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Physics and Golf: A Match Made in Heaven

August 11, 2010 at 4:13 pm
By Traci Johnson '12

My life is usually dominated by two things: golf and physics. This summer has been no different - before I get to hit up the links, I put in my hours doing research for the Carleton physics and astronomy department.

As of spring term this year, I am now officially a physics major, but was self-declared from day one. In addition to the intense workload of the average physics major, I work as a research assistant for professor Cindy Blaha and her on-going emission line survey of local group galaxies. Since 2003, Cindy and her students have been cataloging regions of ionized hydrogen (HII)  in nearby spiral galaxies M31 (Andromeda) and M33 and seven dwarf galaxies. HII  regions can be both the graveyards and birthplaces of stars. Many of these regions contain hydrogen gas ionized by hot, luminous baby stars that only live a few millions of years, indicating the likelihood of a larger star-forming region embedded in the gas and dust. Others are the outer layers of a dying star expelled either in an explosive supernova or puffed out into a beautiful planetary nebula, like the one our Sun will make five billion years from now. This summer, I have been busy writing programs in IDL in order to process, organize, and analyze our data from the survey.

The physics department is a busy place during the summer. There are 26 total research students working this summer. The department has weekly tea times (not to be confused with TEE times) where we all get together - students, faculty, and staff - for tea, food, and conversation. It’s a really great way to bond with other physics students and to get to know the professors better, too. Surprisingly, the profs put in a significant amount of effort into the food choices each week. You may not know it, but physicists LOVE food, so they make sure all of their students are well feed with ice cream, cookies, and fresh fruit while we are off board over the summer.

Not only have I been doing research this summer, I have also been involved in astronomy education and public outreach in the local community of Northfield. As part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, Carleton hosted the Young Astronomers Summer Experience, a two-week long astronomy-rich program for middle schoolers started by last year’s Minnesota student ambassador of astronomy, Jenny Goetz, a Carleton physics student. I took on the role of director for the program’s second year since Jenny was away this summer for research. As director, I had to plan activities, teach astronomy, and show the students how to use telescopes and CCD cameras to image celestial objects. It was a very busy two weeks, but was a very fun and rewarding experience. Cindy and I traveled to Boulder, Colorado, for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific conference to present a poster about YASE to other astronomy educators across the United States and other countries as well. Boulder is a great city with lots of cool restaurants, interesting people, a lovely university campus, and scenic mountain landscapes. I spent a lot of time on the University of Colorado - Boulder campus and am putting it down on my list of physics graduate schools.

My summer has been so busy that its gone by so quickly. Golf preseason starts in only two weeks! Oh dear, here we go again, physics and golf. I wish there was a way to combine the two together. Senior comps project: The Physics of Golf? I guess we’ll have to wait and see...