Research Site: NASA/JCET
Position Title: Research Assistant
Major(s)/Minor(s):Physics B.S. / Math Minor
Work Term: November 2017 - Present
Tell us about your research opportunity, including your day-to-day responsibilities.
I am a research assistant with NASA/JCET; mainly in preparation to pursue a Physics PhD. We are gaining a better understanding of hurricane intensification through eddy momentum flux and wavelet analysis, simulation modeling, and statistical variance scaling - as the accuracy of trajectory models have surpassed that of intensification models. My day-to-day comprises processing various forms of data (observational e.g. fuselage IWRAP, or model e.g. LES), morphing the raw data into something more quantitatively and qualitatively analyzable (functions, plots, etc.), reading relevant research, and collaborating with my adviser, Dr. Guimond.
To elaborate on the research itself, we utilize high-resolution observational data (IWRAP) to analyze coherent turbulent structures in rapidly intensifying Hurricane Isabel. Moreover, we use wavelet analyses to compare statistical properties of high-resolution features in observational data to that in model (LES) data, such that we analyze the role of small-scale features in large-scale flow patterns. The main objective is to better understand the physical processes that control hurricane formation and intensity change, specifically the relative roles of environmental and inner-core processes. There is evidence that small-scale processes in the inner core may play an important role in hurricane intensity, but these processes are only partially understood. The features – turbulent eddies, eyewall vorticity waves, mesovortices and hot towers – are on the order of kilometers wide and rapidly varying. Hence high-resolution models are thought to be necessary, but it is not clear what resolutions accurately model the relationship between large and small-scale features.
Describe the process of obtaining your position. When did you hear of the position and submit your application?
It all happened pretty fast. In Fall 2017, I took an elective called PHYS335 Physics and Chemistry of the Atmosphere with Dr. Sparling. About midway through the course, Dr. Sparling appreciated my performance, specifically a data analysis assignment comprising NOAA plots and hurricane development analyses. Soon after, I accepted a SURE scholarship opportunity with Dr. Guimond, who is one of Dr. Sparling's colleagues at NASA and has been my adviser ever since. Once the SURE scholarship ran its course and Dr. Guimond wanted to pursue summer work with me, we received summer funding through JCET.
What have you enjoyed the most about your position or organization?
I enjoy that I am constantly surrounded by people who are much smarter than me and passionate about their role in the puzzle of research. The scientific community, albeit initially humbling, catalyzes an impulse to share knowledge in a highly ordered manner, allowing for highly efficient communication. But training my brain to properly sift through dense articles has been worth it, such that conversations about niches of my field seem more casual and less esoteric. Secondarily, I lead an active lifestyle and the flexibility of research catalyzes a great work/life balance. For instance, I can set up a hotspot on the beach and work remotely (with adviser approval of course), as long as my deliverable tasks are ready by meeting time.
How do you believe you have made an impact through your work?
Our spring conference paper has been cited multiple times. Plus we are working on publishing an extension paper of sorts with plans to present it at the AGU (American Geophysical Union) Conference in DC at the end of the year. Coming from a seemingly spectator level as a student, it is very satisfying to interact with the scientific community on a more direct level.
What advice would you give to another student who is seeking an internship or similar experience?
Standing out in class is one thing, but reaching out to professors, post-docs, etc beyond class is another. If you have a passion for a field but are unsure/overwhelmed by the sheer amount of paths within the field, just pick one. Some research experience as an undergrad is better than none. Plus, there is high value in acquainting yourself with the academic research process and community.
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