Monday, February 14, 2011

From Granular Flows to X-ray Emitting Pulsars

It may sound like a journey, and it may in fact be, but you are going to guess how that is done. Here, you're going to read about the astronomical end of this journey, which, may be a beginning in itself. Richard Knoche, one of our PandA seniors, sent us some notes on what he experienced while attending the 217th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the largest astronomical meeting where the science in hot, the schmoozing is essential, the students are promising. And all in spite of the fact that during the semester/class time, Richard's been concentrating on understanding various properties of the granular flow at JMU. Which only says: summers are special, and they deserve to be treated well, i.e., with some astrophysics.

Like one of those who saw the light, Richard undertook an REU appointment in astrophysics at NASA Goddard last summer. His enthusiasm and hard work won him a trip to Seattle to present his results, to meet other astronomy aficionado undergraduate and graduate students, and surprisingly even for him, to get new ideas about research he might pursue in the future:

Last summer I was lucky enough to have an internship at NASA Goddard. I worked on two projects there, one studying gamma ray bursts and the other studying x-ray emissions in pulsars, and was awarded a travel grant for my work. My research advisor and I decided it would be best to use the grant to present some of my findings at the national AAS conference in Seattle, so at the beginning of this semester I took a week off from school and flew across the country to my first big conference.

I wasn't sure what to expect before I arrived in Seattle, and was pretty nervous about how my presentation would go. Luckily, I had a day off before I presented so I had plenty of time to walk around and attend some of the talks and poster sessions. For the most part the talks covered subject matter that was a bit over my head, but it was still exciting to hear about the cutting edge research that was going on in astronomy. Even more exciting was the people I got to meet. I was able to meet plenty of other undergraduate students, current graduate students, professors, and even a Nobel Laureate; and each person I met had interesting and useful information to share about research, graduate school, or the conference itself.

The next day my presentation went off without a hitch. Foot traffic in the poster area was very busy, and there were plenty of people who seemed interested in my research. I was expecting the poster session to consist of me giving a similar presentation to people all day, and not getting much out of it for myself. However, I found that the researchers at the conference were much more engaging. Although there were some tough questions asked, there were plenty of people that shared insight into what would be interested to look into next with my research.

Overall the conference was a great experience. I learned a lot about graduate school, researching in astronomy, and even what I could do next with my own research. I'd definitely recommend going to a conference like this if any students are offered the opportunity.

Here is the big smile that proves what's been said above is true: