I just finished my last exam for the semester and headed home as the freezing rain was starting to fall in Ottawa. I had my Computational Physics [PHYS4807] exam on Thursday (mostly statistics for experimental physics
!!! 4.5 hours long, and I took all but 15 minutes of it to finish (but I did
finish, so I think I should get a good mark on it and my course overall). My exam today was for a C++ and "software engineering" course [COMP2404] that I had to take for my degree, and I am hoping to get an A+ in it (or an A minimum, but anything less than an A+ in this particular subject will be a little disappointing to me, heh, but I won't be crushed if I only get an A... bearing in mind I was programming in C++ in the early 90s and have decades of software development experience, although mostly in the C language
... gads, I'm such an old fart, lol, but still young at heart... or is that immature? I can never remember... whatever, heh). I "challenged for credit" the other two computer courses I needed to take for my physics degree, but you either get a pass or fail for those and they don't affect your GPA. Taking the course in full will contribute to my GPA, and I could use a good mark to pull my average up (overall, I think I'm a "B" student, which under the circumstances of my life and existence is nothing short of remarkable, in a good way).
I also turned in my "mid-year" report for my 4th year Honours Project in physics [PHYS4909], which I will be updating based on feedback, and then sharing here when it's done (I've been threatening to post work I've done in physics for a while, instead of all that feminist studies stuff, and I will do so soon, mwaaahahaha...). Basically, I am trying to figure out how to re-purpose a particle detector — that was designed to be used at a high-energy particle accelerator facility like DESY
— to be used to detect cosmic ray muons
. FYI, it's a copy of the EUDET Telescope
design developed in Europe for the International Linear Collider
project (the website I put together last summer is here
... a work in progress...). The main issue? At an accelerator facility, you can have all the particles you want and they are mostly delivered at a predictable energy. Carleton University does not have a particle accelerator, so we are going all ghetto and using naturally occuring high-energy particles: cosmic rays. Unfortunately, they are of all sorts of energies and you get about one every minute per square centimeter at a surface (from every direction, mostly vertical, they have a cos2θ
angular probability distribution) and we need them to pass through all six layers of our detector... so with that configuration we only get about one particle every 30 minutes
. The software that came with it has no idea whatsoever to do with so few particles (again, it was written for environments where you could pretty much have as many particles as you wanted), so that has to be re-thought and substantively re-written as well. Add to that (and this was one of the main physics results of the first semester of my two semester project), the amount of energy deposited in the detector chips by 4GeV electrons at DESY is almost two orders of magnitude more than what is deposited by 4GeV naturally occurring cosmic ray muons (mostly because electrons produce about 40,000 times more Bremsstrahlung
than muons because of their lower mass... fyi, muons are sort of like big, heavy, electrons... they are both leptons
, if you want to look it up). Most of the first semester was spent trying to see muons with the darned thing for the first time (we finally succeeded in late November, woot!), and next semester will be learning how to use it fully, developing new track detection and analysis software, and integrating the "Small Thin-Gap Chamber" (sTGC) data acquisition (VMM1) electronics and software with the detector electronics and software we have (as part of the ATLAS New Small Wheel Upgrade project
at the Large Hadron Collider
at CERN, that Carleton is deeply involved with executing). The carrot under my nose is if I can get it all to work, we will likely do a beam test with the sTGC and Carleton's EUDET Telescope at Fermilab
(using their pion
beam), and they'll pay for me to go along as a key participant (there could even be a couple of actual journal publications out of it... I've only ever had my name on conference papers to date, which is still pretty cool as an undergraduate).
This all sounds very nice and such, but things really didn't go all that smoothly. At the end of the summer, a close friend of mine had a medical emergency that eventually required them to be sedated and to have their heart shocked back into regular rhythm (not a heart attack, but rather arrhythmia tachycardia... not immediately life threatening, but can cause heart attack or stroke if not treated reasonably quickly). There were a number of factors, but a lot of her life was being torn to pieces at the time and the insane levels of stress no doubt contributed. I ended up helping her back on her feet, and that caused me huge problems at the end of my summer term (in the 3rd year feminism course I was taking in particular, [WGST3812] "Selected Topics in Women's and Gender Studies: Gender and Health"... mostly a course on eating disorders and body image... not the most fun I've ever had as can be imagined). The whammy really came because I got quite ill myself shortly afterward (virus ov d00m) and wasn't able to complete the take home exam in that course. Earlier in the summer, family issues and the workload of my summer job at the university as a "Research Assistant" really beat the crap out of me as well, and that had a huge impact on my summer in general (yes, on the EUDET Telescope project... I basically had to get the space ready, learn what exactly the detector was and how it worked, and finish the basic commissioning of the detector after it arrived). Specifically, I had to drop the "Modern Physics II" [PHYS3606] course I had been taking, which means I now have to take it during the winter term coming up now (it's a heavy course because it has both an academic and lab component to it, and the course has been completely redone by a new professor so it will be much more difficult... sigh). I did manage to complete the two feminist studies courses I was taking though. I did finish the first year Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies [WGST1808] course (normally a full-year course, but compressed during the summer), which is required for the second degree I'm working on (a B.A. or B.A. Honours in Women's and Gender Studies, dunno which yet, but definitely a full degree as opposed to the minor I had been considering at one point, so long ago). I got an A+ in that course (woots!). Sadly, I got a C- in my 3rd year course, which really sucks the galactic muffin (if you'll pardon the phrase used in this context). The final take-home exam was worth 50% of my grade in that class (!!!), so by only finishing one of the two essays that was on it (because I was sick and overwhelmed), the maximum grade I could have received was a "B" and the professor gutted me on my midterm exam as well (somewhat unfairly, I thought), so I didn't really stand much of a chance in that class :(. All it took was to lose 13-15% in total to get that C- (if I had completed the final exam, I would have had an A- or a B+, ugh). It did advance me toward my second degree at least even if it didn't really do nice things to my GPA in that subject (I guess I could take an extra WGST at some point and use it to poit that particular course out of my average, heh).
I also didn't really want to take my Honours Project this year either, but it was somewhat forced on me (not entirely, but it was an offer that was difficult to refuse, shall we say...). That forced me to immediately drop the WGST course I wanted to take in the fall term (on "The Politics of Gender and Health" [WGST2807], taught by a midwife who had been all over the world). Even then the workload ultimately proved too much for me and I eventually had to drop my electromagnetism [PHYS3308] course, which is a "gatekeeper" course for my physics degree program. Between starting the semester at a massive deficit (health wise... and I was pretty badly burned out in general), with all of the family problems that came up, with another project that suddently got important (more below) that wasn't directly part of my studies, and with the Honours Project, there just wasn't enough time for the 12 to 26 hours a week of homework for the electromagnetism course (yes, 12 to 26 hours... consistenly, every week). I am contemplating taking it at the University of Ottawa, but I will have to take two semesters of courses there instead of the one here; however, I am thinking I might live through it if I spread it out a little instead of taking it the way Carleton offers it... Classmates who are way smarter than I've ever been, and have tremendous mathematical abilities, said it completely brutalized them and seriously lowered the marks they were able to get in their other classes the year they took it. It makes me feel a little
better, but I still have to pass the course. The most important thing for me is that I proved that I could
do the actual work (the math and the physics) — something I wasn't
sure of, and really started to doubt myself — but just couldn't complete enough of it in the time I had to get a passing mark in that class (in one particular instance, I spent 14 hours figuring out how to do the first question of the assignment and had no more time to finish the remainder of that week's homework... which was 5 additional questions on top of the one I did manage to do... I got full marks for the one solution I turned in, but that isn't going to cut it for marks overall in such a course). Ultimately, I know taking the Honours Project when I did will turn out to have been a good decision, but I did suspect I wouldn't make it through PHYS3308 if I did... I have to say I tried anyway. Reminds me of a quote from Dune: "They tried and failed, all of them?", he asked. "Oh, no." She shook her head. "They tried and died". Heh. As I said, the stuff I'm learning having the space and equipment to do my Honours Project will serve me in good stead in a lot of the stuff I think I will be involved with going forward or that I might like to do (stuff like particle tracking techniques and Monte Carlo simulations
Which leads me to another project that has taken a surprising amount of time from me this year: the satellite payload that I designed
for the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge
of 2011/2012. The Carleton team did not win the competition, although we were certainly in the running. Most of the participants were from the Aerospace Engineering program, but a few of us on the payload team were in physics (one left science and went to aerospace engineering during the competition, heh). We had a great idea and lots of folks loved it, but we just didn't have the organization in place to support a winning entry (I had emailed the chair of the physics department and never even got an acknowlegement email or a word in the hallway... my supervisor at the time, Dr. Armitage
, supported me as best he could and I learned a tremendous amount from him doing the project, so for that I am eternally grateful). Anyway, I had been working on the CRIPT
projects (which is where I got the idea for the satellite payload), as I have mentioned in the past, and was able to snarf some materials out of the trash heap when they wrapped up that I planned to use to build a prototype of the satellite payload if I had time. I had time (sort of), and it's built now... it took roughly a year and a half working very part time on it, but I finished it in November and was able to start taking a little bit of data right away. I have much, much more work to do, but it is off to a great start and if I finish work on it, I will be able to pitch it to a number of organizations to actually build and launch! Two things that this particular project allowed to happen that would not have if I had not been doing it: I got to meet Chris Hadfield
, and I was invited to do a presention about my project at the 2013 Canadian Space Summit
(in front of pretty much all the key industry players in the space sector and representatives from the CSA and NASA, etc.). The latter took a huge toll on my time availability as I really needed to finish the detector prototype and have something to show when I gave my talk. A copy of the presentation is here
(a PDF, fyi) if you are so inclined and have a great need to follow what I'm doing, lol, or an interest in space weather and DIY satellite payload design. Anyway, this remains an ongoing project and I hope to have some key results in the next couple of months (the initial testing I did was just "sanity testing" the thing, it didn't begin to explore any of the questions I need answered).
I guess it wouldn't be a proper round up if I didn't at least recap the earlier part of the year... which was the usual mix of chaos, crises, and doom with sunny patches... I was able to complete three courses but had to drop Mathematical Physics I [PHYS3807] for lack of time to complete enough of the homework to pass (sound familiar?). It is also a "gate keeper" course for my degree, but the good news is that I am at least starting to understand the math required and how to do it. I think maybe what I need to do is take that course and electromagnetism together and just spend a semester doing nothing but mathematics (neither course provides any insight into physics, it's all just solid math, math, math) and maybe take a 3rd course in underwater basket weaving
or something so I can go sit in a corner somewhere and drool while getting a credit. If I take the electromagnetism courses at the University of Ottawa, then this may not be entirely necessary. We shall see. I did pass Abstract Algebra I [MATH2108] (I got an A+, wtf??? I wasn't expecting to even pass that course initially, I guess I have an abstract brain), Mathematical Methods I [MATH3705] (I got an A-, but it was re-taking the course because I had previously passed, but had done poorly, and needed to be good at the stuff taught in that course to tackle... yup, electromagnetism and mathematical physics), and Activism, Feminisms, and Social Justice [WGST2801] (B+, and one of the "core courses" required for a WGST degree). The last one was particularly interesting because, as part of the required "activist project" (yes, mandatory volunteerism, the course is hugely problematic), I hijacked my own radio show to host a show on issues surrounding mental health
with four of my classmates (you can listen to it "on demand" at that link). That led to one of the participants, aka Lilith, to pitch and get her own radio show ("Femme Fatale
", an accessible and inclusive feminist radio program... fyi, I will be doing a fill-in for her show on December 30th if you want to tune in). She trained with me on my show before she got hers and normally co-hosts with me these days on my show (she has helped me to learn how to be "conversational" on the air instead of relying as heavily on scripts), and has become a good friend of mine too (one of the few actual friends I have at Carleton... the age gap makes it pretty hard to relate to other undergraduates, so it's only exceptional individuals that I can make any connection with... which self-selects for cool and interesting people, which is okay in my books I guess, heh). On the downside, things blew up so bad at the end there that I actually flunked challenging for credit the C++ course [COMP2404] (that I took this term for GPA credit, which will turn out for the better — in the long term at least).
Because I knew I would self-combust if I tried to take Mathematical Physics I again next term (it is with the same professor that teaches electromagnetism), I did a huge shuffle of my courses for next term and will be taking Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics [PHYS4409] instead with one of the best physics professors Carleton has (Bruce Campbell
, fyi... and no, he doesn't have a chainsaw for an arm, heh). Unfortunately, this necessitated me dropping the "Feminist Research" [WGST3810] class, which is the last "core course" I need for my feminist studies degree, so I will have to take that next year (it's only offered in the winter semester). In its place, I am taking a course on "Gendered Violence" [WGST3807]. I am still going to be taking the Modern Physics II [PHYS3606] class because my Honours Project supervisor is the new prof for the course and he kind of insisted... but the lab section I was able to get into conflicts with my radio show so unless I can switch to the other lab section, it is not going to go well for me (although I might be able to finagle something, we shall see). And, of course, I will be continuing my Honours Project. Over the next couple of days I will figure out whether I will take the electromagnetism course at the UofO... sadly, I'm leaning in that direction because I really have to get over this hump somehow and hard work is the only way it's going to happen. I'm hoping that if I get exposed to it from a different perspective (and from a different professor) that I will understand it better. And lastly, I need to come up with a reasonable plan to finish testing the satellite payload prototype I've been working on. It's all doable until something in some other part of my life sort of blows up, which given past experience, is pretty much inevitable :P.
As a parting note, I will be taking over the radio station for New Year's Eve!!! I will be on air from 10PM on December 31st through 2AM on January 1st. Tune in for a fun New Years program! 93.1FM in Ottawa and area, or streaming live to large swaths of the planet via Internet at http://www.ckcufm.com/
:). [and yes, I'll be doing my regular Wednesday morning show at 10AM on January 1st, I hadn't remembered that when I originally agreed to do the New Year's overnight, heh]