Category Archives: Physics

Notre Dame

Well, grad school has been both an excessive amount of free time and none at all at the same time. It’s hard to think that over two weeks of official classes, not to mention the entirety of the summer courses, have already passed me by. Of course, it’s not like I haven’t truly enjoyed my time so far!

First bit of news: I passed both of my qualifying exams! Since I passed, I don’t care what score I got, and I won’t need to worry about cramming/studying for that test ever again (as unfortunately some of my new classmates are worrying about right now). In fact, our entire summer class passed the first exam, and all but one passed the second, so our year as a whole is off to a good start.

Second: I’ve moved into an apartment with one of my classmates. It’s about two miles from campus, so I’ve been driving in every day, but I’ll be buying a bike in (hopefully) a few weeks, and that will help to mitigate gas expenditures, past when I need to drive to school due to weather or visiting friends or quidditch tournaments. I really like the place we’re living, I have my own room (and it’s set up essentially identical to my old place in East Lansing), and we have a ton of space! Of course, most of that will get filled when we finally get a dining table and chairs, plus an actual TV stand, but for now it just feels open. We even have a fenced-in backyard!

Third: Classes have been going great! While the homework is very challenging, I’ve been keeping up with it and understanding everything, especially when floods of memories from my undergrad courses come streaming back to me (like how to pick the generalized coordinates in Lagrangian mechanics or Einstein notation). While I’ve had my slip-ups (and started my first problem sets late due to slow shipping of textbooks), everything has been going well in my classes.

Fourth: I’m still deciding on my research field. While a month ago I was dead set on experimental nuclear astrophysics, most likely working under the umbrella of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics (JINA) and giving me the possibility of doing research potentially back in East Lansing during my graduate studies and afterward, I am less sure of that now. It may just be nerves, especially since I’ve never really worked with accelerators before, or the fact that I would be programming much less and spending more time in grad school, or that I don’t know what I actually want to do. So, my decision has turned into a binary one: experimental nuclear astrophysics, or computational cosmology (focusing on large-scale formation within the universe and the intergalactic medium). Tough decision, but at least I don’t have to decide for a while, though I want to at least get a little started now even if it’s just reading papers.

Finally: I’m going to a wedding this weekend! My friend Carla, whom I met at MDRS, will be marrying her fiancé Mike (whom I met at the shuttle Atlantis launch in May 2010) down in Albuquerque. I bought my plane tickets and reserved my hotel room back in June, so now all that’s left to do is pack and actual get there!

And that’s the past month or two in a nutshell. Like I said, a lot has happened, but I’ve still had time to watch Doctor Who, help invent a new game, peruse the bars of South Bend, play some disc golf, and sleep. All good things.

Summer Qual Course

A week ago, I officially started my career at Notre Dame. I drove back from my little brother’s high school graduation ceremony (where he gave a great speech and won the top award for graduates!) straight to South Bend, tried to sleep that night but utterly failed, and woke up slightly groggy but excited all the same around 0830 Monday morning.

That first class was essentially what you’d expect any first class to be like. We all went around the room and said our names and something we liked doing (I think most were sports- or outdoor activity-related things…), then found out that the homework assignment had to be completed by that day, not for us to work on that assignment after class. So, ten minutes in and as a class we’re a day behind. Those first two days were rough getting caught back up, especially since the subject area (fluid statics and mechanics) will most likely be my rustiest, at least until I realize how much (or little) I remember of E&M and whatever else we learn next month.

Thankfully, the rest of the week went much easier, since we did waves and oscillations and had a whole weekend to do a relatively easy problem set on relativity. The ten of us that are in the class and work in the office got really close during those first five days. At first, everyone was a little hesitant, but after a few lunch trips and deciding that there was no point in not being comfortable around each other, but the bonding occurred eventually. A Friday-night trip to a few local bars definitely helped!

Like always, I worked on learning everyone’s names as quickly as I could. Having the list of names on the board was helpful at the beginning, but I have all twelve names down pat (“Who the fuck is Clark?” one of many inside jokes already) and, even more importantly, everyone is really nice. My favorite part about meeting new people is just the various personalities and watching how they react and interact with each other. Throwing ten strangers in a room for eight hours a day working on Physics problems would be a very interesting psychological study.

I’ve also been slowly learning the area better. My first trip down to South Bend caused me to get lost on back roads somewhere trying to find the next onramp to I-80/90, so I could only go up. I worked on finding my way to the grocery store and a few convenience stores (luckily which are all close together), then I slowly expanded outward. A big help in that regard has been my long-anticipated switch from AT&T and a half-working flip phone to Verizon and the Droid X2. After about thirty seconds, I was already in love with the phone, and aside from a minor problem that had my new phone replaced two days later, it has been nothing short of remarkable. Maybe my favorite piece of technology I own.

But back to the Physics course. It took a while to re-start my brain, especially since I had done almost nothing between graduation and starting the course academic-related (aside from some programming), which didn’t really help out the fact that the first two days were the hardest subject material. We all survived, some in better shape than others, but the first week is done! Just three more until the first exam, then four more, then the second exam, and then a break before fall classes start!

But who the fuck is Clark?

Grad School Visits

This past week for Spring Break, I spent time with my family and visited the two grad schools I have currently been accepted to: the University of Notre Dame and the University of Connecticut, Storrs. While I’m still waiting to hear back from one school and a job opportunity, both of them were relative long shots, so it looks like my summer and fall (and the next five or so years…) has boiled down to a binary choice: ND or UConn?

This was the first school I visited, and man did things go well! Ms. Shari Herman, the “Second Mom” to everyone pursuing a physics Ph.D. at ND, took out all of the stops in setting up a stellar visit for me. I drove down Monday afternoon, right after picking my little brother up from school and visiting with my high school physics teacher, and it went fine. No traffic, I had money for the tolls, and I found my way to the hotel (the Morris Inn, right on ND’s campus) relatively fine. Once I checked in, I hung out in my hotel room, watching TV and lamenting the fact that I could not yet play Pokémon Black.

I woke up the next morning, showered, ate breakfast, and read through the packet of material that Ms. Herman had given me, then checked out and waited for the actual visit to start. I met one of the roughly 90 grad students, and we took a quick tour around campus before my meeting with the first professor on my schedule. Since this was my first time ever visiting ND, it was great to walk around and see the campus, especially with the student body still there since they weren’t on spring break. We eventually made our way over to Nieuwland Science Hall, home of the department and where I would be spending the next nine hours or so.

For the rest of the day, I went from visiting one professor to the next, sitting down and talking for half an hour about the research they were doing, different things going on around campus, how they got involved with ND and physics, and a bunch of other things. I also got a tour of the nuclear physics accelerator lab, got to sit in on a cosmology seminar (with a free lunch!), and got a glimpse of what I’d be doing my first year of school in the form of the grad TA first year lounge (alongside the end of my career with a few fourth- and fifth-years). All in all, a very full day that got added to twice while I was still there!

To end it, I went out to dinner with two other grad students to Legends, a local bar/restaurant establishment just off campus, all on the physics department’s tab. The food was great, and I didn’t really have to stop on the way back for any more food (huge surprise, but I did have a detour right at the beginning of my return journey…), and I had a good time just hanging out away from the more structured environment I had been in for much of the day. All in all, I had a great time, met some amazing people, and really enjoyed myself while I was there. I got back home around midnight, played some Pokémon Black, then went to sleep.

The next and final trip (so far…) was out to Connecticut to visit the department at UConn. I flew out from Detroit early Friday morning after delays on the runway from some of the freshly fallen snow from the night before. Once we took off, though, the flight was fine, the landing smooth, and the pick-up of the rental car (a relatively new Jeep Compass!) went perfectly. But I was still a little late due to that delay, so I showed up to the offices slightly out of breath from sprinting up the flights of stairs to the top of the building. Thankfully, Prof. Dunne (the person who had set up this visitation) didn’t seem to mind, and we talked before meeting a few grad students and heading out to lunch. Since UConn was on spring break, we didn’t really run into any students at all, but the campus was flooded with middle- and high-school students for some convention, so we still had to contend with a mass of hormone-infused saplings as we ate our meal.

Once the last of my meatball sub was firmly in my stomach, we took a quick tour around campus, which was beautiful! It reminded me a lot of State, since it was a little more open, a little disjointed, roads crossed through and around the buildings, and a couple places were under construction, so I felt right at home! While the campus was much quieter during this tour than ND had been, that was good since I could just focus on the buildings and the scenery and not look at the the students walking past.

We returned to the physics building, and I sat with a half-dozen professors to talk about their research to see how it would fit with my interests, just like at ND. Once that was over, I met again with Prof. Dunne to finalize a few things, then I was off to return the rental car to the airport and spend time with my relatives. I won’t go into that since this is about my grad school visits, but just know that I had a blast, and that it more than made up for missing last summer’s reunion.

From today, I have thirty days to wait for the last few pieces of information and make a decision, although I’m sure that I will be making a decision earlier than that. Unfortunately, ND lost to Louisville during the Big East tourney, so I couldn’t use the outcome of the ND-UConn championship game to make the decision for me!