Archive for the ‘physics’ Category

be back soon!




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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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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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