Out of the Firehose, Into the Fire

by Lucy G.

Happy Bastille Day! Today was beach day for SSP at UNC Chapel Hill, but the night is, as ever, crunch time for the orbit determination (OD). Everything seems to be speeding by at this point in the program, as the seemingly never-ending cycle of image reduction, data processing, observing, and problem sets goes into overdrive as the due date for our final OD report approaches. One thing, though, that seems to be slowing down is our classes. One after one, our professors are giving their final lectures. Lectures have been one of my favorite parts of this program — though sometimes stressful, or overwhelming, I have learned an incredible amount in the span of four and a half weeks (or 0.5505 Gaussian days to be exact). From cosmology, to astroarchaeology, to nuclear physics, and even to juggling (to demonstrate the classic six-body problem of course), we have truly covered all things astrophysics — and more.

Since the beginning of SSP, our professors have indeed “firehosed” us, to use the metaphor from the participant handbook. But, they also do their best to lighten up our three hour lectures, or, in Professor Shanil Virani’s case, share physics-themed dad jokes with us with each slideshow (I have a collection of them on my camera roll). While I might not end up going into chemistry or asteroseismology, I have found each lecture fascinating. In the past week, we have also had special lectures from the TAs, which have been full of laughs as well.

A Professor Virani meme

I feel that laughs are definitely a common theme of SSP, and lectures are no exception. From Dr. Agnès Kim’s anecdotes about overconfident cosmologists to Dr. Michael Hanniwald’s stories about being ghosted by a prospective PhD advisor, laughter abounds even throughout 6 hours of lecture in a day. That is definitely one of the major takeaways from this program – nerds do in fact have a sense of humor. In all seriousness though, I will certainly miss the breakneck pace at which we approach such topics as general relativity, and the group of people who are able to laugh their way through it.

About Me:

Hi! I’m Lucy, I’m 16 and I am a rising senior at Charlottesville High School in Charlottesville, Virginia. At home, you can find me practicing for colorguard, hanging out with my dog, watching tiny house videos, or reading A Brief History of Time. At SSP, you can find me stressing over python syntax in the computer lounge, sleeping in my room, or scribbling down notes in lecture.