Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Professional Service

Sorry about the slow posting this week!  I've been busy getting ready for a trip and Thanksgiving.  By themselves, they aren't that bad but I still need to get my regular work done so I've been trying to get ahead on that.  Hence, I haven't been on the blog as much as I'd like.

In my "About Me" section, I mention the 3 main parts of being an academic: research, teaching and service.  I've already talked about my research and teaching, so let me tell you a little about professional service.

Service covers basically any activity that enriches your profession but doesn't come in the form of teaching or performing research in whatever it is you do.  This could be sitting on a committee that helps ensure that the working environment is comfortable or you can serve the larger community through professional societies.  For physicists, the main professional society is the American Physical Society (APS) but I am also a member of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

This week, I am traveling to the APS Board and Council Meetings.  I sit on the APS Council as the representative of the Forum on Graduate Student Affairs (FGSA).  The Council is the legal decision making body of the APS and we vote on everything from general statements, to journal subscription rates.  Councilors are elected to the Board after 2 years (of a 4 year term) on the Council.  The Board does more behind the scenes discussions on matters before they are brought to the Council for a vote.  The Board meets 5 times a year and the Council twice (luckily for me, 2 of the Board Meetings happen the day before the Council meetings).  I will be sure to post later this week on what happens at these meetings.

Service is often seen as thankless work.  In many ways, it is.  That is one of the reasons I try to find ways to serve that I personally feel are fulfilling; that way even if no one notices the work I do, I still feel good about it.  Serving on the APS Board and Council is not only fulfilling, but I also feel deeply honored since I was elected by my peers to these posts.

Photo by Ken Cole, APS

The picture above shows Gay Stewart (University of Arkansas), Stefan Zollner (now of the New Mexico State University), and me at the LaserFest gala event that was held at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on February 12th this year.  All of us are on the APS Council and were invited to represent the APS.  For me, this was a night when being nerdy was cool!  I got to mingle with several Nobel Prize winners.  This photo really doesn't show the extent that the Smithsonian went to for this gala.  You can read more about it and see great pictures here.  This is definitely a time when service was not thankless!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Doctors Appointments and Laser Safety

Yesterday was a long day of doctors appointments for me.  Since I was preoccupied much of this summer with my kidney stone, a few of my maintenance doctors visits got pushed to the back burner.

Appointment #1 - Family Medicine

My first appointment of the day started at the family doctor where both my husband and I had appointments (we try to sync appointments like this together since we only have one car and work far away from our doctors).  I was there for blood work and to have my new doctor work with me to get me off some of the many prescriptions my old doctor had me on (this is one of the reasons I changed doctors).  Everything is looking good there and I am pleased with the plan we are working on.

Appointment #2 - Dentist

I had an appointment with my dentist about a month and a half ago to have a filling fixed.  I was in the chair and all of the odds and ends and drill bits were set out when I mentioned to my dentist that, from time to time, I get a slight twitch under my right eye.  It was happening right then and he declared that he wouldn't touch me until I get confirmation from my neurologist that this dental work would not make it worse (he was worried that the anesthetic he intended to use would effect the same nerve he believed to be causing the twitch).  I told him that this is related to my TMJ and if I relax my jaw, it goes away.  He was still uncomfortable and sent me home.

So, with a note from my neurologist in hand, I returned and finally had this taken care of.

Appointment #3 - Eye Doctor

It has been a little over a year since I blew a blood vessel behind my retina and since I wore my contacts (the eye drops they had me used could not be used with contacts).  Now that my retina in better, I needed to see the eye doctor again to have my prescription renewed so I can order new contacts!  To my surprise, my prescription hasn't changed at all!  Yea!

My visit to my eye doctor reminded me of why I go to this particular doctor.  And the story starts the laser safety at LIGO...

Laser Safety at LIGO

When a new employee, student or visitor starts working at one of the LIGO observatories, they must undergo laser safety training especially if they will be working directly with the lasers or if they will be working around the lasers.

The laser used in the last data run here at LIGO was a 35 Watt Nd:YAG laser.  The first thing that makes this laser particularly dangerous is that it is powerful.  35 Watts is the equivalent of shining 35,000 of the common red laser pointers on the same spot (so that the dot is no bigger than if you were only using one laser).  That is plenty powerful enough to burn a hole in your retina and this is an injury that will NEVER heal.  If you are lucky you will simply have a blind spot in your peripheral vision and if you are unlucky you will be permanently blinded.  The other aspect that makes this laser dangerous is that is a wavelength (color) that you can't see.  The laser produces 1064 nm (about 0.0000419 in) wavelength light which is infrared.  Since we can't see the laser at all, it can be especially difficult to avoid it.  If even the reflection of this light (that you cannot see) enters your eye, you will have a burned retina.

For these and other reasons, everyone who will work with or around the lasers must undergo laser safety training, have their eyes examined, their retina photographed and wear laser safety goggles when around the detector.  That is how I came to see my eye doctor here in Baton Rouge for the first time.  This will also not be the last time I see this doctor...  Any time a that there is a suspected laser injury to the eye, that person is sent back to the eye doctor for the whole exam again.  They then compare the how the retina looks now to how it looked before the person started working around lasers (that's why they took the first retina picture) to determine what, if any, damage was done.  Also, when someone no longer works at LIGO, they must go for an exit exam to make sure that there was no damage done that they were unaware of.

I don't have any recent pictures of me in the awful green laser safety glasses, but I do have an old one from the first time I got to take a tour of the inner workings of LIGO.  Below, is a picture of me [right] when I was a graduate student and a very good friend (and fellow graduate student) Tiffany Summerscales [left] by one of the vacuum chambers inside the LIGO Hanford Observatory (the sister observatory in Washington state to the Louisiana one).  This picture is from August 2004:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Louisiana Science Teachers' Association Meeting & X-Rays

I've been away on travel to the Louisiana Science Teachers' Association (LSTA) Meeting last week in Monroe, LA.  LIGO goes to present workshops and to advertise the Science Education Center (SEC) though a booth in the exhibit hall. 

Our booth in the exhibit hall featured a projection of the LIGO documentary "Einstein's Messengers", the Visible Vibrations exhibit from our exhibit hall, 'snacks' (inexpensive, miniature versions of exhibits that teachers can build and use in their classrooms - the Exploratorium has a nice catalog of 'snacks' here), brochures, and posters.  While it was tiring being on your feet all day interacting with the teachers, it was also extremely rewarding!  One of the most inspiring people I interacted with wasn't even a teacher.  One of the security staff was so fascinated by the Visible Vibrations exhibit, that he kept coming back and interacting with it for most of the day!  To see someone who isn't even our target audience (at least that day) exploring the physics involved was extraordinary.  On top of that, he made some of the most spectacular vibration patterns I've ever seen!

LIGO also presented two one-hour workshops.  The SEC director presented one on motors and I presented another one on the LaserFest kits that I based the LaserFest Teachers' Day on a few weeks ago (you can read more about it here).  I had enough kits for 30 attendees, but my workshop was at the end of the day on Friday and only had about 10 teachers attend.  While I was a little disappointed (my ego had me convinced that EVERYONE would want to come to MY workshop), it was also a blessing in two ways.  The first way is that I got to have a lot more one-on-one time with the teachers and they had much more time to ask deeper questions than they would have normally.  The second way is that there were extra kits to be had.  The teachers seemed quite happy when I told them they got to keep their kits and, when I asked if they would like to take another kit with them to share with other teachers at their school, their faces lit up.  Each and every one of those kits has now found a good home in a Louisiana classroom.

Today in History...

Today is the 115th anniversary of the X-ray (if you hadn't noticed from Google's Doodle for today)!  I can't count how many of these I've had in my life and how many times they have saved me from some medical trouble, everything from dental cavities to finding my kidney stone.

Speaking of which, the X-ray below is after I had a ureteral stent placed between my kidney and my bladder to bypass my kidney stone and allow my kidney to drain.  The stent is clearly visible and the kidney stone is the little shrapnel looking thing about a third of the way down the stent.  The top curl is in my kidney and the bottom is in my bladder.  I am so happy that both the stone and the stent are gone!

Monday, November 1, 2010

What I Do When I'm Not Working (and an Anniversary)

Most of the posts I've made to this blog have been almost exclusively about my work even though I want this blog to be about my life, both the scientific and the mundane. 
This passed Thursday, I only worked a half day (I've been working more 6 day weeks than not for a while now) since I had a moderate migraine.  This one wasn't bad as far as all of the headaches I've had in my life, but it was more than enough to make light hurt my eyes and make me want to curl up in bed until it goes away.  So, I took care of the work that had to be done that day (like another conference call) and spent the rest of the day tending to my migraine.  This amounted to the first decent amount of down time I've had in a while.  While I wouldn't wish migraines on anyone, I am sort of glad I have mine since they force me to stop and relax from time to time (they also can hit at times when I simply can't put my life on pause and that is when I curse them).

So, what did I do with my time?  Well, first you have to know a little bit about me...  If I had 3 words to describe myself, they would be 1) physicist, 2) vampires and 3) Halloween.  I adore vampires and have read almost 200 vampire books in the last 4 years.  I also like to get the audiobook versions of books I've already read and liked to go to sleep to; if I have already read them, I won't keep my self awake to find out what happens next.  Since my eyes hurt me too much to read, I rested in bed and listened to my favorite books while I waited for my medication to take effect.  After about 2 hours of this, I felt a little better and proceeded to read a little.

This weekend was Halloween and I ADORE the holiday.  I love all of the dark fun and the idea of getting to be someone else for an evening.  I'm not one to dress up, but since I love vampire books, it is fun to think about what the world would be like if things that went bump in the night were real.

To celebrate, my husband and I went on the haunted trail at the Cajun Country Corn Maze.  (Tip:  If you go around this time of year, just go for the haunted trail since there is no line for this - there was a line almost an 500 feet long just for the maze.  Come back later in November to do the maze.)  Below is me in the pillory at the corn maze.  I think it is just scary how washed out my face looks with a camera flash:

I also love autumn in general!  So much so, that my wedding was autumn themed the day after Halloween.  That's right, today is Derek's and my anniversary!  To celebrate, here is a picture of us just after the ceremony: