It was approximately six months ago that I traded in my grey rainy skies of England for the blue cloudless sunny skies of Arizona. Or almost six, since I had rather a non-direct route to a start of a new stage in my life.
As mentioned in my Christmas letter of last year, I actually did successfully defend my thesis on November 2nd, 1998. It was a long defense, not necessary hard nor easy. Challenging and at the end, with dry throat and exhaustion (having not slept well the night before and having been caught in a rainstorm on my walk into the Cavendish), I really felt like I "defended" my work, some controversial in areas, others straightforward. In a sense, a warped sense of fun. I was surprised it was over and I emerged into the damp, grey airs of the Cambridge fields, as from a dream.
Post PhD celebrations were very brief and not well attended due to the weather (it rained that night of November 2nd) and timing. I was leaving the country on the 5th to accompany the thesis instrument, my baby COHSI, to Hawaii. Hurried and sadly, sometimes missed goodbyes, did not aid in a fond farewell of my home for the past four years. As promised I am returning in July this year to graduate and hope to have a much better goodbye, if one can be said.
The month of November started with the end of the graduate career at Cambridge, the defense on November 2nd, and ended with the beginning of the postdoc stage at Arizona, start day of November 30th.
Let me show you some pictures of Hawaii in November 1998.
PICTURE: Landscape shot of Mauna Kea in November 1998.
The telescope complement, from left to right: Caltech submillimetre observatory (silver), James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (white square), storage garage for the Sub-millimetre array project headed by Harvard/Smithsonian (Martina's latest children, for it will be an array of 8 telescopes), the Japanese Subaru 8 meter which has just seen first light (in November I got to see them polishing the primary), Keck II and I (white domes), NASA IRTF (silver dome upon white building, Doug's favourite telescope), the Canadian France Hawaii 4m Telescope, and Gemini North (silver pac-man dome). Not shown are the 2.2m University of Hawaii telescope and COHSI's UKIRT 4m telescope.
The second commissioning of COHSI at UKIRT that month was unusual and illfated, primarily due to the weather. We had lost 7/9 nights due to ice, fog, rain, and snow, having needed to be evacuated almost every evening. Of course, one naturally needed to be ready to observe at the moment's notice, so I was trying my best to keep my energy alive (having been recently sapped by the thesis submission and defense and transatlantic move) by writing scripts, teaching the team my unwritten knowledge of the systems (gained by experience of course!), and catching up my sleep (to rest the back) as best can be gained.
It was pleasant to see the slopes of Mauna Kea again, hopefully not my last. Seeing Mauna Loa's top covered by snow was a beautiful sight.
PICTURE: Mauna Loa (long mountain), active volcano on Hawaii's big island, covered with November 1998 snow.
PICTURE: Me & my COHSI (sounds like a musical title).
This photo is courtesy of Steve, member of the IoA instrumentation team, who did me the favour of snapping the one and only photo of me next to the whole integrated instrument.
Actually during the run I was attempting to operate a new phase to COHSI, seen here as a red dewar. It was something I worked on after my submission, and got it almost working at the summit. Always needed more time and energy. It did pave the way for COHSI's current status in Cambridge, as will be mentioned later.
It took a lot of work, and a lot of patience to survive that run. We did manage to escape from the summit for a day and visited the National Volcanoes Park. I always love that park and will never tire of exploring it. The bad weather for observing led to beautiful rainbows at sealevel.
PICTURE: Rainbow over lava fields at Volcanoes National Park.
We took a helicopter ride (my first time ever in a helicopter, so that was neat) to catch a glimpse of the park from the air. Unfortunately, the wet weather spoiled most of our views but I managed to get in two nice views shown here.
PICTURE: The vent of Pu'u O'o, hill of the dove, where all the recent activity of the eastern ridge is focussed. We circled near the summit.
PICTURE: The formation of new beaches as the lava falls into the sea, sending off clouds of smoke.
Last March I had the wonderful opportunity to see this infall at night time, all lit up by the glowing lava itself, and sadly not caught by my automatic camera, but lodged in my memory forever. By daytime, it is also very neat, with the sounds and colours.
I left the observing run early to spend Thanksgiving with my folks in New Jersey, for the first time in 4 years. That was very nice, but too short, for after three days I flew to Tucson, Arizona, where I was greeted by Doug, who also had arrived 5 months earlier at the start of a new job for him here.
It's hard to really describe the first few months here in Arizona. My body and mind were thoroughly exhausted by the stress, turmoil, uncertaincy, and pressure of one's final months before finishing a PhD thesis, finding jobs, dealing with unwanted outside issues. As a consequence I became very ill for about four months here, adding strep throat (2x), sinusitis, and pneumonia, one after the other, until my body started to recover and recharge, as it is doing presently. So my introduction to Tucson and this new life in the desert was somewhat spoiled.
Arizona is completely different from anywhere I have ever lived before. And I encourage you to view some pictures of some early adventures in Arizona during January 1999-August 1999 (see January-July 1999 Snapshots of living in Arizona...).