time reversal

the stories of four physicists separated by the whims of fate

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O’ahu, Hawaii

January 8th, 2010 by liz

After getting off the ice, I was cruelly stranded for 5 days on the island of O’ahu, which is part of Hawaii. The flight in from Sydney was great–I was seated next to a flight attendant who was going on vacation (and who knew all the crew) so I was treated to half a (full-size) bottle of fancy wine from business class and great service the entire flight. When I got to Honolulu at 9am I met up with Andy, another guy who was coming off the ice on my flight who was staying over in Honolulu for just one night. We worked out a deal–I would drive him to the airport in the morning in my rental car, and he would let me crash in his hotel room in the Sheraton Waikiki (fancy-pants place) for the night. Waikiki was interesting–it’s very touristy, but since I was staying in one of the nicer resorts, I actually had a lot of fun. I rented a surfboard the afternoon we got there and surfed for an hour or so, and then we acquired a picnic and went for a hike on the ridgeline above Honolulu. All in all, it was a pretty good day given that we’d been on a 10-hour red-eye flight the night before.

After I dropped Andy off at the airport on Monday morning, I drove to near-by Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, which has some amazing snorkeling. I spent a few hours swimming around the bay (outside the reef) with a snorkel and mask, and saw green sea turtles, tons of reef fish, coral, and a group of 4 cuttlefish, which were awesome. Cuttlefish are so amazing because they rapidly change their skin color, like chameleons, both to hide from predators and also to communicate with each other. I swam into a group of 4 of them, which began circling around me and flashing bright orange and red patterns to each other while swimming. It was really cool. When I finally swam back to shore I tried to stand up and almost fell over. I had been swimming for many hours, and realized that I’d probably swum a few miles by that point, and I was TIRED. This was by far the coolest thing I did while in O’ahu, and I recommend that anyone who travels there should go snorkeling in this bay.

I ended up “camping” for the night at Kahana Bay beach park, but it was threatening to rain, full of mosquitoes, and right next to the road, so I decided to sleep in my car instead. The next morning, it was raining, so instead of heading to the beach I went to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens (on O’ahu’s windward coast) and wandered around on their grassy paths for a few hours. I was amazed at the number of heliconia plants they had. Did you know there are over 250 kinds of Heliconia plants? It was very relaxing, and eventually the sun came out and I headed for the beach.

My next encounter with a campground was much better–I stayed at Malaekahana State Recreation Area, which was really nice. I didn’t actually bring a tent with me though, so my campsite consisted of a hammock and my down blanket that I’d brought to pole with me. It was actually quite cozy, falling asleep listening to the wind rustle the trees and the waves crashing on the sand. The next morning I hiked around the bay before heading to the North Shore (yes, that North Shore, the one of surfing infamy).


All you need to camp in Hawaii.

The waves were really big when I showed up at Sunset beach, so big that all the mediocre surfers stayed out of the water. However, they were also really choppy from the wind, so all the good surfers also stayed out of the water. I only saw one guy out in the waves, and he was getting pummeled pretty well. So instead of surfing, I went hiking. I went to a botanical garden (Waimea Valley) where there were peacocks running around, and I hiked around Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau State Monument (it’s a temple ruin), which gave me great views of the north shore. Afterward I checked out the Banzai Pipeline (not to surf, but to watch people surf), but despite the huge waves there wasn’t a single person surfing.


One of the many peacocks wandering around Waimea Valley.

I ended up staying at a Backpackers/hostel on the north shore, and met travelers from Sweden, Australia, England, and Brazil. We had a big barbecue dinner that night, to which I brought a 12-pack of apricot beer and made some fast friends. At one point a fairly inebriated Swedish dude said, “Okay, there are three things to remember to stay safe: One! All the cars are for real. Two! You can’t fly. Three! Wait, I don’t remember three. What’s three?” At which point I shouted down the table: “rm is forever!” Then everyone went silent and stared at me. “What the hell is rm?” one of them asked. I mumbled something about unix and went back to drinking my beer.

The next morning the waves were even bigger, but this time they were clean, so I figured I’d go rent a surfboard and try to find someplace sheltered with slightly smaller waves to play in. Unfortunately, the two places I stopped to try to rent a board had signs out that said “No rentals today due to BIG SURF.” So once again, I decided to go hiking. On my way to the leeward coast, I stopped at the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens. This one was smaller than the last, but it had some HUGE trees that were covered in all sorts of vines and hanging plants that were pretty sweet.

I drove as far as I could up the Wai’anae coast, which was arid and rugged. When I got to the end of the road, I was in Ka’ane point state park, where monster waves were crashing over lava that had cooled millions of years ago. I decided to hike out to the point, which is the most remote corner of O’ahu, and a nesting/resting place for seabirds such as albatrosses (I saw a bunch!) and the critically endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal (which I also saw!). The hike is pretty exposed the whole way, and I was hot and tired when I got to the point. I decided to lay down in the shade for a nap, only to wake up 30 minutes later to find that my shade had moved and I was getting fried. On my way back down the coast, I finally saw some surfers and hung out on the beach for awhile to watch. They looked like they were having fun, but every time they wiped out they got really thrashed by the big waves.

Kaena point

Ka’ena point. (And proof that I actually went to Hawaii.)

I finished my drive all the way around the island, and now I’m chilling at a hostel by the university in Honolulu, checking some e-mail and packing my bags. It’s quiet and calm, exactly what I need after all that traveling. I just saw on the news that there was a high surf advisory for the last few days (which would explain why I saw so many “no swimming” signs on the north shore), and they showed some videos of surfers hitting the big waves, and some wiping out hard.

Hawaii has been awesome! I hope I get to come back next year. Perhaps to the big island next time?

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January 6th, 2010 by liz

I woke up in the morning and headed down to breakfast, where Mike (I finally remembered his name) was already sitting petting Sandy’s little white terrier. After breakfast, we decided to head to the beach. The beach was totally awesome (despite me horribly sunburning the tops of my feet), and there were even Christmas trees (not the evergreens) in bloom. The water was too cold for swimming though, given that it was very windy that day, so we mostly just walked along the beach. After some delicious icecream and a nap on the beach, we headed back to town for lunch at the Dux, and then took a walk through the Christchurch botanical gardens. Everything was in bloom! The best part was the rose garden, where there were hundreds of kinds of roses, even one that matches my hair.

Purple roses

There’s not much else to say about my day in Christchurch, except that I was totally entranced by all of the wonderful flowers, and stopped to smell many of them. I’d forgotten how much I love flowers. So, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites. Now, off to Hawaii!

Pink flower

Orange flower

Purple fower

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Off the ice bitchez!

January 1st, 2010 by liz

It’s hard to believe that yesterday I was at the South Pole. Right now, I’m sitting in my comfy bed at the Devon B&B in Christshurch. Our flight got in really late (this morning it was delayed 3 hours due to “weather enroute”), so as it’s almost 1 am I’m skipping the traditional “go out and get a beer,” at least for tonight. The guy I flew in with handed me a beer as soon as we got to the Devon though, with the message: “You will sleep better.”

So I’m sitting in my bed writing a blog post and drinking a beer. Why am I not passed out, you ask? Well, our C-17 flight in had 65 people and almost no cargo, so I spent most of the flight stretched out on the floor sleeping in my big red. It turns out with all of your ECW gear on, the hard metal floor of a cargo plane is quite comfy. The only problem was after a few hours the cold from the metal floor started to seep through even my thick clothes, and I woke up not being able to feel my feet. While not alsleep, I also finally managed to finish the socks I started knitting last year.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though, so I better back up some. My last night at pole (Dec. 30) was a blast. The “SPT team” (notably half non-SPTers) won pub trivia, so we ended up with a large quantity of beer that needed drinking, plus all the beer and wine that I hadn’t finished over the course of the season. So after pub trivia, many of us from BICEP, SPT, and ICECUBE ended up heading to the lounge for a full-on foosball battle. It was fun, but sadly I can’t say I won a single game that night. I blame the bottle of Pinot Noir I had at pub trivia.

The next morning I was woken up by a phone call from Jared informing me that my flight was coming an hour earlier than scheduled. After a fair bit of cursing, I got up, packed, and headed to lunch. I was just about done my cup of tea when I heard over the intercom: “Attention South Pole: Skier four-three is on deck. All outgoing passengers please proceed to the flight deck.” I looked down, realized in a panic that I wasn’t dressed for flying yet, and that I still hadn’t packed my computer, and jumped up to run to the science lab.

It turns out I needn’t have worried, as it always takes them about 20 minutes to unload cargo and offload fuel, so I had some time to stand around the “flight deck” (ie the snow next to the airplane) and say goodbye to my polie friends before boarding my plane. I gave everyone a hug goodbye, leaned down to grab my bags, and was prompty pushed over into the snow by Bill. What a fitting goodbye.

Three hours later, I stepped off the plane in McMurdo. It was 40F and sunny out, without a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky. I ditched my bags and decided to go on a hike up Obs Hill. On the way, I saw a drainage ditch with a small stream flowing in it. I stopped and stared at it, but mostly just listened to the sound of water running over the rocks. After a few minutes, a girl walked by and shouted, “Hey, you planning to do some fishing?” I looked up and mumbled something incoherent about not having seen running water in a few months and she just laughed at me and walked away. Right. I was going to have to remember to stop being such a freak.

Combat unload

When we landed at McMurdo the air guardsman did a “combat unload,” which basically means they opened the back of the plane and then accelerated so all the cargo rolled out of the plane onto the ice.

After my hike (which yielded a beautiful view of Mt. Erebus), I bag dragged and then grabbed my roommate and headed to the coffeehaus. It was new year’s eve! I ordered a mocha with bailey’s, which it turns out is delicious, despite not being a traditional new year’s eve drink. I had a fairly mellow night talking with my roommate, who is an artist working with the ice-coring project up at Wais Divide, and a totally hardcore guy who has done everything from south pole traverses to collecting meteorites at the allin hills, where the icesheets are turned up by the hills and scoured away by the winds, yielding clear-blue ice and a concentrated supply of meteorites. (Incidentally this is the same guy who handed me a beer 20 minutes ago. I just can’t remember his name for the life of me.) We barely were able to stay awake until midnight, but somehow we managed it, toasted to the new year, and then all headed to bed.

As I said my flight was delayed today, but something awesome happened on the way out to the airfield. The bus driver stopped halfway out to the field and pointed out an emporer penquin that was belly-sliding across the ice. As soon as we stopped, it stood up, looked at us for a bit, and then continued sliding on it’s way. I didn’t have my camera, so I don’t have a picture to prove it, but I saw a penguin! HA! Finally!

So yea, back to Christchurch. This year I had the same amazing experience of suddenly being able to smell everything when I stepped off the plane, and the shock of realizing it was dark out. It was also extremely windy when we got off the plane, but it was warm. It felt so good to have the breeze blow through my hair and across my face and not have it bite my cheeks. We happened to come in at the same time as a commercial flight, so the customs line was a stange mix of tanned girls in mini-skirts and sandals, and smelly dudes in carhartts and bunny-boots. Some of the girls from the commercial flight looked pretty horrified, and I don’t blame them.

I have a full day in Christchurch before I fly out, so I plan to take full advantage of this warm weather and go visit the botanical gardens, and perhaps the beach. Strangely enough, I hope it rains on me!

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Merry Christmas!

December 24th, 2009 by liz

Hey everyone, merry Christmas! It’s a day ahead here at the south pole, so this morning I woke up to Christmas brunch. Yesterday we had a flight come in with three triwalls full of mail, and I got two Christmas presents that I opened this morning. I now have the largest supply of tea and chocolate that I’ve ever seen. One of our winterovers (Daniel) loves tea, so I plan to leave whatever I don’t finish on my tea shelf down here for him to enjoy over the long dark winter. I don’t even think he, as an avid tea drinker, could finish it in one winter, so there will likely even be some left over for me when I come down next summer.


Seriously, thank all of you so much for the packages you sent me. Opening a present on Christmas morning here is such a luxury, and my colleagues and I have really enjoyed the fancy chocolates and tea that you’ve been sending me all season.

On a completely different note, I just looked out the window of the science lab to see 5 people all bundled up in their emergency cold weather gear playing golf. On the snow. People here really know how to make the best of a frozen wasteland to have fun. Happy Holidays to everyone!

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Thanksgiving, dance parties, and the dome

December 14th, 2009 by liz

It’s been awhile since I’ve written here, and much has happened. First of all, Thanksgiving happened! The pies we made were delicious, and after dinner there was sangria and dancing. In addition to the standard dancing in the galley after dinner, a large crew headed out to the summer camp lounge afterward for some more late night fun, again with much dancing. The next morning when I woke up I was sore and tired from all the dancing–it lasted a good 5 hours!

One of big projects on station this year is the deconstruction of the dome. The dome was the south pole base for many years before the new elevated station was built. For the last few years they’ve been storing food in the dome, but this season they moved it all to a new facility, and I got to go in the empty dome and take pictures before they started taking it apart.

John Ruhl examines a rip in the skin of the dome. Group photo inside the dome.
Left: John Ruhl examines a rip in the skin of the dome. Right: Group photo inside the dome.

There have been a few other dance parties here (one for Karen leaving, and an open mic night where Johnathan tore it up on guitar), which for the most part have been a blast. One of the things I love about the pole is that everyone is equal, and you find yourself dancing to the same bad 80s music with professors, dishwashers, and bulldozer drivers alike. I’ve had a lot of fun in between all the work, which I guess I should talk about at least a little bit.

We finished doing the receiver refurbishments, and hoisted the cryostat back into the receiver cabin. It was once again a task that required squeezing in behind the cryostat to attach pulse tube lines and tighten bolts, but after many bruises we got the cryostat in and operating. The next task was to attach all the cabling that goes between the cryostat the readout electronics. Unfortunately, there are over 250 connectors, so with Abby, Ruhl, and I all working together it still took us a few hours. We brought some speakers up to the cabin with us though, so we had a little dance party while cabling, and really surprised a tour group that Brad was leading when we opened up the cabin door at the end. Apparently most people don’t expect Michael Jackson to be blaring in a telescope control room.

The telescope is mostly on autopilot now–we finished most of our initial performance tests and are now running regular observations. We had a few hiccups in the last week though. We blew a breaker in the receiver cabin, but we couldn’t dock the telescope without knocking over the siding carpenters’ scaffolding, so I had to crawl in through an emergency hatch to fix it. Luckily, the only thing that broke was a router, which we had a spare of. The other problem was that some of the bolts on our elevation drive motors had worked their way loose, and they are located down a ~4ft. long tube, which is mostly filled with the motor. We were able to procure some tools from the heavy shop though, and with an incredible amount of effort with 3 people over 4 hours, we managed to tighten all 64 bolts to the ~180 ft.-lb. torque spec. Otherwise though, we’ve just been observing, greasing gears and bearings, and doing various tasks that sometimes require scaling the telescope.

Brad and Liz in the yoke arm tightening bolts.
Brad and Liz in the yoke arm tightening bolts.

We’ve also started quite a craze with the sauna. SPT and friends hit the sauna twice a week, and we usually run out to the pole afterward. We even managed to convert some skeptics, who claimed that running outside in a bathing suit was insane. So far, it’s been a ton of fun, and we’re scheduled for another sauna night tonight.

Left to right: Emanual, Liz, Brad
Left to right: Emanual, Liz, Brad

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Long Time no …write

December 6th, 2009 by ben

Hello All.  First and foremost, I must apoligize for both not writing in a long time and for having a boring life. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve had anything of interest to say, and I’m afraid this instance is no different. Term is almost over, which is both exciting and stressfull.

As a second year grad student you’d hope that one would be done with classes, and wouldn’t have to worry themselves about tests or papers, at CU that is not in fact the case. CU has the unbelievable requirement of 10 classes!!!!!!!  This is quite a lot considering that when I…um….errrr…..”had an extended visit” to Cornell, I was only required to take 1 class (which btw, I argued until I was excused from even that class).  Overall though, I really can’t complain, the classes aren’t that time intensive, and I spend most of my days in lab.

Now, it seems like an opportune time to admit I am only writing this post to avoid doing work. So, I just want to wish all the readers a happy holidays, and tell you all to start watching It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia if you’ve never seen it before.

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November 26th, 2009 by liz

A few days ago we had our first installment of package mail since I’ve been here. There was an announcement over the intercom: “Attention South Pole: All hands to Destination ZULU to bring freshies into station. Repeat: This is your Thanksgiving dinner. Come help!” I pulled on my ECW gear and walked down to DZ, which is where they load food into the station. There were already about 10 people working quickly to load the pallet of fresh fruits and vegetables onto the crane and up into the station before they froze. They looked like they had enough help, so I joined a line of about 50 people which extended all the way from some huge crates brought in by a bulldozer on the ground up 2 flights of stairs to the post office. Someone opened the first crate, and inside was mail!

It only took about 10 minutes to completely unload 2 huge (4’x4’x4′) crates full of packages and pass them up the line of people to the post office. As the mail got passed up, I found 2 packages that were for me! The first one was from my grandmother, which contained tea and INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS chocolate. I’ve only unwrapped one of the many boxes of chocolate so far, but it contained dark chocolate covered cashew turtles (this involves carmel too), which totally made my day. The other was from Dave, and it also contained tea and chocolate. Dave sent me a bunch of tea from Celestial Seasonings in many awesome flavors such as imperial white peach and honey vanilla chamomile. There are only about 10 flavors of tea on station, and I drink about 10 cups of tea a day, so I’ve quickly gotten sick of the supply of tea they have here. Thanks to everyone who has sent me something! I really appreciate it.

During the last week while we’ve been waiting for the cryostat to get cold, we’ve done quite a few maintenance task on the telescope, such as greasing bearings and gears (I now have one set of clothing that is completely grease-covered), and cabling up all the readout electronics so we can start testing our new cryostat configuration. We had a hiccup in the timing box which resulted in our optics cryostat temperatures not reading out correctly, but Ken and John fixed it pretty quickly and now everything is back to working the way it should.

In other news, Thanksgiving here was yesterday, but we are celebrating it tomorrow (Saturday) so most people can have a 2-day weekend. (Normally everyone works Mon-Sat here). Unfortunately for us, we’ve been waiting for our cryostat to cool down all week, and it should be ready to go Saturday afternoon. Normally this would mean that we would have to skip the festivities, but thanks to python and bash the fridge cycle to cool the detectors to 250 mK runs itself. (Long story short, we get to go to the Thanksgiving dinner and ensuing dance party while some code runs to control our cryostat.) Tonight, the SPT team is joining many other volunteers to help make pies for the Thanksgiving feast tomorrow. We need to make ~50 pies for the 250 people on station, so it should be a fun night! Mmmmm pie.

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Lowering in the cryostat

November 21st, 2009 by liz

We finished up observations 2 days ago, and yesterday we lowered the optics and receiver cryostats out of the receiver cabin. The optics cryostat weighs roughly a ton, and is a really tight fit in the cabin. In order to lower it, I had to climb up and squeeze behind the cryostat, attached some chain hoists, and then unscrew the bolts that were holding the cryostat in place. There isn’t very much room to move around up behind the cryostat, so I had a tough time getting the bolts undone. Luckily, I had brought a long a foot long breaker bar to attach to my ratchet, so after much effort and a few bruised elbows I was finally able to get the bolts undone.

After we had the cryostat hanging on the 4 chain hoists, the people on the ground began to slowly lower it. My job as the smallest/most nimble member of the team was to push the cryostat away from the wall as the ground team lowered it to keep any of out vacuum valves from smashing into the various things jutting out from the wall. After a brief pause to unhook some previously inaccessible pulse tube lines, we finished lowering and got the cryostat on the ground.

Liz trying to unbolt the cryostat Cryostat being lowered
Left: Liz trying to unbolt the cryostat. It’s tight back there! Right: The cryostat almost all the way to the ground!

After we finished mounting the optics cryostat on its ground cart, we removed the receiver cryostat from the optics cryostat and brought it to the receiver lab for upgrades. This season we are adding a baffle around the focal plane, changing our filter holders to an angled/blackened design, and removing a filter sandwich in front of the focal plane and replacing it with an upstream IR shader. The goal of all of these upgrades is to minimize reflections in our optics chain. Reflections off of various elements along the optics chain contribute to a low-level diffuse sidelobe in our beam. For now the sidelobe isn’t causing problems with our measurements, but things would be cleaner if it was gone, and these upgrades should help to decrease the level of this sidelobe.

Inside the receiver Liz and brad put the lid on the receiver.The pre-refurbishment focal plane. Brad measures some stuff on the new focal plane.
From top left: 1)Inside the receiver. 2) Liz and Brad put the lid on the receiver. 3) The pre-refurbishment focal plane. 4) Brad measures some stuff on the new focal plane.

Last night we opened the receiver, and today we actually began the upgrades. So far things are going well, and hopefully we’ll have the receiver back together and cooling down soon.

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40 years of women

November 16th, 2009 by liz

Last week was the 40th anniversary of women at the south pole. Some of the first women to come to the pole were scientists working in the dry valleys near McMurdo. In November 1969, six women flew to the pole on a military aircraft as tourists. These days in the summer there are usually 40-50 women living and working at the pole.

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Hello from 90 south!

November 10th, 2009 by liz

I made it to pole today, after 5 straight days of traveling. This time I was with Brad and Abby for the whole trip, and we had a great time in Christchurch. Notably, we had some great Indian food and beer while in Christchurch, and we went for a walk through the botanical gardens. Since it is spring right now in the southern hemisphere, everything was in bloom. On the way through the gardens, I found a really big tree to climb, and Brad found some baby ducks in a pond to take pictures of. However, all good things come to an end, and soon we were off to McMurdo.

When we arrived in McMurdo, it was a beautiful sunny day, and a balmy 11F out. After our arrival briefing, dinner, and bag drag, we decided to go on a hike to Hut point, and then up a ridge to where we could see Mt. Erebus.

Liz on trail with McMurdo in the background Liz and Abby with McMurdo in the backgroundLiz and Brad. Brad needed a hug. Abby on the hike up with the Ross sea below.

Transport for our flight to pole was at 7:30am (actually rather late for transport–usually it’s way early), and we were in the plane taxiing down the runway by 8:05am. It was the most efficient packing and taking off of a plane that I’d ever seen. Partway through the flight I got to go up to the cockpit, where I was able to mountain ranges and a bazillion little dials that must have indicated something useful.

The view from the LC-130 cockpit.

By 11:30am we had landed at the pole, where we stepped off the plane into a pleasant -42F day. The windchill was a little rough at -78F, but certainly not the worst I’ve seen. We were greeted by our trusty winterovers Ross and Erik, who despite being slightly toasty were delighted to see us. We’ve taken over the telescope for the summer, and they get to go home in a few days. It’s the start of another season at pole for me.

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