Students Building a Radio Telescope

Hey, all!

I’m at the American Association of Physics Teachers meeting in Provo, Utah, and I thought I should post a digital version of my poster since I just took down the physical one. I’m really proud of my four undergrads who not only learned radio astronomy basics themselves in a few short weeks, but also developed and carried out lesson plans to lead a group of 17 high school students towards building and using a Radio JOVE.

Enjoy! Click for PDF or Powerpoint. PNG format below.


#ProfLife Year 4, Black Holes on the Radio, and the Return of the Skepchicks

UPDATE (5/7/19): You can find the audio of the NHPR conversation online, as well as a segment I did the next day with Amy Shira Teitel for Minnesota Public Radio!

The last post on this page is actually a year old, so time for an update!

Things look a little different around here. I’ve set up a static homepage since this site isn’t used often, so the blog updates (or lack thereof) are not front and center. Instead, you get a helpful about page! I’ve also updated and refined the information on my Writings and Podcasts pages.

Speaking of podcasts, I’ll be on the radio live on Monday, May 6 at 9am on New Hampshire Public Radio again with the Sky Crew on The Exchange. Of course, it’ll go into the podcast feed after recording, so you can enjoy it any time. You know we’re going to talk about that massive black hole image, right? Right.

What else have I been doing? Teaching, research, and service, of course! I just finished up my fourth year as a tenure track professor, which means I have a little over a year left until I go up for tenure. Am I nervous about it? Hi, it’s me, of course I am. Is that going to stop me? Hell no. But I’m still loving my job, my students, and my colleagues. But not the grading part. I still hate that.

Finally, I’m super excited that the Skepchick crew is back in action! As Rebecca explains in her re-launch post, most of us fell away for various reasons over the last few years. Let’s face it, it’s been rough out there. But I missed that particular awesome group and I’m happy we’re back to writing again. I’ll be doing the Friday Quickies (with Cute Animal Friday!) and other posts on science, feminism, social justice, etc.

As always, say hi on Twitter. Cheers!

series of images of people with infrared camera
My students, as seen in infrared

#ProfLife Year 3 comes to a close

2018 is underway, and my site has been restored after a few months of downtime. Hooray!

Another busy semester as a tenure track professor has come to a close. I tell my students that it is bittersweet. I miss having them around, but I like being able to work on projects that have been on hold while I was teaching. And I do love teaching! Though… not so much the grading part.

Although I don’t write much anymore, I’m hoping to use this site to post some teaching and outreach materials as I work on them. Although I have an official work site, that’s also under development, and it doesn’t have quite the flexibility that I have here.

With the semester done, I was able to join NHPR’s The Exchange again for a great show on astronomy, including a lot of talk of Mars! Listen to the recording here.

This summer I’m working on several projects and teaching an online class, then the fall brings us back to DragonCon, where I’ll be an attending pro once again.

Be sure to keep in touch on Twitter and Instagram!

The Sky Crew Takes on Gravitational Waves

Hey all! It’s already late October, which means midterms and student advising in my world. Yesterday, I was once again invited to join NHPR‘s radio program The Exchange to discuss astronomy with host Laura Knoy and astronomers John Gianforte and Mal Cameron. We had a lovely time talking about a number of subjects and spent the first 20 minutes covering the recent gravitational wave discovery of colliding neutron stars, though we easily could have devoted the whole hour to it.

Listen below or find it on Apple Podcasts.


Are you ready for the Great American Eclipse?

UPDATE (8/17/17): As the date gets closer, please check out my “Procrastinator’s Guide to the Solar Eclipse” on Skepchick!┬á

I’m pretty darn excited. I’ve never seen a total solar eclipse, and I’m getting my first chance to do so, along with many, many residents of North America, on August 21st. I’m heading back to the St. Louis area to see my friends from my post-doc days, visit an elementary school with some cool activities, and chase away the clouds (I hope!) and see my first total solar eclipse. If you’re in the North and Central America, and even parts of South America, you’ll be able to see at least part of an eclipse, so get ready!

There are lots of LOTS of people who have been working hard to make sure that folks get to see the event safely. No, you should NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN without proper equipment. That said, looking at the Sun during an eclipse is no more dangerous than looking at the Sun any other day. It’s just a concern because so many people want to look up! You don’t need expensive equipment, but solar viewers are highly recommended for looking up. The American Astronomical Society has a good primer on eye safety PLUS a page full of reputable vendors that will actually keep your eyes safe from the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light from the Sun while you view. Obviously, there has been a rush on these things, but you can call your local library, since many have been stocked with cheap and free glasses just for this.

Don’t have time to get solar viewers? That’s okay! Indirect methods work as well. Science Friday has FIVE DIY ways to view the eclipse with little to no cost.

Going to the path of totality? Great! It’s going to be PACKED. I’m already a little nervous about it, as towns are expecting gridlock as people swarm to be in the path of totality. Take the advice of Angela Speck, astronomer at the University of Missouri who lives right on the path, and pack water, food, and emergency supplies when you head out on the 21st. Also? Make sure to gas up your vehicle the day before.

You all know how I love citizen science, where everyone can take part in data collection an analysis. This eclipse is providing many such opportunities for doing citizen science, including tracking atmospheric conditions, logging animal behavior, and investigating the ionosphere with radio waves.

As for me? I’m just going to watch and enjoy since it’s my first. I’ve been advised by several experienced eclipse watchers to just enjoy the experience. I took that advice to heart when I saw my first space shuttle launch, and I’m so glad that I did. Totality is super quick, just under two minutes depending on your location, so I plan to soak it all in!

If you’re not on the path of totality, you never really get full darkness, and the Moon will take its time to cross the solar disk. So, you can view at your leisure. I really love this visual by Vox where you can put in your zip code and see when the eclipse will take place, and at what percentage, wherever you are. So plan your day around it if you can!

Here are some great online resources for all your eclipse needs:

See you at totality!

Noisy Astronomer joins the Sky Guys!

Greetings from overwhelmed-professor-land! Heh, yeah, I’m alive and even occasionally on social media these days. But life as a tenure track professor keeps me pretty busy, even during the summer months.

I have some exciting science outreach stuff happening starting this month, starting off with my first appearance on NHPR’s The Exchange on Wednesday, August 9th! I’ll be joining host Laura Knoy and “the Sky Guys” John Gianforte and Mal Cameron to round up all the exciting astronomy news of the last few months. We’ll get you ready for the Great American Eclipse, discuss some important NASA milestones and missions, and a whole bunch of other astronomical stuff. Miss the Weekly Space Hangout during it’s summer hiatus? Get your fix with us! Listen on your radio in New Hampshire or online at 9am Eastern. It’s an hour-long call-in show, so join the fun.

Speaking of the eclipse, I’ll be back in the St. Louis area to see my very first total solar eclipse! I’m taking the advice of many experienced folks and enjoying this one all for myself, so no outreach the day of the big event. But I will be sure to post some links here in a future post.

After that, the semester starts in earnest, but I’ll also be at DragonCon and GeekGirlCon doing panels and hands-on science activities. I’ll post more on that later as well. Until then, I’ll see you on Twitter!

#FirstYearProf Comes to an End!

Tomorrow, I’ll be walking at graduation, but not my own. Nevertheless, it’s a momentous occasion for me. My first year as a professor has come to a close! It really felt over last week when I submitted all my final grades. But, it’s still nice to do the fancy dress up and, sadly, say goodbye to our departing seniors as they embark on their careers.

A couple of weeks ago, to celebrate, I posted a fun little gif-ful post on School of Doubt, “A First Year as a Professor, in GIFs.” Check it out if you’re into that sort of thing.

For now, I’m re-shifting my focus to deal with summer tasks, which is very different from my semester-long race to make my astronomy classes as cool as possible. I’ll check in soon!

I get Questions

mailer_chinesetopBeing the “token astronomer” in some of my circles means that I get asked all kinds of interesting questions. Like this:

“You’re an astronomer! Tell me – is it normal for your boobs to actually be separate entities outside your space suit? I mean, I assume that’s for science reasons.”

With the picture at right from a video game.

Well I figured this is a question best answered with some examples…

What do you say, Suni Williams?
How about you, Sally Ride?
Eileen Collins want to weigh in?
How about you, Mae Jemison?


Oh wait you can't see it well with Svetlana Savitskaya...
Oh wait you can’t see it well with Svetlana Savitskaya…
So let's ask Suni again!
So let’s ask Suni again!

So yeah, illustrators. STAHP.

I’m not even going to get into this one…




Catching up to 2015

Back when I was writing a bit more regularly, I was posting monthly updates here. Since I haven’t been doing so and have just gotten this site running again, here’s a list of what I’ve been doing (other than teaching and moving and teaching some more) in 2015:



EDIT (10/11): Oooo I almost forgot. I was recently a guest on a couple of podcasts, both recorded at Dragon*Con 2015. Here is a short interview with Richard Drumm for 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast, and I get to ask the artists a question on Mad Art Cast!

Just recently we got our first ever family photo. Both furry mammals in the same frame without them freaking out!


More to come very soon…

I can’t get enough of #GirlsWithToys

And no, as some of you pointed out when this whole thing started, this is not anything lewd.

On Saturday morning, I was on a city bus in Pittsburgh heading to the airport. I had just wrapped up a week at the Intel International Science and Engineering Festival where I was the “adult-in-charge” from our regional fair’s delegation. I was catching up on social media, something I’m slowly getting better at doing again these days, when I noticed an NPR story circulating in my feed. Turns out, a well-known astrophysicist had described scientists as “boys with toys” in an NPR piece, and some of the scientific ladies I knew were not too happy to be erased, again.

Well, heck, I get the sentiment at its core. I’m sure I have myself compared astronomers┬áto “little kids with toys” when I talk about our excitement at using the amazing telescopes we’ve built. Since I focused on radio astronomy instrumentation specifically in graduate school, I felt that our relationships with our instruments were pretty special, especially for those involved in their designing and building.

I was on a city bus with fairly good signal, so I could access a few photos from when I did build and use telescopes every day, and tweeted them with, why not, #GirlsWithToys. I wasn’t sure I could make a cogent argument for why the “boys with toys” comment affected me so much, but I could defiantly show the world that ladies love their science “toys,” too. Well, I wasn’t the only one, as several┬áastronomers, including┬áErin Ryan and Alessondra┬áSpringmann, starting posting their telescope pictures as well. Astronomers can’t have all the fun, so I encouraged all scientists to post their instruments as well. A quick search showed that Kate Clancy was already on it┬áwith a few posts earlier that morning.

And then, something happened. It exploded. Something had been simmering in all of us, I suppose, because the tag became inundated with amazing pictures and posts of women in various STEM fields posing with or showing off their favorite scientific instruments, data, and, yes, even toys. That evening, I finally got some words together and posted over at Skepchick.

It’s almost four┬ádays later, and the hashtag is still going strong. Thousands of women have shared their stories and their science. Several media outlets have picked it up. And, of course, there’s been the usual backlash about “women on their periods” and other such nonsense. No, really, that was an actual comment.

But we’re not deterred. Science has a gender problem (and a race problem and an accessibility problem and a host of other problems). Those of us who deal with the regular progression of microaggressions in our careers are going to continue to point them out. I can only hope that makes┬áthe community of science stronger and more welcoming.

I’ve been organizing my old photos a bit as well over the last few weeks, and this hashtag has prompted me to dig into the archive and pull out all of my favorite #GirlsWithToys photos, not just those easily accessbile on my phone from a bus. I’ve collected memories from 2003, when I did my first research project, until 2012 when I got my PhD from the University of Virginia, and it was really nice flipping through all of those memories. There are LOTS and LOTS of pictures of cables and parts and circuits and antennas, but I didn’t include those. The pictures I chose show the instruments, sure, but they also tell the stories of some of the ladies that helped make them possible, or who used them to do great science.┬áCheck out my little trip down memory lane at Flickr. And thanks!