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The semester is over!! December 16, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, geology, teaching, work.
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My first semester at the new digs is in the bag.  It was actually kinda awesome.  (Sorry…I’ve never been able to ditch the word ‘awesome’…or ‘kinda,’ either.)

I’m not sure what I was expecting.  I was as nervous as the freshmen going in, and I admit that the first couple months were kind of a shock.  It’s not that there was a lot of bad stuff going on, but being at a small school was so different.  The environment was so quiet  compared to any place I’d worked or gone to school before, and it made me feel like something was wrong.  There wasn’t, though: I just had to get used to the way things are done here and the different pacing.  As the students loosened up, as well, we all began to have a lot more fun in class.  I really enjoyed teaching because I had some very interested and attentive students, and I think most of them had a positive experience.

The service part of the job was surprisingly very enjoyable as it gave me the opportunity to get to know faculty from other departments.  I learned more about accreditation and assessment, and I participated in my first search committee.  I also helped a couple other departments with student-related activities, both for our students and as outreach to the local schools.  It kept me busy, but it wasn’t too overwhelming.  One thing I realized pretty quickly: we have a lot of female faculty here so I don’t imagine I’ll have to worry much (if ever) about being on too many committees because of a lack of representation from women.

One of the things I enjoyed most was having my own office again.  I really hate working at home, and I loved being able to keep work and other stuff more separated.  Sometimes I would drag home some grading while watching TV (which made it take three times as long), but for the most part, I did a lot of that at work.  I definitely need ideas to decorate the place, though, as all I have now in a nerd clock and a grumpy cat poster hanging up.

 

The hardest part of working here is the back and forth to see family.  I get a lot more done during the week so I don’t feel so bad taking some family time on the weekend, but it’s still hard not to see them every night.  Thank goodness for google chat and unlimited cell phone minutes.

I’m excited about next semester: I will be teaching university physics. When I was a TA/tutor for physics in undergrad, a lot of my lab students would come to me for help in the class.  I’ve been told a lot that I was very good at teaching it, and that’s stuck with me.  I sure hope they’re right because I remember it being one of my favorite classes in undergrad.  I also get to teach a general science class for non-majors, and I chose a geology-oriented topic for the focus.  It’ll be interesting to see how it goes teaching non-majors again.  My last experience was as a TA in grad school with students who really didn’t want to take science, so it wasn’t the most positive for me.  However, I’m starting to learn that I can’t base anything off past experiences, so I’m aiming for that class to be fun, too.

And now, I think I want a nice cup of hot cocoa…

Cale Anger, 1985-2015 February 8, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in geology, grad school, research, science.
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A good friend passed away a week and a half ago, and while it seemed somewhat personal to blog about it, I want to tell a bit of his story and acknowledge the loss.

I met Cale during departmental orientation at University of Minnesota, where I’m working on my PhD and he got his first master’s degree.  Within fifteen minutes of our first one-on-one conversation, we were pretty much telling each other our life stories as we discovered very quickly we had a lot in common.  One thing we had in common is we both loved food and coffee, so we loved to go places together that involved eating. In fact, almost every memory I have of him involves food as we made virtually daily trips to Starbucks.  The rest of the memories involve walking someplace (sometimes to and from food), but often we walked other places as we both enjoyed hiking.  My first hiking trip to the north shore of Lake Superior was with him and another friend.  The picture above is from a trip I took with him and his wife.  He was just like family, and it helped having him there when my family was back in Fargo.

Cale was a very smart and driven person.  After he finished his MS in geology (his research earned him a Best Student Presentation Award at GSA), he went on to get another MS in civil engineering.  His work focused on finding dioxins derived from triclosan (the antibacterial component of many hand soaps) in lakes around Minnesota.  His thesis won the University of Minnesota Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award and the research resulted Minnesota banning the chemical beginning in 2017.

Cale was an amazing person as well as a bright and hard-working researcher.  It’s rare to find someone who has that combination of brilliance, empathy, humor, and humility…and he somehow managed it all.  He was a very good friend to me personally over the past few years, and he seemed to have this ability to become friends with everyone he met.  He genuinely was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  Beyond that, he managed to make a positive impact on the world through his work.  The world seems a bit emptier without him, but letting others know about him and his contributions helps to fill that space.

Update: The Department of Civil Engineering and Geo-Engineering at the University of Minnesota has renamed their departmental thesis award after Cale.  They are attempting to create an endowment to fund a cash prize for the winners.  If you would care to donate, please go to http://give.umn.edu/giveto/caleanger .

Wordless Wednesday: Two Step Falls September 9, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in geology.
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two_step_falls

Beautiful, elegant models March 27, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, geology, physics, research.
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I’m interested in the different uses of the word model.  Of course, the most common reference (outside of science and engineering) is to someone who wears expensive clothes.  Upon encountering such a model, most of us in the sciences and engineering wonder how they could charge so much for so little fabric.

In science and engineering, however, I’m discovering that I don’t like the use of the word because it’s ubiquitous and therefore nearly useless.  The problem I’ve run into is that everyone uses it but not necessarily for the same things.  In one field (or to one person), it means the equations describing a phenomenon.  In another field, it’s a computational model incorporating those equations in a specific configuration.  In yet a third field, it can describe a computational framework.  Then there are models that are simple calculations to describe inputs and outputs of a system.  And finally, I’ve also heard someone refer to it as a non-quantitative description of a process.

I’m slowly realizing that a model depends on what you and your field emphasize.  It’s used to describe an abstraction or an idea of the process, but what you’re describing as a model is extremely dependent on your training.

I think I may go back to using it to describe the walking mannequin.

To get to the other side… September 30, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, geology, older son, physics, teaching, younger son.
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If anyone knows who made this comic, please let me know so I can credit them.

If anyone knows who made this comic, please let me know so I can credit them.

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook may remember that I compiled a whole series of physics jokes.  I was posting them daily for about two months.  Some people loved them.  I think a bunch of people also unfriended me because of it.

When I did this, I had an ulterior motive in mind: I wanted to tell them to my classes.  I’ve found that students tend to listen better to teachers they think are likable.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have the warm, fuzzy personality that many of my friends (particularly those in geology) have.  I come across, sometimes, as a mean, nasty type.

And so the jokes…

They really do work.  Students will loosen up and talk.  They relax a bit.  They smile.  And most important, they don’t think I’m out to get them.  Those endorphins do wonders.

The problem I’m having now is that so many of my jokes are physics related…and I’m teaching freshmen.  While they all know about atoms and noble gases and protons, electrons, and neutrons, many of my jokes cover more esoteric topics.  They give me blank stares when I talk about Heisenberg or Schroedinger or neutrinos…

There’s a part of me that would like to teach older students simply so that I have a more receptive audience.  Or maybe my problem is that I’m teaching engineers and not physicists.  Or maybe too many of them are from farms (see above comic).

But you, my dear reader, are a more receptive audience, right?  And my kids…my kids know what neutrinos are…kind of.  Maybe they’re just laughing at me because I sound funny when I talk about physics.

Incidentally, the punchline to the joke in the title, if you’re wondering, is, “Why did the tachyon cross the road?”

Petite Prehistorics July 12, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in geology, older son, younger son.
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The interwebs may be familiar with Bronies…that is, boys who like My Little Pony or, as they prefer to call it, MLP.  The older son became interested in them a couple years ago (apparently he writes Pony fanfic now), and the younger son is, of course, emulating his older brother.  For his most recent birthday, the younger son received 3 stuffed Ponies, which absolutely thrilled him.  He often takes them to daycare.

(I’d like to pause for a moment and say how I think it’s completely awesome that it’s okay for boys to like MLP given it would have been quite humiliating when I was a kid.)

The other morning, the younger son ran to grab a pony before daycare. (Pinky Pie?  I have a hard time following.)  He was also wearing one of his favorite shirts, which features a t-rex and says, “Kickin’ it, old school.”  I took a picture of him posing with the pony and posted it on FB saying how I love that he likes both ponies and dinosaurs.  My friend @karifur commented on the picture saying there should be My Little Dinos, at which point another very talented artist friend, Becky Barnes (who works for the state Geological Survey and creates the Fossils in ND newsletter) posted a pic of such a creation.

Sadly, because it would violate copyright, she can’t sell anything with these images, but she did say I could share them so that people can use them.  Maybe you can make a t-shirt for a little girl who might get into dinosaurs if they were more pastel?  I just ask, however, that if you use these images on the web, you give credit to Becky.

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(Also, Becky made a dino coloring book, so maybe that would be a good gift, as well!)  You can buy the book here.

Cover Black

Fields of irony July 1, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, geology, geophysics, grad school, research, work.
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When I started thinking about what I wanted to do for grad school, I thought geophysics was a good option because I enjoy getting outside.  I figured that if I were doing something related to geology, that opportunity would present itself much more often than in electrical engineering.  I suppose this idea came because I was used to spending most of my time in a 10’x20′ windowless room…or a much bigger windowless lab.  Either way, cabin fever sets in quickly when one is deprived of fresh air and sunshine most of the day.

Unfortunately, I discovered I wasn’t as crazy about ‘outdoor’ geology but fell in love with computationally intensive topics.  I love getting outside and collecting rocks, but I view it more now as a hobby than as a career path.

Recently, however, I’ve been working with some people in another department on a project.  This new project will probably require me to spend some time outside doing field work.  It’s rather ironic that I may end up getting my outside time because of a project I’m doing in electrical engineering.

I guess it all works out in the end.  Now if I could find a way to teach programming outdoors…

Repost: The varied and graphically-intensive world of nomograms March 3, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in electromagnetics, engineering, geology, geophysics, grad school.
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I spent a good chunk of time yesterday dealing with Smith charts, and I remembered in the recesses of my brain that I had once posted something about them in the old blog.  Sadly, it wasn’t as technically intensive as it could have been, but I still decided it was fun enough for a repost.  If you would like to read something with a bit more technical content, you can check out Fluxor’s post on Smith charts at EngineerBlogs.

A nomogram is an incredibly useful tool. It is a visual “solution” to an equation. Usually it is some sort of chart or plot that allows you to figure out “what you’ve got” and you can move from there to “what you need”.

Anyone who works on the analog side of electrical engineering often gets to play with Smith charts, which were of course invented by Baker*. They’re rather confusing looking things:

The usefulness in Smith charts is that they can allow you to determine things like how much more transmission line you need to get an impedance match in your device. Rather than trying to solve an equation using complex values, you can just move along the curve in a Smith chart. (Disclaimer: While I learned how to use Smith charts in my microwave engineering course, I unfortunately would need to spend some time with my buddy Pozar to remember how to do it now.) I’m also aided in my negligence by the fact that there are a lot of nifty software programs that will compute the necessary values, reducing the necessity of using a Smith chart. (Thank goodness for computers. If it weren’t for computers, I’d probably have to learn how to use a slide rule, too.)

What brought this up is that I was introduced to a nomogram used by scientists in the field of paleomagnetism. The nomograms in this case showed relationships in demagnetization of magnetic minerals. For instance, if you have a mineral that has been exposed to a temperature of 400°C for 1000 seconds in the lab, you can follow the line on the nomogram and discover that the same amount of demagnetization could be caused by sitting in a temperature of 350°C for 100 million years.

So why do I spend time mentioning this on my LJ? Could it be because knowing that there are graphical methods to approximate solutions to problems is good to know? It is good to know, but it’s not why I bring it up. The reason I felt the need to post about it is because I had an entirely different picture of nomograms when I was sitting in class:

tastee nom-o-grams

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*Just kidding. It was developed by Phillip H. Smith.

A totally subjective ranking of socially clueless people by career October 15, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, geology, geophysics, math, physics, science, societal commentary.
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I have no data to back this up.  However if someone has the time and inclination, I’d love for them to get some and validate my hypothesis.  I’m assuming the Autism Spectrum Quotient would be a good place to start.

There is a noticeable difference in the general cluelessness of people, and of science and engineering types in general.  I’ve been pondering, however, if anyone has done a serious study of this phenomena and provided a ranking system.  This might come in handy for non-sciency people, especially relatives.

I’m going to postulate a ranking, but please feel free to give me some feedback as to where you think this system falls down.  And again, data is gold.

So the following are ordered from most to least clueless:

  1. Physicists and mathematicians (and I’m sure they hate having to be in a group with another group)
  2. Electrical engineers and economists (I’m just throwing in the economists because while I’ve noticed they aren’t socially clueless, there are a number who may as well be given the way they act)
  3. Mechanical engineers and computer scientists
  4. chemists and geophysicists (the problem with geophysicists is that there’s a huge standard deviation ranging from geologists to physicist…and a heavy dependency on how much alcohol they’ve consumed)
  5. Biologists and manufacturing engineers
  6. Civil engineers and soil scientists
  7. Geologists (because they always bring the alcohol)

So what do you think?

Students finding their direction June 23, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, geology, geophysics, physics, research, teaching.
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The younger son’s birthday was this week, and we opted to host a pool party at a local hotel.  (IMO, pool parties are the best for the elementary school age group: they keep themselves busy and then go home exhausted.)  I was checking in when I noticed a young man standing at the other end of the counter.  He looked familiar, so I asked if I knew him.

“I took your class last fall.”

“Oh great!  How did the rest of the school year go for you?”

“Great.  I actually switched to business and am really liking it.”

“Really?  Why did you switch?”

“I just figured I liked business a lot better.”

“That’s why they have you take those early major classes – so that you find out you don’t like it before you get too far into it.”

I think the poor kid thought I would be mad that he had switched.  But I wasn’t mad at all.  If he feels like he’d be better off in a different major, then he ought to go for it.  And that is part of what I’m trying to set out in the class – this is what engineers do.  If it doesn’t look fun, then you ought to think about a different major.  That’s a perfectly valid choice, and no one should judge a student for it.

(Yeah, I know…I sit here and wring my hands because older son gets these obnoxiously high scores in math and science but wants to be a writer…I’m one to talk.)

But seriously, I actually think it’s sort of silly to make students choose a major really early on in school.  I think it’s a good idea to try to take a lot of classes in different fields before you really choose.  I say this as someone who major hopped a lot during undergrad.  I spent some time in physics, chemistry, journalism, and graphic arts.  I finally decided that I liked physics after all, but what got me excited was geophysics.  I happened to take a geology class when I was at Caltech because I had to take a lab course, and everyone told me geology was the easiest.  Turns out, I really liked it and did very well in the course.  (Of course, later on, I found that geology feels too qualitative and prefer geophysics, so it all worked out.  On the other hand, I think I would’ve liked geology better if it had all been field courses.)  🙂

I have run into people who got upset with me for this type of thing.  I was doing research with a professor in undergrad, but I felt like the research wasn’t going well and got sort of excited about a math project that I’d seen a professor give a talk about.  I talked to that professor to see if he’d be interested in having me as a student, which he was.   When I told the other professor that I was going to work with the math professor, all hell broke loose.  (I still think I made the right choice, though, especially since the first project really never did go anywhere.)  I have yet to figure out why the first professor got upset, though, and did some petty stuff, like kicking me out of the student office (despite no one needing a spot) and having the secretary take away my mailbox.  (This was silly, BTW, as I was president of the Society of Physics Students, so she ended up giving it back to me a month later so I could get SPS mail.)

And what did this do?  Certainly reinforced that I didn’t want to work with this person, but I could also see it making a student feel like this person is representative of a particular field.  Wouldn’t you wonder if a student would not want to go into a major because of the way the professors treat him or her?  I can (and did!), and it just shows how ridiculous the whole thing was.

No, students need  some time to explore their interests and getting mad at them for not doing what you think they should do is silly.  They are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of their choices, and if a student takes my class and decides they don’t want to spend the next five to ten years of their life studying engineering, then I think they’ve learned something very important and just as valid as anything else I have to teach them.

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