About Me

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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Friday, July 31, 2009


During my freshman year as a McDermott Scholar, many people asked me where I thought I might want to study abroad, and to be honest, I couldn't decide. At times, I saw myself taking physics classes in Europe or Asia, and at others, I thought I would want to enroll in something vastly different than my major and learn about the ancient Greeks in Greece while reading the Iliad. The only recurring study abroad option that occurred to me, was to work at a large physics lab abroad, and with the Large Hadron Collider's world-destroying black holes in the popular news so often, CERN seemed like a good option.

At the time I didn't know that the 'European' in the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN with all of the adjectives switched in french, was taken pretty seriously. As the United States is not a member state, I soon figured out that CERN did not offer the gobs of American student research positions that I had expected, but instead only offered 10 spots for American students. I applied around winter break last year, and was accepted to the program, I believe, because of my previous high-energy physics experience under UT-Dallas professor Dr. Joseph Izen. My experience at Los Alamos National Labs certainly helped as well, and I definitely would not have been able to spend the summer in New Mexico without the McDermott program.

So thanks are sincere and necessary, but, perhaps, do not make for the most interesting read. For that, I'd like to take everyone on a small tour of where I've been working this summer. CERN is located about 20 minutes outside of Geneva on the border between Switzerland and France. It's a great location because you can set your watch on the Swiss trains and buses, and the great food and wine bleeds over from France. Most things above ground at CERN look like modest office buildings, somewhat reminiscent of founder's north on the inside and the art barn on the outside. There are some nicer buildings, but the truly impressive parts of CERN exist underground.

Impressive is a bit of an understatement. CERN houses the Large Hadron Collider or LHC. The LHC lives in a circular tunnel 100m underground, 26km in circumference. It consists of thousands of superconducting magnets that bend a beam of protons in a circle. The beam-pipe is cooled with liquid helium down to a chilly 1.9 kelvin, colder than the residual temperature of outer space. This system of superconducting magnets (essentially electromagnets without electrical resistance) creates a magnetic field of over 8 Tesla, and the entire beam-pipe is also kept in a vacuum with a pressure about 10 time lower than the pressure on the surface of the moon. Oh, and it accelerates protons to 99.99% of the speed of light, focuses them into small, intense packets, and smashes them together at energies up to 7 times higher than previously possible in the lab.

Located along the LHC ring at the points where the machine collides protons, are the world's newest particle detectors. One of these detectors, the one I am working on the summer and the one that the UT-Dallas high-energy physics group works on, is called ATLAS. It's a cool name, but a rather bad acronym standing for A Torodial LHC ApparatuS. ATLAS is a collusus. It is a cylinder of concentic sub-detectors seven stories tall and half a football field long. It weighs over 7000 tons, about as much as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the entire thing has to be alligned and calibrated on the micron scale. Each level of the detector is designed to measure different things. The innermost sub-detector, the pixel detector, works simmilarly to a digital camera to measure the precise location of particles that emerge from high-energy proton collisions. The outermost sub-detector is the muon system. It is designed to snag information about a particular particle called the muon (essentially just a more massive electron), and it is this subdetector that can be seen behing me in the accomanying whoosh picture.

My job this summer has been to work on whats called the ATLAS trigger system. The ATLAS detector alone produces enough data fill a stack of CD's that could reach the moon and back, twice, every year, many Terabytes per second. This is, of course, too much data, and many times when protons are smashed together, nothing intersting happens at all. The trigger system is in place to quickly filter through the collisions in real time and save only the interesting ones, lowering the data output rate to about 300 MB/s. This is not as easy as it sounds, considering a focused group of protons called a bunch collide in the detector every 25 nanoseconds; by the time the electronics get the signal that a collision has occured, more collisions have already taken place.

Working at CERN has been very fun, but it was not the only thing that I did this summer. I was also able to travel before the internship started in mid-June as well as on the weekends. I hope to fill everyone in on some of my travels in another blog post coming soon.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A changing Chinese culture

Sitting in a music hall in Li Jiang, China, I heard the sound of two worlds colliding. The intended performance of the night was an ancient Naxi minority musical arrangement; 1000-year-old music played on centuries old instruments by 80 year old musicians (pictured). The music was beautiful, haunting, and accompanied by the booming bass of a nearby western dance club. A perfect analogy of the cosmic culture shift occurring among the Chinese youth, the bass line was unrelenting, unstoppable, and unignorable, and yet these stoic men of another China played on proudly and unflinchingly.

That has been the inescapable theme of my entire trip in China. Whether it be dance music intruding on 1000-year-old epics, Kentucky Fried Chicken replacing noodle stands, or MRIs and modern pharmaceuticals pushing out herbs and acupuncture, the conflict between old and new, East and West, is constant.

I too, find myself conflicted. The changes taking place in China seem inevitable and necessary. It is amazing and a testament to technology that even in the most rural parts of China, I can call home on my computer using Skype on a wireless internet connection. Information, modern health care, and transportation are seemingly no longer luxuries in much of China, and they shouldn't be.

At the same time, the worst parts of the west seem to be accompanying these advancements. Cars and smog are replacing bicycles. Clubs are raucous and filled with drug dealers. The modern youth are embracing consumerism and individualism, much to the dismay of their traditional parents who expect them to be their retirement plans.

So, on any given day, I've never been certain which China I would be experiencing. I've worked with patients in a traditional Chinese medicine hospital, witnessing the application of millenniums old techniques. The slow, purposeful movement of Tai Chi has been my morning coffee. I've seen the best of China's ancient Buddhist and Taoist temples carved into the sides of mountains (pictured). I've also danced to American music, eaten at more than one familiar fast food restaurant, and kept up to date with all my friends on facebook. It's hard to know exactly what I'm supposed to be experiencing and whether I'm missing out on the "real" China, or whether that China exists now only in history books.

Whatever the case, my experiences in China's Yunnan province have been other worldly and eye-opening. I've learned basic Mandarin, the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, and the limits of my digestive system. Most importantly, I have a much better understanding of 1/6 of the world's population. I can't thank the McDermott Scholars Program enough for the opportunities for self-improvement it makes possible.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Malaysian Exploration

Historical Melaka, situated close to the Port of Malacca, is among the most beautiful tourist attractions I have visited in Malaysia. This photograph is taken in front of the Victoria Regina, a fountain built in 1904 in memory of a great Queen. The fountain is adjacent to one of the oldest churches in the country, built in 1753 and the Malai Gallery Seni Lukis built in 1931. The Muzium Umno Melaka (1935) and the Kites Museum of Enduring Beauty house a collection of bewitching traditional curios. This place is also remarkable for numerous well-maintained gardens, and a great variety of fruit trees planted on sidewalks. These gardens and trees are brilliantly lit at night, which gives Melaka a round-the-year festive look. The Eye of Melaka is also home to the King’s Palace and the original building from which the independence of Malaysia was declared. On another note, I discovered that the delicacies of Malaysian cuisine have a really strong smell, and the seafood dishes include everything from cuttlefish to octopuses. I also came across some interesting fruits like the ‘dragon fruit’ that is indigenous to this land. My internship at the JVMC Corporation is interesting and enjoyable, especially as the staff is very friendly. Since I work at the office from 8 to 5 on all weekdays, my trips around Malaysia are mainly limited to the weekends.
On 27th June, I visited Medan, Indonesia on a weekend trip. Medan has a much higher population than Melaka, and has a strikingly different culture when compared to Malaysia. The picture below was taken inside the Maimoon Palace in Medan.
However, the most notable memory of my Indonesian trip are the numerous shops displaying intricate Batik work, wood carvings and unique items like key chains with preserved animals- scorpions, flying lizard, goldfish and ladybugs. My summer is far from over as I have scheduled trips to Cambodia this month, and to China in the next. Please look forward to my next blog for report on the latest news from my South-East Asia travels!

Machu Picchu!!!

You know how there are those places that have become little more than tourist traps? (Certain beaches in México come to mind). Of course, this is not to say, necessarily, that any of those locations are overrated. In fact, the opposite is often true, which would make sense, as thousands of tourists continue to visit those specific locations for a reason. However, time, capitalism, and globalism have opened the door to welcome the entrance of a tourist industry that, over the years, has effectively commercialized and sold those destinations in something akin to mass production. In essence, there are locations, I believe, that have become so entangled with the tourist industry that they seem to lose some of their original appeal—that is, in some way, they are less real than they once were.

Machu Picchu is not one of those places. Of course, like any other location having once been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the town and site itself are constantly swamped with tourists, travelers, and foreigners who are all too easily streamlined through a nearly seamless process that the tourist industry of the nearby town of Cusco (as well as the whole country of Peru) has perfected in the century since the ruins were “discovered” in 1911. Numerous tours are available, expensive train tickets are sold, and plenty of luxurious services are extended to any party willing to pay a hefty sum of money for the heavily-advertised Incan experience—it´s all there for English- and Spanish-speakers alike.

However, in spite of all that (in spite of the tourist services that would make the trip to the ruins seem typical or cliche), Machu Picchu was unbelievably AMAZING! Truly, no words exist to adequately describe the beauty I beheld on that day. In many ways, the site (with its trapezoidal structure that was perfectly engineered to withstand the earthquakes that shook the mountains over time) was nothing like the pictures I had so often seen—it was so much more beautiful, mystical, enthralling, intriguing, and peaceful all at once! Even though I took a ridiculous number of photographs, it was not enough to capture the wonder that was Machu Picchu. To think that my trip to this place was a last-minute addition (thanks to Sherry´s encouragement)!

Fortunately, the tour lasted nearly three hours and covered all of the site. Afterward, thankfully, everyone was given free time to explore alone. I simply found a secluded area and lay in peace, surrounded by 500-year old ruins, freely grazing llamas, and lush, green mountains as far as the eye could see. I don´t think I´ve ever found a more peaceful spot on this earth. It was over all too soon, but it was certainly an experience that I will never be able to forget. And even though tourists (like myself) will likely continue to invade this area for many years to come, this is one place that will never lose its authenticity, its natural beauty, or its quintessential ability to astonish all who are fortunate enough to lay eyes on it.