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Summer_f

It has been an amazing 8 weeks of discovery, adventure, and friendship (would you like some mozzarella with your cheese?); all culminating with a research symposium, quasars, and the macarena… yeah that dance still exists.

About halfway through my research position, I decided that I wanted to do more than run someone else’s code in order to search for highly variable active galactic nuclei. Up to that point, I had heard that it would be very good to learn Python because it was becoming more and more relevant in astronomy and was beginning to replace IDL. I asked Dr. Barth if he would be ok with me taking time off of using the original methodology that was being used to analyze images from the Palomar Transient Factory in order to figure out a way to make Python do a major streamlining of the processes. Dr. Barth was incredibly encouraging of me doing this and said it would be fine to dedicate myself to the Python streamlining project full-time.

Learning to code in Python was a blast! The desire to create machinery to do a job for you is incredibly fun, especially when it works. When it doesn’t work though, which is 97.86% of the time, it is still fun because of the challenge of figuring out where you went wrong. A friend once told me that coding is like talking to the dumbest human being ever imagined. Every instruction must be explained word for word, without a single missing detail, and everything is taken literally. Concocting a set of instructions to make this “incompetent” human execute my desires made time fly like nothing else. Within two weeks, the function agnstreamlining() was born in it’s infancy, taking me from outputting 5-8 light curves a day to as many as 30. One week later, it matured into a not-as-high-maintenance-child capable of outputting as many as 300 light curves a day. One more week and my agnstreamlining module was not only outputting the light curves of every list of AGNs I gave it, but also outputting statistics, eliminating outliers/bad data, and organizing every light curve into a database based on standard deviation and error calculations so that I could find the absolute best AGNs without too much of a hassle. Needless to say, I am the proud father of a little monster named agnstreamlining.

Meanwhile, lots of adventures took place. There were many trips with my Floridia mates who seemed in awe at just how much better California is than Florida; the Long Beach and Disneyland trips were a riot. Katy Wimberly and I had the opportunity to watch Dr. Elliot Young perform a remote observation on Pluto using the Keck telescopes from the remote observation room at UCI.  The remote observing was incredibly exciting even though the result was just a few pixels on screen representing Pluto and Charon. Dr. Young explained a lot about some of the fascinating knowledge about Pluto, such as how much Pluto’s surface shifts within a short time span, it’s strange chemical makeup, and the cosmic dance Pluto does with Neptune in order to remain in a stable orbit.

The research symposium was the last day of the program. My research presentation went great as did those of all my friends from the SURF program. It was my first time doing a PowerPoint talk for a reason other than earning a letter grade for a class. There was the added difficulty of needing to present to a general audience which included non-STEM majors. I can assure you that much picture-painting took place. The experience really opened my eyes to what it takes to explain complex concepts in Physics in a succinct way in order to get through to presenting my actual findings within a 10 minute talk and then having the audience actually understand what I said by the end.

The night ended with a healthy house celebration which included great conversation, good beer, good vibes, salsa dancing, and, of course, the macarena. The following morning featured emotional good-byes and nostalgia to last me longer than I’d like. That afternoon featured a great lunch gift with my mentor’s research group and another bout of professional, yet emotional goodbyes. With that, my summer has come to an end from the initial to final phases of my “summer system.” I have gained an amazing collection of experiences in the process and take it as an interesting coincidence that the sorority house we lived in was labeled ΔΔΔ. 

 

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