Honors Summer Snapshots: Allen

Ever wonder what Honors students do during the summer? Honors Ambassadors and students will be taking you into their 2016 summer routines via photos. Comedy College veteran Allen Wang tried his hand at rocket science this summer:

Hello! I’m Allen, and I study Aerospace Engineering and Economics, but this summer I’m doing a stint in NASA’s Gravitational Astrophysics Lab at Goddard Space Flight Center (I’m still trying to stop questioning how I found myself here).

Wang 1

Specifically, I’m doing a research project with data from a new European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft called LISA Pathfinder. It was launched this past December to test technologies needed to build a gravitational wave detector in space, eLISA. Although it’s an ESA mission, two NASA Physicists, my mentors, are on the science team and help with the data analysis.

Wang 3

Here’s Building 34, where I work! It’s home to the Astrophysics and Solar Systems Exploration divisions. There are TONS of unique, interesting people to run into in the hall ways; research here spans from Exoplanet Detection to Astrobiology to Gravitational Wave Detection (my lab)!

Wang 4

Here’s my office! All of the science for spacecraft missions is just done on computers, so I don’t actually spend any time in a physical research lab. A large portion of my time this summer this summer has been spent calculating the gravitational balance of the spacecraft over the course of the mission. Fuel has mass. Mass has gravity. As fuel is expended, there is less mass and therefore less gravitational force exerted on the LISA Pathfinder experiment. This change is on the order of 10 picometers per second squared over 100 days. That’s 0.00000000001 meters per second squared! That is still very significant, because the LISA Pathfinder scientists are looking for precision on the order of 10 femtometers per second squared (throw three more zeros in front of the number above). I share this office with a graduate student and a physicist (the younger one of my two mentors). The green couch is for my other mentor; he has his own office, but he usually pops in a few times every day to discuss things to do.

Wang 5

One of the coolest things about working here is how friendly everyone is! Some friends and I went exploring after work one day, and we came across a super friendly engineer who offered to give us a private tour of the Hubble Control Room. He has been working on Hubble for 20 years and had TONS of amazing stories to tell!

Wang 6

Speaking of space telescopes, the next “flagship” project, the James Webb Space Telescope, is being finished up here at Goddard as we speak! It wasn’t quite visible the day I visited the observation deck, but you can see a few engineers/technicians/scientists at work in their white “bunny suits.”

Wang 7

Speaking of bunny suits, I got to put one on and tour the clean room my lab has! In there, they’re essentially measuring the background noise the laser beams used in eLISA might introduce into the data. My Facebook friends will recognize this as my profile pic.

Wang 8

Another really cool perk is that there are tons of lectures/colloquia on campus given by Goddard’s very own scientists! They’re completely open to all NASA employees and interns, so it’s a fantastic way to learn about the latest and greatest in science. I’ve gotten to go to lectures on everything from atmospheric science to the geology of Pluto and new theories on the composition of Dark Matter.

Wang 10

And here’s a picture of the astrophysics interns along with a few of the mentors!

Wang 9

For my fellow nerds, here’s an infographic on the mission I’ve been working on. This summer I’ve gotten to become intimately familiar with the gravitational effects of the DRS and DFACS. One cool fact is that the thrusters ALWAYS have to be on; acceleration due to solar pressure (essentially the energy of the sun pressing on the spacecraft) is very significant and must be counterbalanced by our thrusters. I should add to the infographic and note that what really makes gravitational waves interesting isn’t just that they’re predicted by Einstein, it’s also that, through them, we can observe exotic astronomical objects and events (e.g. black hole and neutron star mergers).

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