Anoush joined the pool of Cal Poly Pomona students in the Fall of 2011, as a sophomore majoring in physics. Interested more in astronomy and astrophysics than in general physics, she knew that she would have to push through the basic requirements of the major to get to the classes she had always been looking forward to taking. She found that learning about Newton’s First Law of Motion or Bernoulli’s Principle was nowhere near as interesting as learning about interstellar space, supernovae, and exoplanetary systems (just to name a few). But to get to the latter, she needed to get past the basics. And when the opportunity arose, she applied to the CAMPARE program for the summer of 2013 and was accepted. This is her story.
We all know that in life, situations will arise that will require us to make compromises. I’ve never been too keen on hot weather, considering I’d much rather find myself snowed in in a mountainside cabin in the dead of winter, so moving to Arizona for the summer was a compromise I knew I’d have to make in order for me to be able to intern at the University of Arizona for the CAMPARE program. I knew I would have to deal with the heat, but luckily, monsoon season came to our aid, as it helped bring down the temperature a bit to the mid-90s on average. HA! Still hot, though. Hot, but tolerable.
As an intern, I worked under the mentorship of Dr. John Bieging, who proved to be an excellent advisor. He made sure I understood everything I did at every point along the process, and assured me to always ask questions whenever I felt there was something I needed clearing up. My project focused on understanding the dynamic behavior of the California Molecular Cloud (CMC; which Dr. Bieging and I affectionately dubbed the “Cal Poly Cloud,” since I was not the first student from Cal Poly to work on it) by mapping its carbon monoxide emission. The purpose of the project was to gain insight into the beginnings of star formation; to see what are the ideal conditions for it, as we compared my work on the CMC to analysis done on other molecular clouds which are similar in size, shape, and physical and chemical makeup, but 10 times as productive in star formation in a certain interval of time. To be able to say that I would actually be doing everything I’ve seen mentioned in the textbooks elated me to no end. I’d always see images of things I couldn’t recognize, captioned “mapped emission of such-and-such cloud in so-and-so constellation,” and now, I would be the one producing those images. Which only goes to say, I would now actually know what they represented. At the end of the program, we were expected to give 15-minute talks on the work we’d done, and having the director of Steward Observatory give positive comments on my talk was a good reminder that all the work I’d done and all the effort I’d put in had paid off. I understand that he made a point to comment on everyone’s, but it’s nice knowing your work is appreciated, and that you and your work are good enough. So if you’ve ever doubted yourself, don’t. (I’ll have to keep that on a post-it note and take it everywhere with me.)
To quote Jack Nicholson in a certain famous movie, my time here was not “all work and no play,” thankfully. There were places to go, things to see, and adventures to be had! Dr. Bieging organized trips to Mt. Graham and Kitt Peak for us, which I enjoyed very much. Seeing the Submillimeter Telescope on Mt. Graham, the telescope used in collecting the data I reduced, was exciting, because it’s the real thing and no longer just a name I kept hearing. The Pope Scope (more properly referred to as the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, or the VATT) was also a sight to see, despite being the telescope with the smallest aperture on the mountain. The pride of Mt. Graham, however, was the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT). Reading or hearing about it is definitely not enough preparation for being in the presence of that goliath. In addition to these field trips, we visited the Special Collections of the library on campus and were able to see (and touch, sans latex gloves) all the books that shaped history which we’d learned about in introductory astronomy classes (Principia Mathematica, Sidereus Nuncius, Astronomia Nova, among others). One of the books even had Galileo’s own handwriting in it!
All in all, my time here in Tucson has definitely been eventful, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I walk away from this experience having gained a lot of knowledge about and respect for the people who are actually in this field, and I hope to one day join their ranks. Thank you, everyone, for the wonderful memories. —August 20, 2013
Currently, I am working with Dr. Matthew Povich on my senior research project here at Cal Poly Pomona. I intend to continue the work I started in Arizona, working off the data I reduced of 1-degree of the night sky (that’s quite a lot of data to reduce). I’ll be conducting more analysis on the California Molecular Cloud and I plan to obtain information applicable to my work from other publications and literature to help propel my research forward and to reach the goals I’ve set for myself.—October 9, 2013