Friday, December 28, 2012

AGU 2012: Science Highlights

Conferences provide a multitude of opportunities for activities imperative to a research career, including presenting your research, learning about others' research, developing new ideas and collaborations, and networking with other scientists for career opportunities for yourself or your advisees. Such networking and research discussions help you when your papers and proposals for funding are being peer-reviewed, or you're being externally reviewed for a promotion, or you've been nominated for an award. In this blog post, I will discuss some of the highlights from the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting that I attended during the first week of December.

Monday morning was my research poster. I described my current progress with several people, many of whom work with data from the same mission and instrument as I do. During my poster session, there was a highly anticipated press conference about the Mars Curiosity rover that I tried to watch some of via live stream on my iPad. There had been a lot of speculation about a big, groundbreaking announcement, but it was mostly initial results. I looked at a few other posters and went to a couple of talks. One interesting talk was on a substorm that occurred in 2010 that caused the Galaxy 15 satellite to stop responding to commands. They found that currents of 3 million Amps were driven in the magnetosphere during that substorm! Typical values are in the hundreds of thousands.

On Monday afternoon, I served as a panelist for a professional development workshop. It was hosted by the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) and the Earth Science Women's Network (ESWN) and was on Work-Life Effectiveness. I have presented this workshop, developed by AWIS, several times myself, sometimes with 2 co-presenters. However, the format of 2 presenters plus 3 panelists was nice because we were able to get a lot of discussion going and had a variety of experiences to draw from. I had several people approach me later during the conference to discuss work-life issues, so it was a great way to get my name and face noticed in a sea of over 20,000 scientists!

Monday also saw two additional events of interest: a press release from the Voyager mission as it is leaving the heliosphere and entering interstellar space ( and another that NASA is already planning for another rover to go to Mars. There was a lot of discussion on the Twittersphere about this. Many planetary scientists were disappointed that the next planetary mission won't be going somewhere different, like Enceladus which is one of the best candidates for extraterrestrial life.

On Tuesday, there were a few sessions on dawn-dusk asymmetries in the magnetosphere. This is of interest to me because I study such an asymmetry in the ion temperatures and am part of a team that will be focusing on this topic through a grant from the International Space Sciences Institute. In the posters, I saw one on the cost of space weather effects on the power grid that she calculated to be $3-5 billion annually, and talked to another presenter about a possible collaboration.

In the evening, I attended a forum of people writing science blogs. After the forum, I attended the Space Physics and Aeronomy (SPA) section town hall. They discussed the results of the recent decadal survey, and the primary funding sources (National Science Foundation and NASA) discussed how they are planning to implement the suggestions from the decadal survey. After the town hall, I went to the SPA banquet. The banquet is another good networking opportunity.

On Wednesday morning, I gave my poster on using social media and blogging to teach science communication. I was next to a poster by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography about using art to teach about the oceans:
Another cool poster in my session was on the GLOBE program. They used a bunch of iPads in their poster. It took a lot of velcro tape to put them up:
There were more presentations on Wednesday about dawn-dusk asymmetries. There was also a poster on a new technique to separate the oxygen and hydrogen in the data from instrument that I use, which I am now trying in my research.
On Thursday, I saw an interesting talk by Joe Borovsky. He claimed that the typical view that the product of the solar wind velocity and interplanetary magnetic field is the primary driver of magnetic reconnection where the solar wind comes in contact with the nose of Earth's magnetosphere is just a coincidence. Instead, he discussed that the solar wind ram pressure and density are the primary drivers, and that density can be rewritten in terms of magnetic field. Thus, the correlations that have been found between velocity times magnetic field are just coincidence. There were a number of talks on initial results from the recently launched Van Allen Probes mission (formerly known as Radiation Belt Storm Probes). One interesting result was the measurement of three belts during a certain period of time. This is the first time a third belt has ever been known to occur. 
At lunchtime on Thursday, I attended the NASA Heliophysics town hall. They discussed much of the same information as they had at the SPA town hall on Tuesday, but in more detail. I did find out that there will be a solicitation of the education and public outreach program in 2013 that I can now plan to submit a proposal to.
Finally, I walked around the Expo, where companies demonstrate and sell their products. A lot of the products are instruments that geophysicists use to collect data, so not much is relevant to me. However, there is a large NASA booth with a lot of posters, stickers, etc. I got a calendar and took a picture with Camilla-the rubber chicken mascot of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (that has been in space!):


Sunday, December 16, 2012

AGU 2012: Food

Traveling for conferences gives me the chance to try a variety of foods, especially things that I can’t get at home. And when I travel without the family, I also don’t have the stress of worrying about peanuts. Here’s a tour of what I ate while in San Francisco at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.
I left Saturday afternoon so I was able to eat lunch at home. I decided to eat during my layover. The first thing I saw near my gate was a Mexican place with “California” in the name. Since I was going to California where I knew the Mexican food would be better, I skipped that. The next place was Firkin and Fox. Since I didn’t have a lot of time, I ordered one of their grab n’ go items: a chicken wrap with a side Caesar salad. Then I picked up some cheese sticks and Wheat Thins in case I needed a snack on the plane. The wrap was really good. Because the flight was delayed, I ended up eating the cheese sticks and some crackers before boarding. But I had a few crackers left just in case.

Since I got in pretty late Saturday night (2 AM to my body, 11 PM local time), I had a lazy Sunday morning. Okay, not really lazy. I actually ran 5K on the treadmill. But then I sat around the hotel room for a while. By the time I had the motivation to take a shower, I realized I didn’t leave much time for breakfast before I had to head over to the convention center to set up my booth for Exploration Station. I went to the hotel restaurant and there was a 30 minute wait! So I waited in the line at the hotel Starbucks and got a blueberry scone, banana (my second since I’d picked one up after running), and an OJ. 

After we set up our booth, Troy, Carol, Jaime, and I went to Oasis Grill, a Mediterranean place nearby the convention center. I had been there during previous AGU meetings and knew it was good. This time there was no line! I got a falafel wrap and a side of tabbouleh. Yum.

During Exploration Station, I tried to be good and not eat too many of our edible MMS components. I did snack on a few graham crackers and chocolate pieces.

After Exploration Station, I wanted to hit one of my San Francisco faves: Lori’s Diner. There are several locations throughout the city. I’ve eaten at the one by Union Square and the one in Ghiradelli Square (awesome view of the bay!) and know there’s one (not quite as exciting) at the airport. As we headed up Powell St. toward Union Square, I kept looking for the sign, but we got further and further without seeing it. Once we got beyond Union Square, I knew we had gone too far. I had Jaime look it up on her iPhone, and we headed back the way we came. When we got to where it should have been, we found a “Walgreen’s coming soon” sign and saw the place on the wall where the Lori’s Diner sign had been. I was totally bummed! I thought this was a San Francisco tradition! How could it be taken over by Walgreens? So we used her iPhone to look for another place and decided to try Biscuits and Blues. When we got there, they were charging a cover for a concert, and we decided that we just wanted to eat and head back to our hotels. So we just kept walking, looking at restaurants, and what did we find? A Lori’s Diner! It was a smaller location right around the block from the other one. Yay! We each got a milkshake: I had strawberry, Jaime had orange dream, and Carol had malted chocolate. 
We also each had hamburgers, I had the Edsel, which had mushrooms and swiss cheese, and a side of sweet potato fries. It was perfect!

For Monday’s breakfast, I met a group of women from the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) to prepare for the workshop we were presenting that afternoon. We met in the lobby of my hotel and decided to eat at the hotel restaurant. The prices were pretty ridiculous. One of them said, “$22 for oatmeal?” I had a spinach and mushroom omelet with hash browns and toast. It was good, but not really worth what they charge for it, as is generally true with high end hotel restaurants.

I didn’t have a lot of time for lunch between the morning session and the workshop. The lines get pretty long at most places during lunchtime anywhere near the Moscone Center because 20,000 people are all trying to eat lunch at the same time! I went into the Metreon where there are several fast food places (not McDonalds-type, but several Asian options and a soup/salad place). Just inside the door was a Creperie with only a couple of people waiting. I was a little ahead of the lunch rush, but not by much. I figured if I spent time wandering through trying to decide, I would waste a bunch of time and lose out on the opportunity to get something fast, so I went there. My friend, Susie, often blogs about the tasty crepes she gets, so I figured this was my chance to try them. There were a number of choices that sounded good, but I wanted to make sure that I got something that would last me through the workshop. I picked one with chicken, and I can’t remember what else, especially after reading through so many options. (Either Susie has the most amazing memory or she writes down what she gets because she always describes the full list of ingredients!) They make them on circular pedestal griddles while you watch. It was really good, and fast. 

After the workshop, AWIS and the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN) hosted a networking reception at Jillian’s that included food. There were chicken skewers, meatballs, quesadillas, and pizza. At the end, there was a dessert tray with a variety of options, including chocolate covered strawberries, brownies, several types of tarts, Mexican wedding cookies, and some sort of ginger/molasses cookie.

AGU provides Donor Lounges for anyone that donates a minimum value. The lounges include a place to put your coat and bag, places to sit, wifi access, a printer, and breakfast in the morning and snacks in the afternoon. I find that this is the most convenient way to get breakfast during the conference. It’s quick, on-site, and there are no lines. Unfortunately, they had posted that they are going to increase the minimum donation for access to the Donor Lounge to $500 next year. I discussed with several other people in the lounge that the increase would probably make the level unattainable for many and thus decrease the number of people that make donations. This year, I was able to eat breakfast there, but we'll have to see about next year.

For lunch, I went to the Metreon again. This time I tried the Korean BBQ place. After looking at the menu, I was originally going to get the BBQ chicken, but when I saw the actual food, I picked something else, which happened to be beef stew. It came with clear noodles and broccoli. Well, this is not Rachel Ray’s Less than $10 a Day where she never said any food was bad. (And I also don’t reduce my tip as the food price goes up to stay under a certain amount.) It was a disappointing choice. Almost every piece of meat had a bone in it (they had sliced it bone-in) and the broccoli was cold. 

Tuesday night was the banquet for the Space Physics and Aeronomy Section, which is a good chance to meet people in my field. It is always held at the Four Seas Restaurant in Chinatown. We get a 12 course meal served family style. The first year, I ate too much at the beginning and barely got to taste the last few dishes, so now I know to pace myself better. The meal includes a cabbage/peanut salad, hot and sour soup, a spring roll, a fried shrimp, vegetable fried rice, sweet and sour pork, shrimp with honey walnuts, beef with vegetables, tofu with vegetables, fish, lemon chicken, and a sesame ball and fortune cookie for dessert. Everything was delicious! The honey walnuts seemed particularly good, probably because I don’t get to eat nuts with meals very often.

I ate breakfast at the Donor Lounge again.

For lunch, I met up with a friend, and we went to Tropisueno Mexican restaurant. I found this place last year, tucked in a walkway about a block from the convention center. I always like to get Mexican food while I’m in California because the ingredients are much more fresh, making everything tastier. Ella got mole, and I got a pork tamale and a chile relleno. They come with rice and beans, and they have a salsa bar so you can try a number of different salsa with your chips. It was all very good.

ESWN had set up get-togethers each evening, having people meet at a given time and location so they would have someone to eat with and could meet new people. I found one other person, so we headed to dinner. We had a nice dinner, discussing our varied career paths. We picked an Indian and Pakistani restaurant about a block away from Union Square. I had lamb rogan josh. It was a tad spicier than I’m used to, but it was good. I also had a mango lassi to drink. 

Breakfast, again at the Donor Lounge.

I planned to attend a lunch-time town hall on Thursday, so I headed out a little early for lunch. This also gave me time to go to a sit-down restaurant since I was beating the crowds. I couldn’t resist having Mexican again, so I went to another place, right across the street from the conference center named Chevy's. This place is more like a chain, but still has fresh ingredients. I wanted something different than the day before, so I got a carnitas taco and a chicken enchilada, with beans a la charra (I hadn’t had this before-it was beans with bacon, onions, tomatoes), and some guacamole. I wasn’t that thrilled with the enchilada, but everything else was very good, especially the beans a la charra. 

For dinner, I had originally planned to meet up with my graduate student, but he decided he wanted to grab something simple to save money. I considered going to another ESWN dinner, but didn’t really want to wait until 6:30. So I hopped on the historic F-line streetcar and rode out to Fisherman’s Wharf. I walked to Ghiradelli Square to get some chocolate to share with my husband. (Can’t get it for the kids because it all has peanut contamination.) I had thought about heading back to Pier 39, but wanted to ride a cable car back, so I just stayed there and ate at the seafood restaurant. I had salmon stuffed with crab, shrimp, and brie, with a side of mixed vegetables that was very good. I tried a new kind of wine, a German sweet wine called Wernesgruner. It was decent, but I think I still prefer Riesling.

I had an early flight Friday morning, so I finished the week the same way it started-with a banana and OJ from Starbucks in the hotel (minus the blueberry scone). I had hoped to have time for some breakfast at the airport, but I ended up with just enough time to grab something to take on the plane. I got a banana nut muffin, a granola/yogurt/fruit parfait and a bottle of water. 

During my layover, I picked up a panini sandwich and bottle of water from a small coffee shop. I didn't want to eat too much because I knew my husband was cooking dinner for when I got home.

When I got home, my husband had made a tasty lamb leg roast! It was nice to end the week away with a good, home-cooked meal with my family.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

AGU 2012: Exploration Station

Today I hosted a booth at the Exploration Station, a free public event for people to discover cool Earth and Space science. It is affiliated with the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco. Normally on the Sunday preceding the meeting I attend the Geospace Environment Modeling workshop, but this year I wanted to bring my Sun and Space Weather activities to Exploration Station. I co-hosted the booth with Troy Cline, the Education/Public Outreach Lead for the NASA Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission. Two of the teachers that took my summer course on the Sun and Space Weather, Carol and Jaime, came to assist with the activities.

Troy brought all of his awesome MMS displays, the paper models of the satellites, and the smaller version of the Lego model designed and built by MARS Robotics. I brought my set of iPads to view data from solar missions to learn about the Sun and geomagnetic storms. I also brought supplies to build the edible MMS models. It was a lot of fun! Check out all of the awesome budding scientists.

AGU 2012: Travel day

As a professional scientist, I receive a number of publications from the professional societies that I belong to. There’s APS News from the American Physical Society, EOS from the American Geophysical Union, Physics Today from both, AWIS Magazine from the Association for Women in Science, Radiations from Sigma Pi Sigma (the Physics Honorary Society), The Gazette from the APS Committees on the Status of Women in Physics and Minorities. When do I have time to read these? Usually never, so they stack up on my desk, in my backpack, wherever I put stuff that I might get a chance to read them. Occasionally I go through them, but find an article I want to read thoroughly, so the entire thing still has to be saved for later.

Well, it turns out that a >5 hour flight from Dulles to San Francisco (to attend the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting), plus the preceding hour and a half flight delay spent at Dulles is a great time to catch up on these publications. Oh, and I also threw in my absolutely favorite (non-scientific) magazine, Brain, Child, which almost succumbed to the current struggles of the print industry but was thankfully resurrected by one of its loyal readers. I got through all of it, with almost two hours to spare. So I broke open my laptop to write this blog post about it.

My backlog went to the August issue of Physics Today. Wow, 4 months behind. Well, what I brought along wasn’t all-inclusive. For instance, I usually get through the EOSs, so I only had 1 to fully read and 2 with articles that I was saving to read. Physics Today is usually the last one I get to, so it has the worst backlog.

I learned two very useful items in all that reading (along with several tidbits). 

First, I teach workshops on the Sun and Space Weather. Coronal mass ejections and other stuff from the Sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field to cause geomagnetic storms. During these storms, charged particles in the bubble of space created by Earth’s magnetic field get energized and flow around this bubble. These energetic particles can damage satellites and overload power grids on Earth. I point out that Earth would be hit directly by loads of energetic particles if we didn’t have the magnetic field to slow things down. I often get asked if we’d be in trouble if the Earth’s magnetic field reverses direction, as it does on an irregular basis of approximately 10,000 year intervals. Until now, I didn’t know the answer to this question. But a “Backscatter Image” in one of the Physics Today issues answered the question. (The Backscatter Image is a 1-page image with a brief discussion of the physics that image portrays, appearing on the last page of each issue.) Earth’s magnetic field is usually a dipole, it has two poles (North and South), like a bar magnet. But it also has a quadrupole (4 poles) mode. The image was created by a computer simulation of Earth’s magnetic field that demonstrated two dipole modes, one for each direction, with the quadrupole  mode occurring between the two. Thus, the magnetic field will never go to zero during a reversal, it will just have a more complicated quadrupole geometry.

The second useful thing that I learned was in the Radiations magazine about a project called Career Pathways that is studying and compiling best practices in preparing physics majors for a variety of careers. I am currently leading an effort to implement such practices on an interdisciplinary level at my institution. Now I have another source of information to look into as we develop our program.
And when I get to San Francisco, I can dump a bunch of weight into the recycling bin, except for those two articles that I want to save. Now what am I going to do on the return flight?

Going to the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting provides a unique experience. When you are one of over 20,000 scientists heading to the same place, you easily run into a bunch of them during your travels. As I boarded the plane, I heard a couple of people discussing how they were getting to the meeting from their hotel. As I got to my seat, the person next to me asked if I was heading to AGU. My poster tube was a dead giveaway. He is a freelance science writer heading to the meeting to write stories on exciting science. As we discussed AGU, the couple in front of us said they were headed there too, the husband a hydrologist. It can be an overwhelming meeting with that many people, but the variety of science that is covered is amazing. From earthquakes to oceans to volcanoes to climate to the Sun and the planets!