Testing, testing 1,2,3

Hi guys :) I am just testing this out … Can’t wait to meet you all!!

My favorite picture

My favorite picture

Potential Grad Advisors

This is not the post I had intended to put up first after being away awhile; however given the timing, I want this available for CAMPARE students as some of you are going into your grad school applications in this or future years. What is common sense to some isn’t to others, so if this is helpful to even one person it will be worth it.

My graduate school advisor is great for me; her points of strength are ones I was seeking and her weaknesses are ones I knew I am capable of working with. This is not true for everyone and many students will change advisors or go through some really rough times by not figuring out what they need/want and what the person they are thinking of for an advisor is actually like. That said, there will be many things you won’t really discover until you are actually there, working with that advisor (communication is always key!). However, let me just say that how you and your graduate advisor mesh will utterly define your experience, and likely success, as a result.

You have now done at least a summers worth of research. From it, figure out roughly three things that worked really well for you and three that are the bottom of the barrel for you. For example, if you are somewhat new to research and do not work well being left alone, make sure your are looking for an advisor who is more hands on and involved as opposed to someone who will be totally hands off. Or if you prefer a more personable relationship, you may want to avoid someone who only cares about research results. When you are looking at potential advisors, ask to contact current or previous students and ask how they feel that advisor fits with those key things that you listed. Ask them for the key things they were looking for and if they got that. Additionally, try and meet your potential grad advisors, whether its at a conference or through a skype call. You can learn a lot and get a really good feel for how you and this potential advisor will get along from these real-time interactions that you just wont get via email.

So what would I list as my key things?
What I wanted
1) Someone who would let me hit the ground running, pursuing my own direction,
2) Someone who valued my non-traditional path,
3) Someone who would support my outreach and beyond-research endeavors,
4) Planetary science (specifically icy moon processes) focused research!

What I wanted to avoid:
1) Uncompromising, vigorous, and single-minded research focused (great for top tier dedicated researchers, but not for me),
2) Constant dictating of what the ‘right’ way to do something is,
3) Someone with a reputation for making things difficult or impossible for students.

Sometimes the things I want to avoid are the antithesis of what I sought in an advisor. It is worth noting, however, what those characteristics are and identifying both ends of the spectrum in people.

That’s it for now! Good luck to everyone all around!


What?! I’m not crying… that’s just Fresno’s smog in my eye…

Holy (David Vega’s) guacamole batman!

I cannot believe I am sitting in my ultra-comfortable memory foam mattress right now, connected to fast WiFi, sweating in the Fresno heat! Being home after 10 overwhelmingly wonderful weeks of SETI is surreal. I feel like I should be returning to the SETI Institute on Monday, where I’ll see all my peers’ smiling (or stressed-out) faces as we furiously type at laptops and computers, shove Tuesday colloquium pizza in our faces, and have wild conversations about anything between El Chupacabra, the fact that Angela had never had tacos before, and Dyson Spheres. It is so strange, after being around chatter box friends 24/7, to come home and be on my lonesome, quiet in my bed after discussing relatively “normal” things with my family all day on my way back home. I won’t be falling asleep to my roommate passionately describing how Kepler eliminates the probability that their data is a false-positive, or microwaving dinner as David tells me about the adaptive optics behind the Gemini Planet Imager, or folding my laundry to Luis’ mock-presentation about teaching computers the ability to classify rocks based upon spectra.

Everyday activities suddenly become boring and lonely again as I adjust to being home. This causes me to realize that one of the best parts of the SETI Institute internship is the complete immersion into science and the sense of wonderment. Between living on NASA Ames with all the other interns, the MANY generous field trips SETI provided, and abundant colloquiums and science talks one cannot help but feel their passion for their project or space exploration grow with great strength. Without any distractions like school, work, family, you’re forced to sleep, eat, and breathe science and SETI, and there’s nothing better than it! Though each of us interns had completely different, distinct personalities, we all had very similar passions that drove us to be in the same place at the same time this summer. I’ve never felt so loved, accepted, and inspired by such a large, diverse group of people in my entire life. It comforts and warms my soul to know that there are honest, passionate, and incredibly hard working people rising in the scientific community. I cannot wait to maybe collaborate later on in my career to better not just the scientific effort, but society as well.

I regret not taking the time to blog more during this summer. It flew by so fast I could barely process what was happening, much less take time to type out a complete sentence about my experiences. I hope to post more though in the next week to recount what I experienced and make up for it. As things slow down, I will definitely get some more pictures up here too.

Before I forget, however, I’d love to thank everyone at the SETI Institute (especially Jean Chiar & Cynthia Phillips, my awesome mentor Adrian Brown), Dr. Rudolph & those involved in CAMPARE, and all my fellow interns for being some of the greatest human beings I know. This experience was unbelievably amazing and life-changing. I feel so lucky and grateful, even though I am currently suffering from severe Post SETI Depression as I try to process what I’m going to miss about the last ten weeks. Hopefully I’ll get to see most of my peers in the near future at either the CAMPARE symposium, AGU & LPSC, and when I fly out to New York to see my roommate during spring break.

MARINA YOU’RE THE BEST! I love you so much! You’ve definitely become one of my best friends, even a sister, and it’s so freaking weird not sharing a room with you tonight. I can’t sleep!

Goodnight and see you soon!





Hard work ALWAYS pays off

As a former CAMPARE participant, I wanted to write few words of encouragement for the current and future CAMPARE students!
So, I am finally starting a new chapter in my life. My graduate school career begins in just 3 days! For several years I was doing everything to get to this point. Working at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, SETI Institute and Dr. Peter Beyersdorf at San Jose State University were one of the best choices I have ever made. I feel proud that I am very prepared to take on a new challenge and start working even harder at the Liquid Crystal Institute.














Many of you are either already in a graduate school or will be applying to go to one. If you are already in a grad. school of your choice – CONGRATS! If you are hoping to get into one soon – BEST OF LUCK!!!

In either case, nothing is ever easy! In any point of your career there are going to be new plans, new deadlines and new obstacles that you will have to power through. If you are like me and get stressed easily, try to relax because if YOU know that you tried everything in your power to succeed, then you WILL!

My advice is to work hard because every action or inaction has consequences. Try your best to stay on top of things and motivate yourself to go forward especially when things do not work out the way you wanted them to. At the end your hard work will pay off!

My new plan is to rotate in Dr. Oleg Lavrentovich’s research group for at least a semester and work on nanosecond electro-optics switching of nematic liquid crystals. On top of that, I am very excited about my first TA assignment, which requires me to teach two Physics labs!

I will keep everyone posted on how my first year of graduate school goes as time goes on…

To new beginnings!!










Yup, the countdown has begun.

I cannot believe there are less than two weeks left! While I really want to be sentimental and reflective, I have a lot of work to do! There’s no time for “the feels” when there’s science to be done! More specifically, in my case, when there are three presentations to finish, a research poster to finish, oh and not to mention, my research project!

My project is coming along well. I’ve slain Excel and MySQL. Though, I’m sure there are wizards out there who can do all kinds of nifty database-managerial stuff with MySQL. With my newfound mastery, I’ve been able to pull all kinds of information out of the database easily and quickly organize, chart and graph it. Last week Dr. Harp and I started analyzing this data, from the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), using linear and linear-log models. We began with a one-parameter model and are now looking at 3 and 4 parameter models. The data from SETI on the ATA (SonATA) has never been analyzed before. Witnessing first hand how such data is analyzed and how models are created is so cool and I understand it! I never knew log-base-10 could be so useful! One of my favorite parts about this summer is learning and seeing how new science is done. I’ve realized, I’m the only one that’s (probably) going to double check my math in great detail and that if I’m not careful, one teeny mistake can end up taking hours to correct. Though, Excel formulas do make it much easier to fix early mistakes since corrections automatically follow through to the end! Also, copy and paste have become my best friends!

While Copy and Paste are good to me, I’m really excited to go home in mere days to my real friends and family. I’m, also, really excited to go back to a REAL summer! This 70 degrees junk and the constant wind up here are have thwarted my summer buzz. I grew up in Riverside and actually miss that nasty, dry, 100-degree weather. Only 12 more days and I will be warm!

Making the Most of It

These last few weeks have been kind of interesting. Research has been difficult because the internet is no longer has very useful help. On the bright side now I’m browsing more papers and journals to get information so I’m getting a taste of what the read world of astronomy is like. I especially enjoy reading astronomical reviews because they give you just basic information about specific topics. As far as the actual research I have been learning from my mistakes about photometry, flux calibration and continuum subtraction. This means we will finally be able to do science from my images! I’m getting closer to the goal which is to see if there is any Halpha emission coming from my supernova. This will tell us about how the host galaxy contributed to the explosion and what the star used to be like before the core collapsed.

Now onto the fun stuff. I found this little critter on the back patio while I was on the phone. Crawled right under me! So I did the most instinctual girly thing and ran back into the apartment…This thing was bigger than my hand. I have to admit, I did not take this picture...

Thing was bigger than my hand. I have to admit, I did not take this picture…

I also went to visit a cousin of mine in Phoenix. We went hiking on Saturday and then went to the Grand Canyon on Sunday. It was sprinkling and very cloudy but it was nice because the weather wasn’t hot at all and the way the cloud touched the top of the canyon looked beautiful.

Clouds Kissing the Canyon

This next picture was taken to scare my father, but in the text message he simply replied with a “hooray no more college payments!” so jokes on me.
Cheese level: 100%

I also thought I would share my afternoon at the pool view with you. I love California but nothing beats a desert sunset.
photo 5

Networking win! I found some courage to go across the street to mingle with some REU students at the NOAO building. They are all really nice students from all over the country! We decided to celebrate TGIWT: Thank god it’s wing Tuesday.

The Storm Hit and Started a Fire

Actually, the storm of events that was last week and the fires in Northern California are not related but are both huge impacts on my summer.

The Eiler Fire is mere miles from the Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek, CA. All the scientists and staff at the ATA have been evacuated and the power is off. While this has very big and scary implications for SETI Institute, it’s completely changed my research goals. The archived data, which is the foundation of my project, is physically located at the ATA, thus it will be inaccessible at least until the fire is contained. The estimated containment date is August 20th. So now I’m facing the daunting task of redefining my project with the data all ready pulled. I guess research problems come in all forms. Needless to say, this week is not looking as cheery as last week was.

I am rejoicing in the slower pace of this week, though. Attending 5 presentations, giving a presentation, participating in a documentary interview, visiting an amazing observatory and watching two movies in one day are exhausting! The presentations were all really fascinating. I’ve learned so much about public speaking from watching seasoned veterans like Seth Shostak, Jill Tarter, Geoff Marcy and Chris McKay. After my presentation, I know my biggest hurdle will be learning to speak directly to the audience without reading my slide notes, rambling or losing track of where I’m going. I’m proud of my Journal Club presentation but I have to work on presentation style. I created a transcript in my notes for the presentation. I thought this would help keep me on track and soothe my nerves. It worked far too well, I ended up reading too often from the screen and sounding rehearsed. Luckily, I have 4 more presentations to prepare for in the next few months! As intense as life will be, it will be nice to present back to back to really engrain the improvements.

Learning more about the Allen Telescope Array from the amazing Dr. Jill Tarter who build them with her own hands.

Learning more about the Allen Telescope Array from the amazing Dr. Jill Tarter who build them with her own hands.

I was able to be fairly concise during the Madame Mars interview actually! I seriously have a rambling problem, so I ultra-focused on giving to the point answers. I’m really excited to see the final product. Mainly everyone else’s interviews! The documentary looks at women in science, our goals, interplanetary dreams, and how gender roles have or haven’t affected our careers. Their questions were very open-ended which allowed for the wide range of viewpoints amongst the 5 interns to shine through. I’m very much more of actions are greater than words type when it comes to discrimination. Even though I’m a minority women in a sea of old white guys, I don’t feel marginalized because I pay no attention to it. I’m going to do, ask, learn and experience everything I want. I just don’t have time to worry about being marginalized, if someone does discriminate against me I find a way around that person instead of fretting over the discrimination. Luckily, I live in a time when discrimination is essentially illegal, so ways around the discriminator are much easier now than ever before. I’m very thankful for this.

I’m, also, very thankful for the trip we were taken on to Lick Observatory. I’m no observatory aficionado but Lick is incredibly beautiful! The fact that cutting edge science is conducted amongst such beauty makes me want to live there!

Looking over the bay from Mount Hamilton on the steps of Lick Observatory

Looking over the bay from Mount Hamilton on the steps of Lick Observatory

The dome houses the 36 inch James Lick telescope.

The dome houses the 36 inch James Lick telescope.

Drainage holes make great frames!

Drainage holes make great frames!

Inside the dome. The James Lick telescope is a steampunk dream! I feel like the horizontal gears should actually be Tesla coils.

Inside the dome. The James Lick telescope is a steampunk dream! I feel like the horizontal gears should actually be Tesla coils.

Every inch of the observatory and it's grounds are beautiful.

Every inch of the observatory and it’s grounds are beautiful.

Ending that crazy busy week with a weekend in San Jose with my husband was so perfect. We ate all our meals outside enjoying the cool summer breeze, watched two dope movies (Get On Up and Guardians of the Galaxy) and attended the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s public event, Universe 2014. Each talk and the panel were incredible! It must be a fine tuned skill to give professionals new information while still appealing to the general public. I learned so much and my husband, who’s an animator, enjoyed every moment of it and was so excited by all that he learned! One day, I too will master public outreach like they have!

Enjoying the beautiful San Jose weather!

Enjoying the beautiful San Jose weather!

Lick is…

The most fun I’ve had at an Observatory ever!

To put my effusive, millenial self in a bit of context this was the first time I visited an observatory where the telescopes are still doing cutting edge science.
Hopefully, it will not be my last.

I took a number of pictures while at Lick and have a sample of the nice, not blurry ones here.


First, is one of the original building from the 1890’s. It contains a gift shop and the two telescope domes seen, among other things. The near dome contains the three foot refracor (we were able to look at a globular cluster, and the ring nebula with it later in the evening). The far one was open later presumably to do research.


This is a view along CA 130 (a small road but still a state highway) as we walked to the large telescope at the observatory. I include it because the 2.4m telescope in it is fully automatic  (it is controlled by a computer) and looks for exoplanets. It has already found a few even though it was commissioned earlier this year.



These two pictures are of the largest telescope Lick has: the Shane 3.0m reflector. Besides being a nice large thing to see, other details hide in these pictures . the equipment at the base of the telescope is an older camera and spectrometer. Newer instruments are in the basement where they can be bigger (heavier) and in a more controlled climate. The light gets there through an opening in the support structure as shown. The laser Lick used to pioneer adaptive optics can be seen in the first picture (it runs the length of the telescope). Adaptive optics used the laser to create an artificial star in the atmosphere (as seen by the telescope) and use it to subtract out the effects of atmospheric distortion (the twinkling we see when we look at stars).


This is the view looking back from the Shane sunset is coming.

lick sunset

Finally a beautiful view of the bay and sunset. I wanted a picture of the planet finder when it was open and the red moon as it set through a thick atmosphere but these turned out to blurry  to be worth it.

Almost like a sad nature documentary, though, Lick is endangered. The University of California plans to stop its funding of Lick in 2018 and I at least would be sad to see that happen from what I learned during my visit. They have a website which you can visit if you like me are concerned about losing one of California’s premiere research observatories, and science outreach facilities.

In other news, the SETI interns and I inherited a book on grammar and usage. It was written by someone who worked at NASA Ames and had an annoying habit of correcting people. The book is actually rather funny. Between having the book and sending my blog posts for proofreading I have become aware of what texting slang can do to a person’s grammar. I should therefore thank the book and astroblog for pointing this out to me and making me more aware of the need for clear communications.

Quiet before the storm?

Last week was a little uneventful, which meant it was my most productive research week so far! I finally made a pretty and giant code to get all the information from the database at once. I was sooo happy but, also, felt incredibly lame at the same time. The issue that was holding me up was figuring out how to string together multiple queries. After Googling for days, literally, and trying allllllll sorts of combinations, I got frustrated enough to just put the dang queries next to one another AND IT WORKED! So you see, I was thrilled and thoroughly annoyed. Haha. With a functionin code, I worked away, pulling data, organizing, analyzing and even graphing! I even got a “Good Job!”, exclamation point included.

Aside from research advances, I was really proud of myself for finishing my Journal Club presentation a whole 6 days ahead of time! It was nice to not stare at it for a few days before getting a list of corrections from my mentor. Thankfully the correction was not “This is bullocks! Start over!” It’s really only a few minor changes to give my presentation a better sense of the big picture. I’ve never been great at explaining the big picture to others. This will be good practice! My presentation is on a paper written by Andrew Siemion from UC Berkley about the SETI projects conducted there with a focus on Astropulse, conducted at the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico and Fly’s Eye, conducted at the Alan Telescope Array in Northern California ran by SETI Institute. Both projects search for radio pulses sent by extraterrestrial intelligent beings. So, it’s almost like I’m a spy reporting back on the competitor’s activities! (But not really since the paper was published 4 years ago and the authors work closely with SETI’s radio astronomy team.)

While I’ve kept myself gainfully employed, I’ve actually worked out and continued to study for the GRE! It helps that I keep the weekends and evenings pretty quiet. It’s actually kind of nice to do nothing on a weekend. I’m so used to running around doing errands and visiting family that doing nothing has been great! Though, I’m also really excited to have my husband come up this weekend. We’re calling it our Movie Weekend, 2 movies in 2 days! (It was going to be 3 movies but we’re attending the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Universe 2014 public event on Sunday. Dr. Jill Tarter and Dr. Chris McKay and Dr. Geoff Marcy will be speaking about SETI.)

Actually this whole week has been and will continue to be busy and awesome. Today’s SETI Talks colloquium was given by a PhD student at UC Davis, Sona Hosseini, and was on the tunable spatial heterodyne spectrometer she built and does science with for her PhD program. Her story and how driven she is to create her own path is really inspiring. Tomorrow Dr. Seth Shostak is giving a talk on his experiences in Africa, I’m participating in a group interview for a documentary, called Madame Mars, on women in science and getting the first person on Mars to be female (which definitely needs to happen), then we’re taking a field trip to Lick Observatory in the evening. Thursday, Dr. Tarter is the colloquium speaker at Ames, Friday is my Journal Club presentation and this weekend is Movie Weekend! Then there’s only three weeks left! Oh. Man.

Of coding and presentations

The past few weeks have found me mostly running the radiative transfer model for my research, trying to figure out why its plots don’t match observed data as well as they could, and occasionally breaking it. I also gave a talk about a journal article related to my project as part of the REU’s journal club. The code models the interactions between a dying star (calm enough that it won’t go supernova, and instead turn into a white dwarf) and the the dust around it. The star radiates and this affects the chemistry of the dust. The code outputs a graph of the spectrum we would expect to see and hopefully it fits a collection of observed data points. I have been varying input parameters to see if there is a set that makes the model fit the data. So far the fits are not as good as they could be,  but there a few weeks left to find ways to improve the model. There have been a couple of times I “broke” the code. These happened when I tried to change one of the inputs (dust geometry, or grain size and extinction coefficient) to inputs that would make more sense for the object being modeled. The first time the radius of the dust shell that makes sense was too big for some part of the code to know what to do with so it returned infinities and no plots as I was used to. The second happened this past Friday and I still need to talk to my mentor about it. I guess it is a good thing I am finding these errors, though, so that they they can be fixed for future protects for which my mentor and her colleagues will use the code. Edit (July 28 10:00am) I have fixed “I think I broke it #2″. I feel a little embarrassed as I was inputting the wrong value for extinction coefficient. My talk was about the chemistry (specifically distribution of objects based on things like size or charge) of these things: PAH structure figure They are called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and can be used to keep track of other chemistry going on in nebulae.  A very nice data base of them and their spectra can be found at (click browse). This is the database the paper used to create maps that keep track of PAH properties. The paper looked at the following part of  NGC 7023. This is rather zoomed in but was the region where the authors of the paper had good data, and was interesting because of the change in dust density that can be seen. apj467668f1_lr Besides my research, the weekends have been relatively quiet, which has been nice. :)