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Madeleine with a cloud in a bottle created during water rocket experiments.

Madeleine with a cloud in a bottle created during water rocket experiments.

Despite UWA’s beautifully laid out building, it still took all 3 floors of receptionists to find out the exact location of my work experience. Luckily, I managed to find the wonderful Kirsten Gottschalk (well, she found me) who would be my supervisor for the week ahead. I was shown around the semi deserted building and met all the people who have to come to work at 9:00 in the morning. After that, I was presented with my well planned out time table for the week, jammed packed with super fun activities such as ‘Help Kirsten fill envelopes with posters!’ and ‘Help Kirsten clear out down-stairs storage’ and most importantly, on Thursday; Adventure world! At that point, I was incredibly excited for the week ahead!

I was set the challenge to find out a little more about ICRAR and the work they do. A very intellectually enriching activity. Once it clicked over the 2 hour mark, my brain was seriously in need of a break so I filled envelopes full of interesting and informative posters, designed to go on the back of toilet doors.

Next, I had the privilege to meet the incredibly cool Danail Obreschkow who talked to me about the universe and the incredible yet unusual things it contains. I got to look at pictures of galaxies and I measured the length and height of them to determine the angle that it is facing the earth at. As small as this job was, it was really interesting for me to experience what astronomers actually do during the day.

I have had an extraordinary fist day at ICRAR. Thank you so much to ICRAR for having me here and thank you to Kirsten for looking after me today and also for the week. I can’t imagine a better place to do work experience.

Tuesday, September 25th 2012

Today started with the exhilarating job of putting addresses on the envelopes of posters. I remain sceptical as to whether people at the post office will be able to read my dodgy handwriting.

Unfortunately, because of the uncooperative weather, we were unable to do the water rocket experiment for the “Race around campus” for school students. As a result, ‘plan B’ was put into place, which involved Kirsten giving a talk about the SKA and the kind of things that ICRAR does. Poor Kirsten had to give the same talk 6 times in a row! I was given the job of official prize giver, which entailed throwing small lights and other wondrous objects at school students, regardless of whether they got an answer right or wrong. My favourite answer to “How long does it take for light to travel 4 light years?” was a very confident “7 minutes” which was given by a boy in the front row.

After that, I had an opportunity to write in my blog and then I went back to putting those lovely posters into envelopes and then writing the address on them ready to send of them off to the people of the world.

Another incredible day at ICRAR completed.

Wednesday September 26th 2012

Professor Brian Schmidt

Professor Brian Schmidt

To my complete devastation, the cold I have been battling all week has completely taken over and I have arrived today with excessive amounts of tissues and well over the recommended dosage of panadol stashed carefully in my bag. They day started with me sitting down to watch a video on the Expanding Universe by the eminent professor Brian Scmidt. The extent of what he and his team of scientists have discovered is truly mind-blowing. I think he definitely deserved to win the Nobel Prize in physics.

After that large intake of information, I was sent down to meet Associate Professor Chen Wu who worked in the ICRAR ICT section. I was confronted with detailed power points containing tricky equations (well tricky for me) and numbers in the complex system. The thing that really astonished me was the incredible amount of data that is sent to computers and storage systems by the radio telescopes. We took a walk up to the second level of the building to see the room where all the data is stored. It is incredible that a room with lots of blinking lights and black boxes can hold so much important information.

I came back up to my desk and finished writing my blog before going home early to fight off my cold before Adventure World tomorrow. The forecast is for storms and a maximum temperature of 15 degrees! Yay.

Thursday September 27th 2012

7:00 am start today. I stumbled half asleep into the ICRAR building and promptly hopped into a van with Pete, Kirsten and then set off to Adventure World! After a long drive we unpacked the equipment and watched the rain clouds roll in. It was cold and wet the whole day. Between the rain though, we got the opportunity to set off the water rockets that we were suppose to use on Tuesday for the “race around campus”. To my surprise, when the bottle falls down to the ground, there is a cloud inside it! I was very excited and proceeded to parade around with a cloud in a bottle. If only the clouds in the sky where as harmless as the one in my bottle; it started to bucket down and Kirsten and Pete went to help Scitech, whose tent had blown over exposing electronic items such as XBoxes and TVs to the rapid onslaught of rain and hail. Our only option when it rained was to merge into a sea of strangers and watch our equipment as it was battered by water. The sun returned for short periods of time and we were able to see sunspots with the optical telescope, which were really cool.

The trip back was filled with exciting conversations such as:
Kirsten: ‘Are eggs counted as dairy?’
Pete: ‘Yeah, they’re from a cow.’

… I have concluded that enlightening conversations always occur when returning from Adventure World.

Once we returned to ICRAR I wrote in my blog and completed various jobs.

Despite the rain, today was amazing. I got some hands on experience on using telescopes and I got to go to Adventure World! Only one day left!

Friday September 28th & Thursday October 4th 2012

I came to ICRAR completely devastated. It was obvious that I was so sick that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the day if I stayed, so I organized with Kirsten that I would come back next Thursday in my holidays! So here I am! I arrived excited that I would be able to experience a day here without feeling sick. First, I got to have a research session with Aaron Robotham who taught me about the amazing things he was working on. He gave me the job of looking at galaxies and classifying them. One thing that I had to do was figure out was whether they were red or blue but confusingly, on the pictures I was looking at, blue meant red and red meant green or blue. Next, I went to see Bi-Qing For, who told me about her research on the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. My time with these researchers was so interesting and I really learnt a lot from both of them!

Next I came back to my desk to write in my blog and eat my lunch.

Next up I went to have another research session with Gerhardt Meurer. He told me about the computer program he was making and we looked at some galaxies and made some notes on them. On one of the pictures, we may have discovered a new galaxy! Or it could just have been part of galaxy we were looking at but I’m being positive. It was great to see the computer programs that Gerhardt had made and how they all worked.

I came back upstairs to my desk and I finished my blog, ready for it to be put on the internet.

By coming to ICRAR for work experience, I have experienced what it is like to be an astronomer, learnt so many incredible things and met some amazing people. Thank you to the researchers, who gave up their time to teach me and show me all the absolutely mind blowing things they are doing. Thanks Kirsten for putting so much time into helping me, making coming to ICRAR possible and for being the most amazing supervisor that I could have had. Finally, thank you ICRAR for having me! I couldn’t imagine a better place to do work experience.

Madeleine McKenzie