IBEX October 2009
Over the course of September we received and responded to the technical reviews of our set of papers that are slated to be published in Science Magazine. In general, these reviews were excellent! Just to share a small piece of one of them, it said "This report is a very clear, concise and well illustrated presentation of the first full-sky maps of energetic neutral atoms (ENA's) created in the outer heliosphere. The data, recorded by the IBEX satellite, are excellent, and those maps represent a major advance in heliospheric science, with potential applications to astrophysical plasmas in general. Both maps and energy spectra contain a wealth of information, and the maps have enough spatial resolution to unambiguously reveal _______________________. This spectacular ____________ calls for new ingredients in the models and is an exciting discovery. I recommend the publication without delay of this report, which contains details on the data as well as a very interesting preliminary analysis, and should interest a broad community." Sorry about the blanks in the above report, but these exciting results are embargoed until 15 October, when we will have a big press conference at NASA headquarters and Science will release the papers. I can hardly wait until everyone gets to see them!
This month I wanted to introduce one of the youngest members of the IBEX Team, Katy Goodrich of Boston University. Katy, along with a number of other excellent undergraduate students at Boston University, the University of New Hampshire, and other IBEX team locations, is making critical contributions to the processing and analysis of the IBEX flight data. It's amazing to me how quickly bright, young students like Katy come up to speed to make truly critical contributions to our program. Thanks Katy - and thanks to all the other students working so hard to make the IBEX mission such a great success!
Think all the IBEX mission team members are seasoned professionals with decades of experience in the working world? Think again! The IBEX mission also involves undergraduate college students who are just beginning their association with space science, and those students, such as October's interviewee Katy Goodrich, are playing a valuable part in bringing the exciting IBEX results to the rest of the world.
Katy Goodrich grew up in Washington, D.C., and later moved to Concord, Massachusetts at the age of 13. "When I was growing up I was interested in just about everything. I loved writing, music, film, history and all sorts of things. I went through phases where I would be insatiably curious about one particular topic. Once something caught my interest, I would read, watch, or listen to whatever I could to learn more about it. I became very interested in physics once I started high school. I always looked forward to playing with the little experiments they set up for us. It was like math with toys.
"I remember wanting to be a lot of things as a kid. The two big ones that I remember are a jazz trumpet player and an astronaut, but I would say early on that it was my father who really inspired me to get into physics. He is an astronomy professor at BU now. He has always been very supportive of me since I was a kid. I decided to major in physics at Boston University where I am now a senior."
Currently, Katy is an undergraduate research assistant for Professor Nathan Schwadron, Associate Professor for Astronomy at Boston University and Science Operations Lead for the IBEX mission. Her initial involvement with the IBEX mission was due, in part, to chance. "I was beginning to search for a research job over the summer between my freshman and sophomore year," she remembers. "I saw Nathan in the Astronomy offices one day. He asked me what I was doing for the summer, and I said I might try going to Washington D.C., or something. He casually offered me a job right there. I thought he was kidding. I asked him about it later, and I have been here ever since!"
Katy attends classes and works for IBEX later in the day. Her position involves writing and editing code to create maps, images, files, and other products for Nathan and the IBEX team that can be used for publication, along with general team support work. Most recently, she has been working on the new solar system boundary maps that are due to be released in October 2009. "It is exciting that I have been contributing to something that no one has seen until now," says Katy. "It was hard to get into my job in the beginning, though. I started in the summer just after my freshman year. I did not know anything about programming at all. Working in this environment taught me how to code in a few different languages as well as taught me how to deal with data interpretation. There was a period of time where I just had to sit and learn a few programming languages. It was a little frustrating trying to learn so much so quickly. After I stuck with it for a while and just focused on using code in and out of work, using it became much easier and much more fun.
"I think the best part of my job is looking at a problem or a goal with my coworkers. We all figure out how to do whatever needs to be done in the best way possible. I always think it is fun to brainstorm with other people about different ways to fix things. What is not as much fun is running into a problem that seems to have no solution - and staring at it to try to find the answer doesn't work either! I have found, though, that being able to work on the IBEX mission has helped me learn physics, as a whole. It is one thing to learn about it in a classroom, but it makes a lot more sense later when I can see it happening and make connections with my work."
Even though Katy is still finishing her undergraduate degree, she has a positive career outlook. "Make sure you enjoy what you are doing. That is probably the most important quality in a career. If you get to a place where you are excited to come into work, then that is probably the best place you can be. You could do good work in any career but you can do great work in a career that you love."
When Katy is not attending classes, working on homework, and doing great things for the IBEX mission, she wants to be outside. "Whenever it is nice out, I love to take really long walks through Boston. I enjoy skiing, running, and playing wiffle ball. Sometimes I bring a wiffle bat to work in case my coworkers want to play after we are finished. When I get a chance, I also like to play games with my friends. I have several favorites - 'Munchkin' is a somewhat irreverent role-playing card game. You get the idea how strange it can be when you read rules like 'Any disputes in the rules should be settled by loud arguments, with the owner of the game having the last word.' 'Settlers of Catan' is another one. This is a board game where the players represent settlers establishing colonies on the fictional island of Catan. We like to play poker, too."
In the future, Katy will be attending graduate school in the area of space physics and hopes that she will be able to contribute to missions and projects like IBEX. "Everyday we are learning something new about the Universe. In ten years, we will hopefully still be discovering something new and exciting. That is what is wonderful about our Universe - there is always something new out there!"