Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Summer Conference Season – Round 2: TEPS!

A number of members of PVL just completed a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia to attend the annual TEPS Summer Skills Series, organized by Catherine Neish and Christa Van Laerhoven. My trainees tell me they did a wonderful job and reported a very intellectually exciting and collaborative time out west. I asked Alex (4th from right in the first row) to weigh in on his experiences at the conference.

By Alex Séguin

On May 29th, 2018, seven members of PVL participated in the NSERC CREATE Technology for Exoplanetary Science(TEPS) Summer Skills Conference at the University of British Columbia. The workshop brings together young researchers involved in planetary science, exoplanetary science, and space instrumentation to encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations and to expose students of one field to two other complementary ones. Spanning the course of three days, the event offered us six keynote speakers and gave TEPS trainees an opportunity to present their latest research and receive feedback from their peers. This summer, PVL’s presence consisted of Paul (PDF), Christina (PDF), Jake (PhD), Giang (PhD), Charissa (MSc), Brittney (MSc), and myself, Alex (UG).   

As students preparing ourselves to pursue a career in the space sector, it is always encouraging and helpful to observe established individuals already successful in the field. Such were TEPS’ keynote speakers, who not only showed us the type of work they perform, but also shared some useful tips on how to find our place in the industry. The first presenter was Dr. Jani Radebaugh (Brigham Young University) who discussed the significance of using Earth as a planetary analog and common pitfalls when doing so. She used geomorphological features found within the Solar System as examples; Sometimes, features are comparable while other times they only share a similar cosmetic appearance. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Summer Conference Season

Judging by this photo I took in High Park a few weeks ago it would seem that spring has sprung here in Toronto. That can only mean that it is conference season! Paul has agreed tell you all about a few summer conferences we are supporting here at PVL.

by Dr. Paul Godin

Summer is typically considered a productive time for research on university campuses. With courses typically done, professors and students have more time to dedicate towards research. PVL has the addition of 3 undergrads working in the lab full time for the summer (plus one undergraduate volunteer). 

But it’s not just research that gets a boost during the summer months. Academic conferences to present our research are also more frequent in the summer. Attending conferences is a valuable part of academic life; it provides an opportunity to present your research and develop public speaking skills. But that’s not all: even if you’re not presenting your research conferences are a great opportunity to meet others working in your field, share ideas to help improve your research, and even discover employment opportunities.

Monday, April 9, 2018

“I’m not a student... not yet a professor”: but what actually IS a post-doc?

Usually I go with Grey's Anatomy references to explain academic ranks, hence the photo above, showing the season 1 cast. An intern (in Canada a 1st year resident - light blue above) is a bit like a PhD student just embarking on their research career, a resident is like a postdoc (light blue + lab coat) working with significant autonomy, each of whom works under an attending physician (dark blue above) who in turn takes their cues from the department chair (dark blue + lab coat). Here Christina takes a different tack.

By Dr. Christina Smith

Bonus points for anyone who gets the early 2000s song reference in the title there.

So this is a question I come across quite often – and I know other post-docs do too. When asked what I do for a living, I’ll often start with “I’m a researcher” for simplicity, but in reality I’m a “post-doctoral fellow” or even more confusingly, a “post-doctoral visitor”. There are a number of other names for people who do similar jobs to me, but they all tend to have the same word (or hyphenated word, but let’s not get onto the postdoctoral vs post-doctoral debate) at the beginning of the title, so often we just call ourselves “post-docs”.

But that doesn’t really answer the question: what is a post-doc?

Friday, March 30, 2018

2000 Sols on Mars: What Goes Into Documenting Another World?

The second in our two-part series on Curiosity's 2000th Sol on Mars. In this article Brittney takes a look at the public reaction to the day and reflects on choosing that perfect image to commemorate the occasion, in this case from an observation she herself designed, planned and ran on Mars! What goes into producing that top line image? Read on to find out. You can read the first article, written by Charissa Campbell and talking about operations, by clicking on this link.

By Brittney Cooper

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), better known as Curiosity Rover, celebrated its historic 2000th sol on Mars last week. 2000 Martian days equates to roughly 3 Martian years, which has allowed the rover a great deal of time to traverse Gale Crater. Along the way, the science team has used MSL to analyze Mars’ geology, all the while monitoring the atmosphere and its processes as the seasons change each year.
To celebrate this historic occasion, the BBC published an article featuring a collection of images captured by the rover throughout its journey. It turned out that a triptych of images taken as part of an observation I proposed were selected to be included in the article. It was really cool to see them alongside others in such a large outlet. An unexpected (but positive) result of those images being published came in the form of discussions with friends and family about what my actual role was in the capture of those images.

Sol 2000: A day in the life of a Martian Explorer

This week we've got a double bill here at PVL. In dueling articles, two of our Mars Science Laboratory Collaborators, Brittney Cooper (at left in the image above) and Charissa Campbell (at center) reflect on Curiosity's 2000th martian day (or sol) on Mars. The third person pictured above is Christina Smith, PVL Postdoctoral fellow and fellow MSL Collaborator and ESTLK. Charissa kicks us off with a description of the day and is followed up by Brittney's article about how that beautiful image in the newspaper gets produced.

by Charissa Campbell

As of March 22, Curiosity celebrated her 2000th day on Mars. I was lucky enough to be on operations during this monumental moment as some members of our research group are a part of the Environmental (ENV) Science Theme Group (STG) for Curiosity. This STG is responsible for the environmental side of operations, which includes advocating and planning observations beneficial to our research such as atmospheric movies. The official name for our role is the Environmental Science Theme Lead and Keeper of the Plan, or in a much manageable form, ESTLK.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Failing with Elegance

In the post below, Alex reflects on a frustrating problem in the lab. In many ways, our failures can be even more valuable than our successes, as they give us an opportunity to learn. Not to mention, as a mentor of mine once said, if you're not pushing into resistance and having problems then you aren't truly doing quality experimental science!

By Alexandre Séguin

Over the past semester, I have been working alongside Paul, Jake and John to set up a cryogenic vacuum chamber to emulate Moon-like conditions. I was assigned to a setup of a solenoid valve which controlled the flow of liquid nitrogen in the chamber. This subsystem includes the valve itself, a driver and a micro-controller. In short, the micro-controller reads a temperature input, determines whether the valve should open or close, and sends a signal to the driver which then activates the valve appropriately. Things did not go as smoothly as expected, and you will now have the opportunity to understand my thought process at the time. At the end, there will be a reflection on the lessons learned and the importance of handling frustrating situations well. Let’s get to work!

Managing the Undergrads

Let's hear it for the hardest working people in academia, our undergraduates! As a fun follow-on to Casey's previous post about the lab food chain, this week Elisabeth discusses the work that she has done with several undergraduates who volunteer with us at PVL to gain valuable experience and perhaps to prepare for future careers in research! From left to right, Alexandra Innanen, Abteen Sanaee, Romina Bahrami and Derek Hayden.

by Elisabeth Smith

Now that I’m in my final term of my Master’s degree, I am a very busy woman – I’m currently doing an astronomy research project for course credit, writing my thesis, and even starting to look around at employment opportunities. However, I still had a few experiments to conduct so I was able to recruit my very own mini-army of undergraduate assistants to help me out. 

Having an undergraduate assistant (or multiple, in my case) is very beneficial for both parties involved. As the graduate student, having an assistant to help perform experiments frees my time to focus on my thesis and other things necessary for the completion of my degree. For the undergraduate student, they gain valuable experience doing hands-on work – something that will doubtless be a boon to their future careers, whether that’s in industry or academia or anything else.