Hi again...Yeah....yeah...I know it's been a long time, but time does fly fast over here in Anglia. So far, I must admit, I am surviving. The program here at the Institute of Astronomy (IoA) is quite loose in structure. One discovers that one has a great deal of free time, but one realizes that that time should be used productively. It is quite easy to let the hours pass by without even realizing it!
I've been here in Cambridge for about four weeks, and I must admit I have not been up to much. I came down with the flu, a common ailment here during the change in seasons, which bed-rid me for a few days. Plus, the drugstores here carry brand names of cough syrup and throat lozenges of which I have never heard. (plus they are expensive, but, then again, aren't the drug stores out to rob us? :) ) And the cough syrups tend to knock one out...so I slept nearly a week.
Cambridge is a beautiful and quaint town, even when it is raining. I arrived when it was pouring and said to myself, ``Kim, this is going to be miserable!'' And, add to that that my trunks with all my bedding and warm clothing had not arrived! They had been shipped out in August. They finally did arrive, but not until I was here three weeks...and I must blame my flu on the lack of proper warm sweaters...especially since I had been biking in the cold south England air. Surprisingly though, the weather has been quite beautiful (in terms of sunshine percentage), but a tad bit cold for October. (It feels like November from where I come.) It has rained a few days, but often one finds the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds all day. What I find interesting is the FOG. Almost every morning, the fog is just so thick, you literally have a few meters of sight. And biking to the department in the fog is not that fun especially when a car or another biker creeps up behind you! But I often take this back-route to my department which brings me out to the farms, and the fog rolling off the English countryside (things here pretty flat except for some gentle slopes)....*sigh* What a beautiful sight...And it is quite funny actually, for one could see the cows half enshrouded by fog, as if they are missing 1/2 their bodies!
Yeah, my department is to the north west of town, which is a good 30 minute walk from my flat. I am a member of Jesus College. All students, undergraduates and postgraduates are members of a college. It was founded in 1496 on the site of a nunnery (St Radegund) and its chapel is the oldest college building in Cambridge...The chapel is beautiful. I have yet to go to Evensong to hear the college chapel choir (which I hear is wonderful), but I have attended morning prayer there and it is a sight!. Singing hymns with a resonant old organ is also an experience. And the sunlight streaming through the tall stained glass windows create quite an ethereal setting.
I live across the street from college. Only undergrads have the pleasure of living within the college. I share a house with five others at the moment (we have a spare bedroom). The house was recently refurbished with new carpets, plumbing, electricity, and heat (though I must say the heating design is quite ineffective!). We actually have a pay phone in our house, which is a luxury since phones are hard to come by. It is right outside my door which can be both a blessing and a curse...for I won't miss any phone calls, but I also must play secretary for the others in the house...and of course, if it rings in the middle of the night...well, I don't like my sleep interrupted!!!! So far, it has not been too bad. My room is HUGE. It is, I must admit, nice to have one's space. The design of the house is not quite friendly. We have no common area except a small kitchen (which is underequipped) that is located in the basement, so if one wanted to entertain friends, one would have to invite them into her room...which is her sleeping quarters (and may have strings of nylons and other unforseeables dangling from the cabinets :) ). Other Jesus graduate accomodations have rooms which are separate in terms of study and bedroom, so each student has two small rooms. No student doubles in the rooms. Some other accomodations have full kitchens. I plan on applying for a room transfer at the end of the year to get access to a full kitchen. I find myself cooking my meals (since the Cafe has short hours) but when one does not have a freezer at hand nor any counter space, it is quite inconvenient. All my housemates are postgraduates. We have one professor from U of Florida who is on sabbatical for the year. Our house is a row house. The street houses a mixture of postgraduates and second and third year undergraduates, each house either having all undergraduates or postgraduates. It is a side street off a busy main road (Jesus Lane) which is nice since I live on the ground floor off the street. Students living on Jesus Lane complain about the noise of the traffic. It can get noisy on my street (Malcolm Street). But, on the whole, it is a quiet street.
Our house has three toilets, two showers and a bathtub, all new plumbing which is a plus. We have a woman who comes everyday to clean the shower areas and empty our trash. Jesus does not have bedders (like other colleges) who come into your rooms and make your bed and dust a bit. It is nice not having to clean the showers. We are responsilbe for keeping tidy the small kitchen, of which some of my housemates seem to forget now and then!!! We even have a small backyard with high brick walls separating us from Sidney Sussex college. From the second floor you can see over the wall into the gardens of Sidney Sussex (the college where Oliver Cromwell's head (he was an undergraduate there) is said to rest). I'm sure the gardens shall be beautiful in the spring. I have no view (*sniff* *sniff*) but that of the street. I could use more drawers/shelves, since they provided us with the minimal furniture. The heating though really should have been replanned. I have both a wall heater and a space heater. My wall heater is located by my door which is adjacent to the main hallway which is always cold because the mail hallway is connected to the street. So the area near my door is often cold (second law of thermodynamics!) and that is where the heater is. Then we have these tall ceilings! Well, the heat never makes it to the other 1/2 of my room. My neighbor Purnima in room 3 has a room 1/2 the size of my room and her room is always quite warm and toasty! So I need to use the space heater a lot to take the chill out of the cold 1/2 now and then. My room also has its own sink (all rooms do). I am considered lucky to have such a large room. I question whether size is most important!
I have not spent a large amount of time in my room. I usually spend my waking hours in my department. I have a nice office in main Hoyle building. My office mates are 4th and 5th years and all theorists. I found out I was put here so I can be exposed to theorists! :) I'll be working on my project in another building which houses the instrumentationalists. The department has three main buildings (the Hoyle, the Obs (short for Observatory which used to be an observatory, but now serves as the library and offices for postgraduates and postdoctorates), and the SPO (Solar Physics Observatory, whose name is purely historical)), collectively known as the IoA (Institute of Astronomy). It is out to the west of the city center and in the middle of farms. Just across the street is the Physics Department. The IoA is also adjacent to the RGO (Royal Greenwich Observatory) which was originally in Sussex. The relationship that the IoA has with the the RGO is analogous to the relationships Caltech and JPL, U of MD and Goddard, and Johns Hopkins with STScI. So students can work in either place on their thesis projects.
There are 10 people in my class here. Three more are coming in January. I am the only American. 5/10 are Cambridge graduates in phyiscs and/or maths. The British students are funded by PPARC (Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council), analogous to our NSF. There is currently another Marshall scholar from 1993 here. She is working with Richard Ellis, the director of the IoA, who shall also be one of my supervisors.
I have been attending a basic astronomy/astrophysics class (in which I must pass an exam in December) and several lectures. We also have to decide upon a thesis topic by the end of this term (December). I am happy to say I have one. It is a nice packaged project which encompasses all that I want to accomplish as a postgrad. I shall be designing, building and using a near infrared night sky suppression spectrograph. It is to be used to search for faint galaxies with high red shifts, but it also has other usages such as probing disks of faint new stars. The Institute has hired a full time instrumentationalist to start in January. So the project really gets starting in January.
They don't do much instrumentation here at the IoA. In fact, we are building an optics lab! So compared to Hopkins and Goddard, we are talking back to basics! But the Institute is reknown throughout the world for it theoretical astronomy (Steven Hawking is in DAMTP (Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics) down the road...and no I haven't met him yet...but I shall!!!!). So I am like a small fish in a large pond (in terms of the theorists) and yet a very large fish in a small pond (in terms of the instrumentation). The IoA also attracts notable speakers in astronomy, so it is a great place to meet known scientists. But the instrumentation program has gotten a great deal of money and has the backing of the IoA director, so it is quite secure. I shall be primarily responsible for the IR detector, and due to my work at Goddard, I have been labeled the ``expert'' (of which I am clearly NOT...well, not yet! :) ) by the people here. I also shall be involved in the optics design as well as some astronomy (looking at NIR spectra taken with other spectrographs). So I shall be busy...
The more I read about all the facets of the program, the more I enjoy it. I am tossing about ideas of optics design and multiplexer readouts right now. Like I said, nothing shall move with the project til January, but there is a great deal to do in the meantime. Since Richard is anxious to use it and hired people to exclusively work on it, he wants to see the spectrograph built to be commissioned out the UKIRT in summer 1996. We should be able to do that. But then again, instrument design and building does often take more time than expected. But at least the project can fit in a 3-4 year schedule as compared to other instrument projects which I deemed to fit >5 years. So I am happy I got a project! And, I am staying in the IR, which I like. And I hope to design spaceborne IR telescopes someday.
I am also involved in some optical and NIR fiber optics usages. The new guy coming from Australia in January is a ``fiber guy.'' So it looks like I get to go out to Australia in a few months (April-Mayish)...which shall be neat! But it still all up in the air.
I have my matriculation dinner on Monday. That is when I am officially registered as a member of the college. I shall wear my academic robe to it. I have worn my robe twice, once to Formal Hall at Jesus (sad to say it was nothing special) and once to Peterhouse (another College, in fact, the oldest in Cambridge U). The ten of us have made it a weekly event to go to Formal Hall at each of our colleges. Last week, Matthew invited us to his college (Peterhouse). We had a grand time. Wore our academic robes, ate by candlelight, and said Latin grace. Next week is Trinity and then Jesus is next. The others are at Fitzwilliam, St Edmunds, St Johns, Wolfson...and two more I forget right now...I am looking forward to them. Jesus has a weekly informal (no robes) Graduate Hall. I have attended a few and have enjoyed them now and then. One must get used to sherry before, wine during, and port after the feast! The fellows and deans of the college share the same tables as the postgraduates during the Grad Halls. During the Formal Halls, they are separated at the High Table. It is interesting to observe the traditions at play.
I pick up my mail at my pigeonhole from the Plodge (Porter's Lodge). The Porters are people of interesting wit. If you have any question for them, they usually have the answers. Jesus has about 4 courts, which makes it a large college, but it is quite ``open,'' for each court is surrounded by lots of grass. The openness of the college grounds is quite beautiful. Sad to say though that I have yet to find a postcard of Jesus. For those who asked for postcards, they are coming soon...I just did a mail off of some forty to friends and family. I shall tackle the next batch.
I have not done much exploring, but I plan to hit the museums in town quite soon. I had made the mistake of going to them on Sundays, finding them closed. The Whipple Museum of Science has a special exhibit on the History of Astronomy til December and I am eager to see that one! I did make it to Grantchester a few Sundays ago. Grantchester is a quaint English town about 2 miles south of Cambridge. Some Marshall Scholars had come up from London and we ventured south. We had tea at an open tea garden where Virginia Woolf, EM Foster, A Turing, R Brooke, and other notables used to take their tea. I also tried my hand at punting that Sunday. Actually, I sat in the boat that time (I had been feeling under the weather), but next shall time I shall do the punting! For the non-Cantabridgians, punting is a common activity. Punts are long flat boats which are propelled up and down the River Cam by long poles which are stuck into and out of the mud beneath the river. The trick is to hold onto the punting pole and not get it stuck into the mud when you advance up the river. It is though quite beautiful to just float up the river and view the the colleges and their gardens. It is quite a site! When the sun is out you always see tons of punters. I hope to get out to punt again soon. And bring my camera!
So, that's the update for now...I just made arrangements to come home for the Christmas Holidays...so I may see some of you in December. I would love to hear what everyone has been up to!
BTW, the tea here is GREAT! And I am in heaven because I am a tea drinker. But at most functions they serve COFFEE here! How American! :) The chocolate is delicious and I really should stay away from it! I have to still try authentic English pastries but they are everywhere in town. Churches are everywhere. I had attended Trinity Evensong one Sunday and it took my breath away. I have yet to see King's College Chapel, which I hear is breathtaking as well. I find myself getting moved by seeing such places. Imagine walking through buildings which are OLDER than the age of the USA! It is amazing. And little graveyards next to small churches date back to the 14th century. And of course, to realize that so many great scholars had walked the paths I am walking now is quite a thrill. Cambridge is a place rich in history and full of beauty. As I explore some more, I'll let you know what I discover...
So that's all from here...