Yesterday our very own Joseph Long ascended the hallowed steps of academia and become a PhD holder! The PhD defense at Steward begins with a 30 min public talk summarizing your thesis (summarize 5-6 years of work in 30 mins????), followed by a snake fight with just the committee, who then kick you out to decide your fate. Reception to follow in the venerated “Interaction Area” at Steward, the area in which we interact.
I am actually in California right now doing an internship at NASA Ames for the next 6 months. But Joseph is pretty much my best grad school friend and I have a lot of airline miles, so I hopped a quick flight for the festivities.
The Public Talk
It was standing room only (not just because the only room he could reserve was too small…) as the audience sat in rapt attention for Giant Planets, Sirius, and Starlight Subtraction At Scale.
Of course he passed! While the OpSci grads get lovely sashes, a certain Steward postdoc-turned-faculty Kevin Hainline pioneered a slightly sillier tradition for Steward grads: an elaborate crown and cape featuring highlights of their research. If you follow this blog, you are well aware of the craftiness of some of our group members. So the troops were mobilized into action in true XWCL spirit (with heavy consultation with Kevin).
The cape is an astronomy fabric with gold letters (Avalon-printed) and plots from his papers with logos he made as well. The crown has a circus flair, and features bells on the ends, with a dumpster (I mean a MagAO-X with one too few doors on the top, oops) as the center feature. Around the base of the crown are hand-drawn (Eden-drawn) animals from the mission patches Joseph designed, each with their own crowns. Jialin also made some incredible art of Joseph, to be featured below.
The encrowning and encapening
I didn’t really get any pictures of the food! Jay Keuny’s partner Mel made incredible focaccia bread, Jay made amazing pistachio macarons, Maggie brought a lovely pie, and Jialin brought fun Asian flavor chips!
Behind the scenes
Avalon’s amazing craft skills on the letters
Jialin made some incredible Joseph art:
As a congrats gift, I made as Business Viscacha, or Businesscacha, or Biscacha. Behold Bizzy Biscacha:
The briefcase opens and there are little letters in there 😀
This summer Joseph is moving to New York City to begin a postdoc software fellowship at the Flatiron Institute. He’ll still be active with MagAO-X so keep an eye on this blog to follow his adventures.
On Friday, April 14th Alexander Hedglen went from learner to master. Passing his PhD defense, he will go on to work for Northrop Grumman Corp in Rolling Meadows, IL. Alex has been the top optomechanical student for XWCL for the past six years! His projects range from designing telescope simulators to 3″ triplets to crazy mounting schemes for deformable mirrors.
Alex and I started working for Laird back in 2017. I will greatly miss his mentorship and guidance. We have spent long hours in the lab aligning optics, gluing optics, and phasing the GMT segments on HCAT. He has taught me so much about optomechanical engineering and how to make some darn good presentation figures.
We wish Alex, Kateri, Ezra, Clover, and Callie the best of luck on their journey!
Alex and me working on phasing the High Contrast Adaptive-optics Testbed (HCAT)
So the fellowship I used to fund part of grad school has supplemental funding for an internship at a “non-academic institution” — basically not a university. I applied for it to fund a 6-month excursion to NASA Ames in San Jose to work with Dr Natasha Batalha on modeling exoplanet atmospheres for future reflected light imaging of exoplanets. I rolled out of town with 6 months of stuff and my dog this morning.
But I didn’t head straight there. So you see, my labrador Lani is every bit a labrador. The most important things in the world are water and the ball, especially water + the ball. So I took my desert dog to San Diego today to hit up their dog beach; I’m pretty certain she’s never seen waves or salt water. I haven’t been to San Diego since back in my Navy days in 2008 (I did also visit Coronado Island and peep for aircraft carriers in port). I’m just staying the night and then heading up to Big Sur area tomorrow, eventually reaching San Jose on Monday.
But you’re not here to listen to me blab, you’re here for the dog pics. So here you go, enjoy pics of my dog having her best day ever.
Unbridled joy at realizing where we were
She just kept running in and out of the waves:
Takes the waves like a boss:
The song of the day is 9 minutes of the Happy Dog Song:
I didn’t get into academic astronomy to travel, but I didn’t get into academic astronomy to avoid travel, you know what I mean?
I’m bringing the good ship Ph.D. into port in the very near future, and I have been to Chile some six times (should have been more, but thanks covid) without having seen more than observatories and airports (again, thanks covid).
Well that was better. After our December run (trucking strike followed by extremely bad luck with the spatial power spectrum) we were all holding our breath for this run. This time, we got a good week in the cleanroom to tune MagAO-X up, and Cerro Manqui cooperated — delivering 0.27″ seeing at one point. As documented in previous posts, we got a huge amount of work done. We also detected a whole bunch of planets.
MagAO-X Phase 1 commissioning is now complete. XKID was the last thing on the official list, but we also got to the point where we can confidently act like a real instrument. We can point at a star, lock the high-order loop, align a coronagraph, lock the low-order loop, and start taking data, and do it all night long. We can target hop efficiently (for Alycia anyway). We’re achieving contrasts with “e-6” in them, and we are working within 2 lambda/D of stars (though not yet at the same time).
Don’t worry though, the excitement will continue. Everybody says the X in MagAO-X stands for eXtreme. But it really means eXperimental. Kinda like the the Billy o’ Tea, we’re never going to be done commissioning — because we don’t know what we don’t know and are still figuring out what works. The only way to find out is to keep coming back for more.
Here’s a viscacha doing an impression of the current state of the MagAO-X instrument and its keepers:
After breakfast today we finished packing up. That meant putting the front door on the big box which holds the optical table, and then loading our electronics into its box and doing the always exciting dance with gravity to get it into the shipping position.
I was given permission to post a pic of myself “being PI”:
After the exciting crane ops, the more tedious stuff has to get done. Applying shipping labels (which involves cleaning first) and bolting down various lifting fixtures we don’t want the shippers to use in transit (our entering assumption: if they can find a way to destroy it, they’ll do it).
After a quick tidy-up in the clean room, we’re finally bound for home.
LCO is an amazing place, with the best seeing in the world (… most of the time), gorgeous sunsets, comfy beds and great food, an awesome crew, and it somehow doubles as a zoo.
Laird hit the road after lunch:
Our last sunset for 2023A — 2023 in total — was as amazing as always:
I brought up The Wellerman during our last-night-that-wouldn’t-end because I’ve been listening to Colm McGuinness a lot since my last “end of run” post. I think I gave Eden the wrong impression though: I wasn’t aware of whatever happened on Tik-Tok vis-a-vis sea shanties and t.b.h. am not at all disappointed that she wasn’t either.
Being even more honest, and probably ironic, I don’t actually like sea shanties as a genre. Mainly because it’s usually done in that comedic irish pub style where for some reason someone hiccups during each verse. But the songs are actually working songs, sung to pass the time or keep the beat during dangerous and hard work, far and long from home with only the hostile sea for company. (let’s leave aside that few of the songs we’re talking about here are actually shanties . . . )
I “discovered” Colm McGuinness last December because of his My Mother Told Me. Which is not a shanty, but I have to say Colm seems to get it the way I get it: these are songs that deserve a little bit of epic flare. Examples: Roll Boys Roll and Santiana. [Dude also does an amazing Jolene, background here].
Before going further, note that this all fits in my series of “music I rocked to with Ben” b/c I recently got into sea-oriented music when he sent this with the assertion that they are what we (including two other friends from high school) would look like if we decided to start a sea shanty band. YMMV. (longer story includes that Home Free recently played in Brookings South Dakota, the official hometown of MagAO).
Anyway, the song of the day is a ballad about the journey home from a long and arduous adventure at sea. I love this job, and we’re doing something amazing as a team. I think we’re on the road to achieving our very lofty goals. But every time we do this thing we do at LCO, I have to acknowledge that “it’s a damn tough life, full of toil and strife, we AOistas undergo…”