Monthly Archives: October 2009

MDRS – Initial Preparation

Well, for any of you that have seen me within the last few days, I have been ecstatic about being selected for the 89th Crew at the MDRS. It’s strangely fitting that our rotation number is also my birth year… But I digress. I’ve been reading operation manuals and field reports and basically any bit of information I can get on past MDRS crews and what they studied.

I’ve also become acquainted with my fellow crewmates through e-mail and Facebook, and it’s a good feeling to put a face and background to the five people I’ll be living with for two weeks. It has also given me an opportunity to find out exactly where I fit in with these highly-qualified individuals, and what I can do to help bridge the gap between the various disciplines. I guess Briggs has taught me well if integrating four plus sciences was one of the first things I thought of!

Musk Mars Desert Observatory -

I came to a conclusion on my main area of expertise: Astronomy. While I could theoretically fit in as an assistant in the geology, biology, or even psychology domains of our mission, I think that showing that astronomical observations and short-term research projects are a viable area of work for future Mars astronauts, if even just to show that it can be done. As such, aside from showing some cool sights in our universe, like M31 (Andromeda Galaxy), M42 (Orion Nebula), and M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy), I will be imaging Mars, which thankfully will be up during our entire rotation, the Moon, Saturn (near the end), and my own little project, if it is OKed with my crew commander.

That is studying a subset of eight Algol-type (eclipsing binary) Variable stars. I found these stars within both Canis Major and Canis Minor, as well as Orion and Taurus, all of which will be high in the sky for our rotation. Due to the “eclipsing binary” nature of these stars, the magnitude dips may be difficult to observe with the limited observational time, but that’s also why they appealed to me. If these can be analyzed from the Martian surface, complete with its dust storms, then other less- delicate experiments can definitely be completed.

And everything will be done using the Musk Mars Observatory, complete with an in-sim control computer within the Hab, which I am very excited about. The only part of this research that would be out-of-sim would be any cleaning I would need to do to the telescope, plus opening and closing the dome and a few other things. Nothing too big, plus during the day will be constant sim, so getting a break might be nice. Or not. I’ll have to see in 85 days.

I’m also getting to work on the crew patch with our Biologist, which is great! I haven’t really had a chance to flex my creative muscles visually in a while (last time was at MST with the clay lion), and it’s really coming along well so far.


I’m going to MARS!

Well, not technically Mars… This morning, after getting back to my apartment following my race, I sat down and checked my e-mail to find a message from The Mars Society asking if I was still available for one of the crew rotations that I applied for way back when. Needless to say, I am very excited!

Honestly, I did not think that I would be accepted. I don’t have that much research experience when compared to even people I know, plus my research experience is scattered across basically four disciplines (Physics, Mathematics, Biology, and Chemistry). Maybe that got me the job…? Anyway, I am very excited and just spent part of my morning telling a bunch of my friends and my family about it. About half of the responses thought that I was joking, probably because my message was “I’m going to Mars!” without really explaining anything.

So, I really need to save up my money this semester to help offset the costs. I’m also looking for donations, so feel free to contact me via e-mail if you want to lend twenty bucks. Don’t feel obligated to do so, since I understand how costly donations can be right now, so don’t worry at all if you can’t give money.

But to more serious matters, I don’t even know what I’ll be doing for the program! I applied to be a crew scientist in either Physics, Astronomy, or Biology, as well as the crew “journalist,” so I don’t know what’s on my plate for those two weeks in January (which unfortunately includes my birthday, but I’ll deal). In a weird turn of events, the author of Astronaut for Hire will be the crew commander. Pretty sweet, right?

Ok, with that excitement out of the way, I can include a condensed version of what I was planning on posting when I got back home. I came in 5th in my age group this morning at the first 5k I’ve ran in over a year with a time of 20:33. While the time isn’t that good, the worst part is that the third place finisher was only a few seconds ahead of me, meaning that I could have walked home with a medal. Anyway, it was a great race, especially with almost no training and an Ultimate Frisbee-induced injury on Friday that I’m still recovering from, so I’m happy.

Mid-Semester Update

Well, with half of October gone and my first season of midterms complete, I figured it would be good to take a step back and see where I am on all fronts, not just school work. There’s been a lot on my plate recently, and I really just need to organize my thoughts and get ready for the rest of the semester.

PHY 422 – Classical Mechanics II
I’ve been doing pretty well on the homeworks, and I’ve been understanding all of the information fine as well, but I am worried about this class. I had my first exam in it this morning, worth 15% of my grade, and it did not go well… The second problem was a complete mess, with me fervently erasing my work on it three or four times before time was called. I have no idea exactly how many points I’ll get from it, and if a curve will be placed, but those may determine how much more time I need to put into the class.

MTH 310 – Abstract Algebra and Number Theory I
Remember when I said that this class was the bane of my existence? Well, not so much any more. After a 2/10 on a homework assignment and a talk with the professor, I kicked things into high gear, got a 10/10 on the next homework and a 93% on the exam. The two most recent homeworks have been fine as well, and I am enjoying the class much more as well. Bonus points: the professor knows my name! I’ll chalk this one up as a 4.0 unless something bad starts to happen again.

PHY 471 – Quantum Mechanics I
One of two Honors classes I’m taking (this one via an Option), this class has been going well. I rushed through the exam, so I didn’t get as high of a score as I had hoped, but my homework assignments have been much better recently. I’ve also started the process of working on the H-Option paper, which means I’ve looked at the provided topics and started thinking about which ones I may want to research and write about. Of course, I am on the professor’s radar since I asked for the topics a few weeks before he was going to send them out, and he also knows my name! This should be a 4.0, but a 3.5 may occur if the subsequent exams aren’t up to snuff.

AST 308 – Galaxies and Cosmology
This class isn’t hard, at least it hasn’t been, but in the last few days we’ve completely switched gears on what we’re learning and everything else, meaning that I’ve had to spend a little more time preparing for class. Homework assignments for this one are on the back-burner, but at the same time I never worry about completing them in time. It’s just an Astrophysics course, and I like telling people that I’m working on Cosmology. I also got a 91% on the last exam, even with guessing on quite a few answers…

LB 330H – Social Aspects of Climate Change
This class has been almost no work so far, except for one small thing: discussion leader. My date for leading discussion is tomorrow, meaning that I will be teaching the class on glacial, oceanic, and storm system changes due to climate change. I will also be leading discussion on a few select topics within that, but that just takes up more time that I need to fill. That presentation will be 15% of my grade, but at the same time I won’t have more work until some papers are due and I have another small presentation. Not worried about this one either.

LB 119 – Calculus II
This is my third semester as an LA, and it does get easier the more you do it. I have a year of material that I can cross reference when I need to, such as this past week with sequences and series. I’m glad that I’m working for Bell again, since I enjoyed having him as a professor, plus I’ll be asking him about writing/editing a reference letter for some internships for the summer.

Speaking of internships, here’s a quick run-down on what I’m applying to:

NASA USRP: I’d be going to either JPL, Marshall, or Goddard and doing some Physics or Astrophysics research for ten weeks. Should be a great experience if I get it, plus I’d be working for NASA!
UC-Davis: Again, Physics or Astrophysics research on the left coast. It would be sweet seeing another college, plus leaving the state would be perfect for me.
Notre Dame: Closer to home, but the experience should still be great. Plus, I know a few people who may be down there, so it would be easier to relax on the weekends.
DAAD-RISE: Currently, the application process is closed, so I can’t even begin researching potential universities and projects, but I’ll probably be applying to this one again this year. I’ll decide in winter if I really want to, but if I get one of these I may pick it over any other internship.
MDRS: A quirky two-week program in Nevada during spring semester, but I’d actually get to see what an astronaut would be doing in the future. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be able to take the opportunity if given, but since I probably won’t get the job either, no worries!

I have basically everything done for these (minus DAAD-RISE), or have already sent out the application (MDRS), but the applications won’t be finalized until December or January when I can send out a transcript with my fall semester grades. So, for now, these are just sitting on my computer while I tick off days on the calendar.

A couple quick facts. I’m running a 5K on Sunday, and I have been training for it. I should be fine, although a sub-19:00 probably won’t sprout from my feet. Apartment has been fine, with all three of us resigned for next year, and I am still enjoying it. 40k is completely dead due to lack of time. Guitar is progressing amazingly, with soloing and recording playing a major role now. I’m watching The Office every Thursday, plus my DVDs whenever I want. SO is non-existant, and I don’t think my attempts are doing anything to change that, which sucks. I was just sick for a few days. My 21st birthday is in 97 days.

Why I chose MSU

A little over two years ago, I was faced with a choice between three schools for where I would be spending my undergraduate career: University of Vermont, Michigan State University, and University of Michigan. The first school was never really an option, partially because of the cost and partial because of the available programs, so I really had a pick between two sides of a coin. I went back and forth for a while until finally deciding on MSU, which may have possibly been the best choice I’ve ever made.

What made me pick MSU over UMich, you might ask? It was a tough call, honestly, and I think it was such a tough call because I grew up worrying more about the Yale-Harvard football game, or the Syracuse-Princeton lacrosse rivalry, or any number of East Coast-oriented rivalries. I didn’t care one iota about MSU/UMich for most of my life, to the extent that I can’t recall ever wearing either school’s colors or icons. I will admit that I did have a slight UMich bias due to the fact that seemingly every adult in my neighborhood cheered for them, but at the same time I drew ‘S’s all over our driveway in chalk.

In high school, I dated a girl from a purebred UMich family. For a little under a year and a half, I had to pretend like I cared about the football season, that I cared about the MSU/UMich game, that I cared about football in general. I knew from the moment that I met her that she would be going to UMich when she graduated, and I was eventually right. My group of friends back then basically split into two upon graduation, with one-half going to MSU and the others going to UMich.

But back to my choice. After breaking up with my girlfriend, I became closer to the half that would eventually become the MSU group, as well as met some kids from a nearby high school, one of which would become my roommate for the (currently) entirety of my college career. A few of them described this program at MSU called Lyman Briggs, which they said was focused on preparing people for careers in medicine, but after a little more research I found out it was for any science major. I was seriously torn between the two schools, and even with the mental restraint against going to the same school as my ex-girlfriend, I guess I retained some of my original, minor leanings toward UMich, so I decided to visit there first.

I’m going to interrupt again for a moment, just to describe what my family thought would happen. Basically the entirety of my immediate family thought I would attend MSU, while basically the entirety of my extended family thought that I would attend UMich. I didn’t even know what I would be studying upon graduation, but my family was already drawing “battle lines” about my future fate. It was going to be a tough call either way, which is why I’m glad that my parents didn’t tell me about this family debate until after I had made my choice.

So, I visited UMich with my mom. We sat through an orientation session where the speakers talked about the great history and past of the university, the great things that their graduates have done, and things like that. They made us stand up and sing their fight song, and then came strike one: I felt silly singing the song. I laughed about it with my mom before we split up into two different sessions. I then sat through the session on extracurricular activities, and I asked about Ultimate Frisbee: they had a team. That kind of diminished the strike against the school, so for now we’ll just say that we’re back to even.

We broke up into smaller groups, and my mom was back in the group with me. We had to introduce ourselves to the rest of the group and the tour guide, including saying the last funny movie that we saw. Mine was “She’s the Man,” which is a hilarious movie based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The tour guide blatantly said, “that’s a stupid movie,” and then continued on to the next student (slightly paraphrased). The strike against UMich got re-chalked up with the obvious display of conceit and arrogance, since the movie wasn’t what he thought was funny so it must then be stupid and inferior to his favorite funny movies.

He led us out into the campus and we went into one of the dormitories. While waking, I just looked around at the buildings and the people that we walked past, trying to picture myself on campus for four years. We finally entered the dorm, and he showed us a sample room. I took a peak in, checked it out, then walked back into the hallway.

This is when I turned to my mom and said, “I’m going to MSU.”

I didn’t see myself going to school there, walking to classes, hanging out in my dorm room, eating in the cafeteria, meeting people, and having a good time. We walked back to our car, got on the freeway, and I called my dad and my sister to tell them the news.

So, I contacted the three schools and informed them of my choice, set my major as “Lyman Briggs – Undecided,” and prepared for the next part of my life. I talked with two of my friends about the roommate situation, eventually deciding to room with the kid I met from the nearby high school, I looked into the Physics program, since I had basically finalized my choice of major, and finished out my senior year of high school, eagerly anticipating a time three months distant where I wouldn’t be living in Beverly Hills anymore.

Right now, I’m sitting in my room in my apartment just off the MSU campus, with my head on a State pillow and a State flag hanging next to my door, after wasting time leading Calculus recitation for Briggs Calc II and before heading to my office hours and my upper-level Briggs HPS class. There will probably be some guitar playing and studying mixed in there as well.

Like I said, it was the best choice of my life.

Advanced College Education

I’m at the point in my college career that my classes are so advanced, so complex, that just mentioning their names to people make them view me as the second coming of Einstein. The funniest comment was when I told a friend that I was doing homework for Quantum Mechanics; his response was, “they have a class for that?” I feel pretty good about little things like that, since I am working really hard on my college education and making sure that I learn as much as I can. Why else would I be taking extra classes that aren’t required?

There is, however, a funny side to being in advanced classes as well. Since everyone is at the same level, and the professors know it, they commonly treat it more like a discussion between peers than as a professor-to-student interaction, which I love. In the case of my math class, what we’re learning ti just funny when you think about it. The top two classes for this are, by far, Classical Mechanics II and Abstract Algebra and Number Theory.

Classical Mechanics II
My professor constantly adds in ridiculous comments to what he’s lecturing in, which makes the early morning, hour-long class that much more enjoyable. I decided today to keep track of what he mentioned as a running quote, just to make sure I remembered everything. Here’s a re-written version; keep in mind that this is just from one class period; the actual class meets three times a week times fifteen weeks.

– When driving to Chicago from East Lansing, a less-than optimal route would be to find out where your ex-girlfriend’s house is and circle it a dozen or so times before continuing on.
– How to determine if your friend is a wanted murderer
– When meeting a girl for the first time, you should not try to discretize them, as the essence of the girl is lost during the discretation.
– Getting your blood drawn in East Lansing is a much more comfortable experience than the same procedure in Ann Arbor, especially since you will look like a drug user should the procedure be done in Ann Arbor.
– “…and I am the master of your pain.” (direct quote)

Abstract Algebra and Number Theory
This class is more funny because of what we are learning. This is a high level mathematics course that only Math majors and Minors need to take, the line of prerequisites is quite long, and the homework takes quite a bit of time to complete and get right.

Today we learned how to subtract.

Think I’m joking? I actually wish I was, but even better yet is that today we learned that rational numbers existed. Fractions. We also learned that zero times anything equals zero today as well, making today’s class one of the most information-packed lectures of the day.

Of course, once I describe how we learned/proved those things, then you begin to realize why it’s a high-level Mathematics course, but if I told people what we are basically learning, then wouldn’t think it that hard. Here’s how we proved that zero times any number equals zero:

0 = 0 + 0 [Additive Identity]
a0 = a(0 + 0) [Closure of Multiplication]
a0 = a0 + a0 [Distributive Property]
x + a0 = x + (a0 + a0) [Closure of Addition]
x + a0 = (x + a0) + a0 [Associative Property of Addition]
0 = 0 + a0 [Additive Inverse]
0 = a0 [Existence of Zero]

Stunning, right?