, some pretty cool original architecture managed to survive. My favorite part was the Norman keep, perched a top a mont and surrounded by a moat.

If you feel up to braving the numerous, narrow (and apparently alliterative) steps then you’re rewarded with an amazing view of the city. Despite being totally unprepared in my heels it was worth the climb.

We didn’t get much free time in the city, but I think ours was well spent visiting the castle.

The National Museum: 

Last night we had a banquet at the Cardiff National Museum. It was by far the best venue they could have chosen. We had our reception I the French Impressionist gallery. The had a surprisingly impressive collection of Monet, Cézanne, Rodin, Morisot and one of the most beautiful Van Gogh’s I have ever seen:

Van Gogh: Landscape at Auvers in the Rain

(In case you can’t tell I’m a huge art fan. Studio art and art history are by far my favorite classes outside of Physics.)

This was then followed by a delightful dinner in the great hall. I think everyone had a great time and the banquet was a huge success (proven by the fact only a hand full of us showed up on time for the first lecture the next morning)

All in all Cardiff was wonderful (despite all the excess consonants in the Welsh language) but now I’m back home in Manchester. It’s odd to think I only have a week left here in the UK. Then a few short weeks of some family time (and continuing work on my internship) then back to school. Where did my summer go?!

Goals for the Summer (or what’s left of it):

    • finish my program for my internship
    • study for the GRE
    • figure out who I want to research under in the fall  (Astrophysics vs Condensed Matter)
    •  go to as many Tae Kwon Do classes as possible







































~ Do you have any goals for the rest of the summer?

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The weekend is finally here! My friends have moved on to Paris, and today I am also packing. I will be spending the next week in Wales, attending the 2011 Edoardo Amaldi Conference on Gravitational Waves (sounds impressive, no?) I don’t know that I can describe how excited I am to have the opportunity to attend this conference. The Amaldi meeting happens every two years with the aim to cover all aspects of the science of gravitational waves. This year’s program has a large number of topics scheduled including: source modeling, ground based detectors, space based detectors, pulsar timing, multi messenger astronomy and current GW search results.

But before I get too far ahead of myself let’s get a little background information. I bet many of you are sitting there thinking what in the world is a gravitational wave? Good question.

We’ve all heard the anecdote of Isaac Newton’s inspirational apple (also an inspiration for my blog title) he saw an apple fall which made him start thinking about gravity leading him to write his Law of  Universal Gravitation, which was the first to suggest that gravity could reach so far as to be responsible for the moon’s orbit around the earth and the earth’s orbit around the sun. He also was the first to describe gravity as the “drawing power” in matter, famously stating, “the apple draws the Earth, as well as the Earth draws the apple.” Newton, however, was not the first, nor the last to ponder gravity. It’s still a topic we are actively researching today.

In 1916 Albert Einstein published his Theory of General Relativity which draws from his previous Theory of Special Relativity and the Law of Universal Gravitation to provide a unified theory of gravity as a geometric property of spacetime. There is only one prediction in this theory that has yet to be experimentally observed: the gravitational wave.

Gravitational waves are pretty much exactly what they sound like, gravity propagating as a wave through spacetime at the speed of light. You can imagine the result looking similar to ripples on the surface of a pond.

Gravitational waves are created by accelerating masses. We most commonly look at orbiting sources, such as a black hole binary or inspiraling neutron stars.

(left: an artist’s interpretation of gravity waves produced by neutron stars in their inspiral and collision. source: NASA)

We have yet to directly detect one of these GWs, however in 1993 the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for indirect proof of the existence of GWs through the measurements of the Hulse-Taylor binary system.

So if we know they exist why hasn’t anyone detected a gravitational wave? Well, we’re trying. There are numerous organizations currently attempting to detect GWs. But actually detecting a gravitational wave as it distorts matter requires a sensitivity on the hairy edge of science and technology.

There are three main types of detectors in development and use. Ground based detectors, space based detectors, and pulsar timing arrays.


Ground Based Detectors:

The most prevalent type of detector are ground based interferometers. A traditional interferometer is a device where we shoot a laser at a half transparent mirror, which splits the laser into two beams, reflecting half the light at a 90* angle and allowing the other half to continue on a straight path. After traveling some distance those beams are then reflected off mirrors and recombined at the half transparent mirror where they travel as a single beam to an observing screen.

Traditional Michelson Interferometer

If the separated beams of light have traveled the same distance they recombine and form constructive interference and a bright spot will appear on the screen, however if they have traveled different lengths while separated they recombine and form destructive interference and a dark or dim spot will appear on the screen.

What physicists have done is take this idea of an interferometer, made the path lengths kilometers in distance and hung the mirrors so they are “free particles.” That way if a gravitational wave were to propagate over the massive interferometer we would see a specific interference pattern as the mirrors are distorted.

In the US we have LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) which has built two such interferometers, one in Livingston, Louisiana and another in Hanford, Washington, each with 4 km arms!

LIGO, Livingston

There are also multiple interferometers world wide: TAMA in Japan with 300 m arms, GEO in Germany with 600 m arms, and last but not least, with 3 km arms (the closest in arm length to LIGO) VIRGO in Italy. LIGO and VIRGO are currently in the process of revamping their interferometers and creating advanced LIGO and VIRGO to gain a greater sensitivity. This effort is to be completed by 2015.

Space Based Detectors:

There is currently an effort to send an interferometer into space. LISA the “Laser Interferometer Space Antenna” is an international corroboration planning on  building a space based interferometer with arm lenghts of 5 million km!


Unfortunately the U.S. stopped funding LISA in order to complete the James Webb Space Telescope, a very large and important project. Unfortunately it now appears as though congress is going to kill JWST as well. >:-(

Pulsar Timing:

(this is what I do!)

There is a group of physicists who are currently utilizing an array of millisecond pulsars to try to detect gravitational waves. Pulsars are spinning neutron stars that emit a beam of electromagnetic radiation. Their periods can be so well defined that the signal from a pulsar can be more accurate than an atomic clock. The idea is that if we observe these very accurate pulsars we should be able to observe a gravitational wave disturbance first as it distorts the earth and then the pulsars as a disruption in the signal responses. The pulsar people are also currently trying to improve their current sensitivity.

As I said I work with the pulsar people, though not directly in the actually detection process. I realize I’ve now written about 1,000 words about science in what’s been predominantly a food blog but really this is a huge topic and I’ve tried to stay as nontechnical and brief as I could.

Physics is fun!

~Any Questions?

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