Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An excting day...

I love freejumping my mare, it is so much fun to watch her figure out the answers to the questions posed by the jumps. On last Saturday, we posed the question of vertical-bounce-vertical-one stride-oxer-one stride-oxer. This arragement of jumps is asking her to sit back over the first few fences, then use that collection to move up over the more challenging oxers. Don't rush, but keep your head in the game.

I was also very excited that the boyfriend was coming to watch. I was happily getting Miss gray mare all groomed and polo wrapped, when I heard a clopping from the barn aisle. These were obviously the footfalls of Calloway, who is my boyfriend's favorite. "Oh," I thought, "He wants to take him for a walk." Cal is now retired, and he gets a bit jealous when when the grey mare gets to do fun things like jumping, so I just thought the boyfriend was giving him more special attention. I turned back to the foreleg I was grooming, and then was starteled when the clopping stopped infront of me.Calloway had dropped his head so low that he was looking me eye to eye, and the boyfriend was kneeling in front of me. With something very sparkly.


"Calloway wanted me to ask you a very important question. Will you marry me??"

Obviously, I said yes. Duh! Free jumping was a bit less important this weekend, but still pretty awesome.

All in all, a really awesome day!!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Crystallographic Equestrianism

                My gray mare is growing up, and it is so satisfying to feel it in every stride. She has such a greater understanding of what I am asking for now. The clarity is what makes it fun. There are some things that I can ask for so subtly, that I feel as if I am just thinking the idea when she answers me correctly. Yes, we have our train-wreck moments still, but they are further and further apart. I would like to now derive a contrived metaphor, because it feels good.
                In crystallography, we determine the structure of a molecule.  In the first stages, there is only a rough shape of an object,  that will look meaningless to an untrained eye. This is your unbroken yearling- all legs, doesn’t understand what you want, and isn’t really good for anything yet. It just takes up space.
                From our initial, meaningless blob, I use chemical knowledge to sift through the blob, and decide what parts have meaning, and what is just noise. The structure gains some meaning, even if it isn’t compete yet. This is your newly under saddle horse- trying to carry your weight, stay upright and grow into a big horse.
                A structure can be considered complete chemically when all the representative parts are visible.  It may not be pretty, yet, but it shows all the parts that should be there.  The resolution may not be all that great yet, and the atoms might still be trying to settle down. Things can still be a little fuzzy.  I imagine this to be the green broke horse- it has stop, it has go, it has some gaits that mostly show up when you ask for them.
                Chemically descriptive and crystallographically complete, the finished structure contains all the information that you can derive from the data. It has been polished to maximum shine. This is not always easy- some structures will never be satisfyingly finished. Some are too defective. Some will not co-operate and will be consigned to the circular file. The finished structure is more than a sum of the chemical parts- the molecule can be described on its own or as a small part in a much larger crystal. This finished structure is now ready to go out into the publishing world.
 The finished horse is a creature that shines with all that you put into them. Your care, your attention, your patience. Your weekday evenings and weekends.  Your praise and your demerits.  It may be exhausting at times, and you will be tested. The polish of flying changes or automatic distances is not achieved over night.  Not every horse will be finished- some never get the chance, some will not find the right person for the job.   But a finished horse is a beauty to behold, and I hope you all get the chance to experience it.
Maybe one day I will with the Gray mare, but  I am a big fan of the” life as a journey” analogy.  Every day I remind myself that there is no “there” that is better than “here.” In science and life,  enjoying the journey is the key to a happy life. So I will love my partially refined mare as she is right now.

Parenting skirmishes…

When my daughter was in  2nd or 3rd grade ( I am not quite sure which one now, it’s been such a blur) she had a teacher who we will henceforward refer to as Mrs. Z, since I have willfully banished her name from my mind as well. Mrs. Z was a control freak who liked to pontificate on the behavior/misbehavior of her students in great detail. She would go on and on, in a humiliating manner about this student or that student, and expected that no parent would ever know  what was happening. Mrs. Z obviously didn’t know my kid, who had been attending college classes and study groups as long as she had been alive. My kid wrote all these disparaging remarks down on her hand,  came home and reported them to me.  I was appalled! In my loose frame of parenting, one of my big rules is respect. Mrs. Z was obviously not showing these students respect. It was not long before my daughter was targeted by her teacher’s sermon, and I go the full report. Luckily this was right before parent-teacher conferences. I tried to play nice, and listen to her blather on about the importance of standardized tests, but then she veered into a topic that I had not expected.
“You need to schedule your daughter more. She needs more structure outside of school.” Said Mrs. Z. I cocked an eyebrow, and looked at her sharply.
“Excuse, me? She’s eight. She gets structure all day at school. I want her to be a kid,” I retorted.
“Structure is the most important thing she can have now,” the mad woman replied. Playing nice was killed  dead, so I unloaded…
“No, I think the most important thing she can have right now is the respect of authority figures, such as yourself, which I am pretty sure is lacking in your classroom,’ I then proceeded to ask her why she thought it was acceptable to treat children in such a manner.
“I am always respectful to the children. Your daughter is a liar.” She snarled. I hadn’t even begun to describe how she had talked to my child, so I decided to tell her what I knew. As I recounted the story my child had told me, Mrs. Z began to get pale and concerned. The level of detail my child had given me was hard to deny. She began to stutter denials and random condemnations.  She was obviously sweating by this point. Her red pen clattered to the floor.  I stood.
“ I think there is nothing more to talk about here. I will be speaking to the principal about changing classes.” I left, without giving her another minute.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Crystallography in a very small nutshell

This blog is for all my horsey friends, and anyone else who would like to know what I do, with a minimum of large, gangly sciency words. I have used some convenient analogies and simplifications-The more precise description is in my dissertation- feel free to look that up… I give this explanation at almost any party/social gathering that involves non-science people. I think it works pretty well, but I am always open to constructive criticism.
A chemist makes a new compound*. They don’t know what the molecule looks like, i.e., they don’t know which atoms are bonded with which. They would like to know the 3-dimensional structure of their new baby, so they grow a crystal of it (Crystal growth is a complete whole ‘nother blog, sorry!) They then lovingly send their crystal to me.
I then blast their beloved crystal with 10^10 photons per second of X-ray radiation…I mean, I bathe their crystal in X-rays.  X-rays interact with electrons in a crystal in  predictable ways. The X-rays enter the crystal, run into an electron, and collide elastically, like a billiard ball.  The experiment I do consists of 1) shoot crystal, 2) measure where the X-rays bounced off to, and how intense they are, and 3) rotate crystal slightly, and repeat 3600 times or until crystal dies. Once we know where the X-ray bounce to(also known as the diffraction pattern), and how intense they are, we can do some math** and then do some more math*** which leads to a map of the electron density. Using chemical knowledge, I look at the map and figure out which atoms are where, and what the molecule looks like. I then provide the chemist with what they really wanted the most…

…A picture for their journal article J

*A compound is a generic term for a combination of atoms.  A molecule is a group of atoms bonded together. A bond is formed when atoms share their electrons. Whew!
**Direct methods, which solves the crystallographic “Phase Problem” –which would require many science terms and another blog
***An inverse Fourier Transform, which relates the  diffraction to the electron density

Livng life as a "big girl"...

I am not small, never have been. I am not obese, more like tall-ish, heavily muscled with a protective layer of fat. I probably will never fit into anything from Express  or Hollister without a hunger strike or a famine. My size 11 feet will never fit into shoes you can grab off the display.  The only shopping worse for me than bathing suit shopping is unsuccessful bathing suit shopping.  But I have to remember that there are many things I can do handily, because I am big and strong.
I can push my car when I run out of gas.
I can still carry my daughter when she falls asleep in the car.
I can easily lug a bag of feed.
No jar can thwart my attempts at opening!
When the beamline computer desk needed adjusting, I leg-pressed it.
Changing tires is not a problem.
Crowds of people seem to part for me.
I can always handle all of the luggage that I regret taking..
  Upon writing this list, I start to wonder, why does society treat bigger people so crappily? I am pretty sure that 100 years ago, a farmer would have been thrilled to have me as a daughter. Yes, we have an obesity crisis today, but not all bigger people are created equal.  Just because I am not average sized, I receive a lot of unsolicited weight-loss advice. My mother was never very  helpful , when I was a kid, because she would go from shrieking  “take a smaller portion!!!” at dinner to making cupcakes or cookies, and offering me one, while not wanting to drive me to the barn/ pool, etc. In my adult life, I was told  “You really should exercize more,” by my OB-GYN, as she sat on her wheeled chair, glaring at my stats and a BMI chart. “But I ride almost every day,” I mentioned, before getting cut off. “Riding horses isn’t exercise!” she retorted. I would love to see her face if she was riding Cal or the grey mare! “Oh that sweat rolling off isn’t from exercise!”
If the judgments were limited to parents and doctors, that would be ok, but it’s not. People have a lot of stereotypes associated with size.  I am apparently lazy, unmotivated, dumb, poor, tasteless, unsophisticated, unworldly with a menial job! People get very confused when I tell them that I am a scientist.  Go figure!

A letter to my family..

 I am writing this to let you know that I am happy , healthy and living a great life with my kid and boyfriend. You may have heard otherwise.  That is unfortunate.  I am finally living life as an independent adult, shaping my world though the lens of my priorities.  I am living without guilt. I am living without self-loathing.  I am living without un-constructive, excessive criticism.  I have spent too much of my life drenched in these things- I am not going to waste another minute with them.  I am only 30, there is so much life yet to be lived!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Workin' on a weeknight!

A monday evening post, since I am doomed to be up late working on a country report with the kid… I was planning on writing a post about about how people are herd animals, but that may have to wait, because I have to give thanks to my friend fairbetty, who has graciously mentioned my blog on her far superior one…I am soo flattered, I am not sure what to do, but I have heard that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, so I will imitate her last post with

7 things you don’t know about me!

1.       I am claustrophobic. Probably not exceedingly compatible with synchrotron work, but I really didn’t realize I was claustrophobic until I worked on the beamline.  I just thought I was American, with a really large personal bubble…
2.       I love sunrises, even if I don’t love getting up for them. The hush of the world awaking, followed by the morning avian serenade/cacophony always makes my early horse show morning.
3.       Once on a family vacation, I beat all my uncles and my dad at poker, deftly lightening their load of quarters. They never played with me again…
4.       I made college freshmen cry when I was the General Chem Head TA.  The waitlist numbering system was  a personal god to the froshies, but I was told it was not valid by the Chem department. And so I dispensed valuble lab spots by chance…ignoring sad stories.
5.       I have a hard time eating fruit. I had a babysitter when I was young who would force me to eat fruit after I had finished my packed lunch. I would plead with her that I was full, and she would keep shoving the fruit at me. Now as an adult, I struggle to enjoy fruits, and I have gotten better- I ate grapes and an apple the other day!
6.       I have started a couple of novels that I keep thinking that I might finish someday…
7.       I love speed (ok, you might have guessed that).

I promise, that poeple-as-herd-animals post is coming up!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Calloway Chronicles

My most senior horse is 25. His name is Calloway, and he is quite infamous in our area for being an outright bastard when he was a school horse.  We met when I was leasing a suddenly lame horse at the university equestrian center, and I was offered  a lease on Calloway in exchange. The director asked me “How are you with bucking horses?” It was an ominous opening,  I answered with “I’m pretty good.” Luckily I wasn’t lying.
Calloway had developed a “fun” habit of jumping a fence, and while the rider was still out of the saddle for landing, he would lurch to the left and buck violently, which would neatly launch the rider skyward. He would follow these acrobatic feats with a victory gallop lap around the arena, before letting himself get caught.  I was informed of this right before my first jumping lesson on him. The challenge was set.
My instructor had set a fence of negligible height, followed one stride later by something slightly more impressive. The plan was to get him over the first fence, keep him straight , get over the second one and turn right as hard as I could before he could put his evil plan into action.  So off to the trot we went, approaching the miniature fence  on an arrow-straight trajectory.  He launched from a long spot, I stayed tight in the tack. We landed, I felt his right side tense and lean left, I sat and reeled him back straight to the next fence. He grunted, launched over the second fence, and in the air, I felt him start to flex left. We landed, I sat down as gently and quickly as possible, and he lurched left again. And he was denied again.  I assumed we had settled who was boss.  I had no idea that was just the warm up.
The next few weeks were fairly innocuous. I rode him, I jumped him, and we had no real problems. Until the evening lesson.  The evening lesson with the course. The course with the *duh duh duh* diagonal line.  It looked like a simple 18” vertical then five strides to a 2’oxer. No big deal for a 16.3hh thoroughbred who had previously been an expensive hunter, right? We approached the first fence with a verve that resembled a near-critical nuclear reaction. Took the normal long spot, then Cal leapt forward and bucked. I suddenly found myself without stirrups. Not one to give up, I pushed him on to the second fence; realistically, though at the light speed we were now hurtling along at, the second fence came up awfully quickly. After landing the second fence, Cal bucked again, completely removing the reins from my hands.  I was atop a madly galloping horse without any control, and I was not jumping off at this point.  As Cal began to embark on a premature victory lap, I reached down his neck, and I grasped for his windpipe. And I squeezed. At this time in my life, I had fake nails. I used them, and I shouted in his ear “Ho!”
We stopped, I won. He never behaved that badly again. We embarked on a relationship based on mutual trust after that day- I got rid of my fake nails, and he got rid of a crappy attitude.  We showed and worked well together.  For other people, however, he was still considered a liability for the university, so eventually I adopted him (well, technically, my boyfriend adopted him, but that is another story) and he began his second life at 21.  His transition from ring hunter to dressage horse is certainly enough for another blog.  And his current life, yet another.  To be continued!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Rule: Nobody Leaves!

A couple weeks back, I was using a a new and different beamline. It was quite the fantastic adventure- familiar in some ways, but yet exotic and challenging. It had been a long day- it had been “take your Child to work day,” so of course I spent all day keeping kids from hurting themselves with dry ice. Then I started on a benchmarking-type experiment.  I had been working with the station scientist, and we had gotten the experiment running, and then I said a dreadful phrase:
“You can head home, I think we are set, here.” So he did. It was late, we were tired.  And I went back to my beamline, and talked to the boyfriend, and then we realized that the experiment needed a slight modification. “No problem,” I thought, “ I can fix that.” So I sat down, and made my “minor”  changes.
“Hmmm,” I said to the boyfriend, something looks really wrong with the diffraction images, “I wonder..” my voice trailed off, as I walked toward the experimental hutch “….aaaargh!!!”  I shouted and cursed! The detector array had driven itself away from where it should have been, and was looking like it was trying to make a run for the door.
“Why did that motor drive????”  Umm, because you (or the buggy, alpha-version of the software) told it to. Duh. Upon opening the hutch, an obvious collateral damage victim was found- the Styrofoam-inlaid-with-Lead beamstop was hanging tenuously, gently resting on the top of a $200k detector. With much help from the boyfriend, everything was patched back together, and the experiment resumed, albeit a few hours later, with my kid eagerly watching and waiting for us to fix it and get home.

The next week, I was trying to use a spectrometer on that very same beamline.  I had witnessed a couple of uses, and had assisted on a few more, so I felt vaguely competent. It was the end of the day, and I had some more measurements to take,  so I said the words again:
“You can head home. I think I will be fine.” Two hours later,  there was a cursing and growling emanating from behind the laser curtain. The sample rig had collided with the camera, and I got to have a “crash” course in optical realignment.
So the new rule is Nobody Leaves.  I explained this to the boyfriend, and he smiled at me.  That smile that makes me feel like I am being slightly paranoid. 
Today I put the Boyfriend on a plane back to his native land for a much-needed vacation. I told him he should go, and have a great time, that I would be fine.  He is still in the air right now. I just got an email from our boss. Our NSF grant is not going to be recommended for awarding. 
The curse of "Nobody Leaves" attacks again. Only this one, we can’t fix. :-P

Monday, April 25, 2011

Teen SciMom

I have read some wonderful posts on being or not being a Science Mom (SciMom) over at Labspaces.net, especially those by Jade, and Dr. Girlfriend. I felt I should tell my story.

On Being a  Teen SciMom…
I am 30 years old, and I have an almost 12 year old daughter.  Anyone with a remedial amount of math training can figure that out.  The solution to this simple equation can yield any number of responses: disgust, confusion, empathy.  I have to say these reactions are much kinder now that I have my PhD, and I work at a national lab.  It was not always so…
                I love my daughter more than I can fathom. I know this sounds so cliché, but it is so true.  I had never ever thought about having a kid, and it was never something I dreamed about.  I never considered myself the mother type. I had big ambitions, and as a smart girl, I had never considered myself attractive, so the whole romance thing wasn’t on my radar.  So when a guy thought I was pretty, I was taken by surprise, and well, we know how these things happen…I was freshly graduated out of high-school, going to my second choice college, miserable and pregnant.  Not so much miserable about the pregranancy, more about the college.  Being pregnant gave me the chutzpah to drop out of the collge I hated and to make a plan to go to the school I wanted to go to.  I enrolled in the local community college, which offered affordable child care, and I completed my transfer requirements for chemistry.  I remember the dubious looks people would give me when I was bringing my daughter to study groups.  They seemed to have labeled me as a failure even before I opened my mouth.  I would bite my toungue and work twice as hard. When other students complained about how hectic their lives were, I would bite my tongue harder.  Once I transferred to the university, I continued to work 24 hrs a week up until I graduated with my bachelors.
                Choosing a grad school for me was simple- I really couldn’t easily move, and I enjoyed the research of the faculty at my current university. I was told this was a damning career choice, and that I would probably have a hard time finding a job, even before I had chosen a specialty.  I ignored them.  They didn’t understand my reality- my family was my daycare, and the grad student stipend would not be enough to feed us and pay for child care in a distant city.  I pushed on, and interviewed with faculty.  Most were unabashed slave drivers- expecting 60 hr weeks or more.  I knew that wouldn’t fly.  I interviewed one prof who specialized in crystallography. She explained the technique, and showed me around her lab, and we talked.  She had been a mother in grad school, she explained, and she remembered how hard it could be.  She asked me if I wanted to work for her, I said “ Can I??” I know that my success has everything to do with having a mentor that understood the pressures I was facing.  It sure didn’t hurt that I could do crystallography from anywhere, once I had the raw data in hand.
                So many people thought my potential was lost once I was pregnant.   I knew that my daughter was a gift.  I saw all the “adults” around me terrified for me. I refused to give in to their pleadings about my life being ruined, because of this new life I was carrying. They didn’t realize my capacity for stubbornness, and tenacity. I suppose I became a parent because no one believed I could do it and succeed at my other goals. I knew I could.  I wavered at times, but I continued to believe in me. So, here I am , scientist, mother, equestrian, in no special order. The rest is pretty much history, I got a PhD, I am doing what I love at an awesome lab.  My PhD mentor is my second mom, and I owe so much to her.  My daughter is going into seventh grade this fall, she was entering kindergarten when I started my PhD.  I won’t lie, being a mother is no joke.  And it is certainly not for everyone. Some days I wonder if it is for me.  People love to drag on about how motherhood teaches you patience, and kindness. Well, I am sure you could learn those same skills elsewhere- I am sure crystallography and my horses have taught me loads about both. But in the end, life is not about what cards you are dealt, It is about how you take those cards and turn them into a winning hand.  I have an awesome kid, a fantastic boyfriend, three wonderful horses, a cat and a fulfilling career.  Winning hand, for sure!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

To Be or Not to Be In a Lesson on a Weekday....

First off, I love the barn where I board the fourlegged kids. It is a wonderful place to keep horses. There is really only one issue that seems to have reared it's ugly head again, and it is the issue of "Weekday Evening Lessons." There is one larger covered arena, a very small indoor arena, and an oudoor arena that is currenty undoergoing it's winter swamp phase. Essentially there is one place for everyone to ride, with the small indoor only really suitable for longeing. It can get really chaotic in the covered arena in the evenings after everyone gets off work.  Due to this chaos, a rule was instated that lessons were not to happen from 4-7PM.

The theoretical pros of this rule:
  • No more group lessons clogging up the arena.
  • No lesson riders needing the rail, the jump, the quarter line, etc, so potentially better arena flow
  • Potentially fewer riders in the arena.
The theoretical cons of this rule
  • Difficult for children to have lessons on weeknights, due to only later lesson slots
  • People who are day shift workers (i.e. 9-5) will find it difficult to take weekday lessons
  • Could produce a glut of weekend lessons, and 7PM weekday evening lessons.
  • Could dissuade riders from continuing their equestrian education.
My personal experience has been that this rule has eliminated my weekday lessons, and that makes me pretty sad. I have converted to Saturday lessons, and I am now part of a parade of lessons. I still ride during the week, and usually during the no-lesson window. The arena is usually pretty empty; maybe one or two riders with me usually.

So my question is, could this rule be amended to better serve all members of the population? I am sure that if one or two nights a week, lessons were permitted, the strain on the weekends would be lessened. And maybe if certain types of lessons were permitted only in the small indoor, e.g., lead line and longe line lessons.  Unleashing beginner children into a large busy arena is probably something that should be avoided at any cost anyways.  Competent children who can negotiate traffic safely are a different matter.

I would like to hear of compromises, because I think many are out there. I think that everyone should be encouraged to ride with a trainer, and any policy that has the effect of making ignorance bliss should be adjusted accordingly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Science getting in the way of life, and vice versa

Sorry it has been so long between posts...even my boss is complaining!

I have been up to my eyeballs in "science" meaning the stuff you do to dress up and publicize your work, when important people are watching.  My real science has been waiting patiently on the back burner, hoping that I will be able to attend to it soon.

My current "science" project is attending a national meeting in Anaheim. Yes Disneyland. Going there tomorrow, today was spent at talks...

More specifically a symposium dedicated to one of my mentors, who has won a presitigious award. He helped put together a fantasy league of a session. Great talks, all day, mostly on topics that I adore.This session was also striking for another reason.

Life doesn't always yeild to the rigors or our work. Life says No. One of the most moving talks was given by a recently bereaved husband, for his wife.  He gushed with enthusiasm for the excellence of his late wife's work, and when he reached the last slide, there was a collective intake of breath as he hesitated, as if saying goodbye all over again. His love for his wife and his love for their work was so beautiful, and so touching.

A good friend of mine was giving a retrospective talk, later on in this same session, and he reached a crystal structure that he has collaborated on with a good friend, who had since passed.  There was another pause, as if the whole audience and the speaker were all giving a collective moment of silence. It was a poignant reminder that our science , our discoveries and triumps, will live on in the minds of those who carry on, and those who follow after.

Scientists are often portrayed, in the media and entertainment realms,  as cold and removed characters, who have no feelings for theri common man. The palpable emotion and humanity today destroyed any vestige of that fallacy.

I will have more from the lovely OC, I promise.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mom's Chili- Whose Mom, I don't know...

This is a recipe from my sister's friend. I fgured I would share it, because it is amazingly simple and wonderful. Bonne chance!

Mom’s Chili (Not sure who Mom is)

1 can (28oz) Crushed Tomatoes
1 can (14.5oz) Petit Diced Tomatoes
1 can (15oz) Chili Beans
2 cans (15.25oz) Kidney Beans (drained)
1 can (7oz) Diced Green Chilies
15.25oz Whole Kernel Corn (drained)
1 packet Buttermilk Recipe Ranch Dressing Mix
1 packet Taco Seasoning
~1lb Ground Turkey
1 yellow/white onion (baseball sized)
Cup of water
Optional: butter or olive oil

Combine the canned ingredients ( for this, I hope you have a much more awesome can opener than I do. Mine sucks, therefore, I consider making this recipe pretty hard core) into your large pot or slow cooker. If you are using a Crock Pot, I set it up for 3 hrs on High at this point. In a separate, fairly large frying pan, sauté the onions to slight brownness; I do this in a little olive oil or butter, but they seem to do okay without, if you are trying to be healthy.  Add turkey to the frying pan, and brown. (Not sure why we call it browning, since really turkey goes more white first, then slightly golden if you push it, oh well) Once there is no more raw turkey visible, add the Ranch dressing packet and the taco seasoning packet. Mix meat , onions and mixes together thoroughly  then transfer to pot/slow cooker.  Use the one cup of water to wash the frying pan out, and transfer all the wonderful goodness to the main pot/slow cooker. If you are using a pot, simmer for a couple hours.  I like the Crock Pot, because I turn it on, and go riding!


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Beamtime, lovely beamtime

I mention beamlines, beamtime, and all things having to do with beams constantly. I suppose it would be good to clarify what the hell I am talking about…
I work in a synchrotron. It is a grandson of the cyclotron, which was a circular particle accelerator and collider.  Synchrotrons became useful because of the revelation  that electrons produce electromagnetic radiation when they are made to turn a  corner.  This radial deceleration results in energy lost in the form of light.  I recommend you read herehere and here to learn more about synchrotrons, because I am a chemist, not a physicist and am therefore not the best reference.

It was a grad student who actually observed this with his eyes. Poor guy!

 Synchrotrons run on a 24hr/7day a week schedule. Electrons are constantly being accelerated and  shoved out into the storage ring, to do their job of cornering, losing energy, and producing photons.  Preferably X-ray photons.
This is where the beamlines come in. Beamlines are how the light gets from the synchrotron to the experimental sample. With UV, vacuum UV and Soft X-rays, the beamline is usually under high vacuum, and includes focusing  and monochromating optics of many types. In the case of X-rays, the beamline is also what keeps the X-rays from irradiating you, with selective placement of lead.  The beamline I use is a hard X-ray beamline, so there is a lead-lined shed at the end, called a hutch. Inside the hutch is where the magic happens. Probably a whole other post.  During my beamtime, my world revolves around a lead lined shed and it’s expensive contents, a microscope, a couple computers and somebody else’s potentially very interesting, but probably infuriating samples. What more could I want, right?
So flash back to this week: I currently have two collaborators who are on my back for results (NOW!!!!).  So what did I do this week? What did I accomplish? I collected data, and helped others collect data. I have spent the majority of the last week sitting at a desk surrounded by the bedlam hum of mechanical work.  I can tell the difference between a turbo pump spinning and a roughing pump coughing.  I can hear undulator gaps changing.  Can I hear my phone ringing? No. The cacophony of a synchrotron is an unbelievable assault on your aural system. At times, you are sure there is music, lurking in the background, on the edge of your strained hearing, but it is really just the motors driving the pitch of that monochromator behind your desk.
On Friday, after spending the majority of the last week on the beamline, I walked out of the building, and ambled towards my car. The soft light of the late afternoon fell on a hushed lab left vacant by fresh snows in the mountains. A flock of juvenile turkeys pecked and scratched at  damp soil under fragrant eucalypts. The peace was revitalizing; having a new lease on life, I drove home to see the horses.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Stall Swap Drama

Oh, how I remember being naive. It was just last year, when I thought, "Jeeze, Young horses must be sooo much easier to tae care of!"

Insert Foot into Mouth Now.

The lovely Gray Mare has been mostly that, lovely. Maybe not very trained, and sometimes very directionally challenged, but mostly, lovely.  But she has not been a very good girl when it comes to being a neigh-bor.  Originally she lived next door to Mickey, the tenderfoot-OTTB baby, whom she enjoyed terrorizing. Mickey would try to drink out of his water bucket, then reel back in horror as he noticed a grey muzzle approaching him, with savage teeth bared!

Since Mickey being dehydrated was not a viable option, a horse home swap was in order.

Step 1. Give Gray Mare a mare neigh-bor.

This arrangment seemed just fine. Friendly Mare, the new neighbor, became quite infatuated with Gray Mare. So much so that we are now sure that Gray Mare is an Equal-Opportunity lover... Lonely Guy  and Friendly Mare were now Gray Mare's herd, and she was the boss. All was well in the world. 

Until Lonely Guy needed stall rest...
Then there was stall rest. Gray Mare is not a very restful neighbor. She enjoys cantering around in her 12x24' stall, especially at meal times. With poor Mr. Lonely Guy needing stall rest, he had plenty of excess energy to inspire Gray Mare to new heights of stall airs-above-the-ground.  I only needed one incident to have a good enough reason to move my Gray Mare, and it came last Thursday, when she was lame and miserable. Her hock was hot and puffy, and she was most displeased when I touched it. She was very displeased when I cold hosed it.  She was not upset when she got three days off, and lovely extra meals with yummy orange flavored powder. Once I was satisfied that it was only a bruise, and she was going to live, the move was clear.
Movin' on up, to the East Side!
So the dust has landed, and so has the Gray Mare. She now lives accross the aisle from her former home, next to an adoring gelding who cries for her when she is out working. She is just a heartbreaker, and she seems pretty happy with that.  Poor Lonely Guy is now, again, Lonely.  Really Friendly Mare keeps giving me sad looks, that say "Why did you move my girlfriend?? I love her!"   See you Next time on "As the Barn Turns..."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

And in other news... NASCAR

I love NASCAR.  No suprise to some, maybe to others. I thouroghly enjoyed today's Daytona 500, with a 20 yearold, who nobody had ever heard of before, winning the race. On the drive into work the other day, me and the boyfriend were discussing the differences between F1 and NASCAR. 

In NASCAR, for those of you who may not yet be indoctrinated,  the playing field is very level. Cars are tested, analyzed and made roughly equivalent. Specs are enforced, i.e, engine compression volume, aerodynamic profile, and violators are penalized.  Yes, monied teams have an advantage, and can squeeze out some extra performance, but NASCAR is the American Dream-  anyone can win, even a 20 year-old with Woods Brothers racing.

Now F1 is diferent. The car has to fit into a "box", with fixed dimensions, and it has to use a certain type of engne with a set compression volume. And that is where the similarities end. F1 teams put in millions of dollars to maximize their horsepower and minimize their aero profile, except of course in the corners, where they want to stick to the track with maximum down force.  FIA, F1's organizing body, does not regulate the cars beyond the original specs, so there are two tiers of teams: the rich(factory sponsored) teams, and the poor(er) teams, which also can be described as the fast, winning teams, and the slow, rolling-chicane teams.  I mean really, when did you last hear of the Force India team getting even a podium??  You hear about McLaren-Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull.

So our conclusions were as follows: NASCAR embodies the American Dream, because it uses  level playing field approach. F1 enjoys the non-level playing field, because of the  "invisible-hand" type management. So American NASCAR is awesome, because it is more socialist than capitalist European F1.  I think some readnecks in Daytona might kill me for these remarks!

Political Rant- You've been warned!

   I am losing my patience with the political discourse, these days. I try to listen to both sides of an argument, but that has been really difficult when the many of the arguments consists of God, guns, and "No Abortions." Even when I have no problems with people having God, guns, and not wanting to have an abortion. I really don't mind what other people want to do, with their religion, their rights, their bodies, as long as they stick to what is theirs. I consider myself very tolerant. And I think that is kind of the problem in politics today.  Just because I am tolerant of whatever stupid trend/fad/belief/procedure you want to partake in, does not mean I am ok with it. I am Ok with it being confined to you. And potentially watching from a distance and laughing.

I am not ok when the morality police start demanding that I cede control of my person, purely because I have a uterus. As a federal governement employee, (no I am not using my work computer to write this, because that would be improper use of government equipment, I am using my 4 year old laptop with a sketchy keboard...), I am prohibited from having a health insurance plan that covers abortions. See here  However, because I am paid by the Feds through an unnamed prestigious university system, I think that I may  have coverage that is more comprehensive. But guess what, if I ever need an emergency D&C, I may get to find out, after a traumatic proceedure, that I get to pay for it, as well.  Purely because of who I work for.

Now I am sure there are many out there who will scream that their tax dollars should never fund  such a procedure. My tax dollars have funded many things I disagree with: putting our troops in harms way in a far away sandbox, subsidizing unhealty foods that promote obesity, dismantling science/arts/music education in order to turn children into little readin'/writin'/'rithmatic regurgitation machines, etc.  I haven't stridently complained, and I really should have. (Better late than never, right?)  So here I go:

Abortion is a medical procedure. It is never joyous, and not convenient. It is not something most women would choose to undertake, if they had other, better options, i.e., Plan B pill, or mifepristone, early term.  I did not choose an abortion, it is not my way, but I can not think of anything more cruel and inhumane than to sentence a woman to carrying a unwanted pregnancy to term, especially in cases of rape and incest. Being pregnant is not all joy and wonder- it is a hardship, and it is only the beginning.  So many people push the happy myth of carrying a child for adoption, but so many of these children are never adopted out, and end up in the safety net of Social services, abused and unwanted. I feel that children should be brought into this world, wanted and loved. If a woman chooses to carry a child to term and place it up for adoption, then that is a wanted child. 

And that brings me to the hippocracy. No thats not a typo- its just a really big hypocracy. I care about life, very deeply, but my moral system speaks to the heirarchy of life,i.e., the living are more important than the dead. A fetus is totally dependent on the mother for everything. If the condition of being pregnant is going to kill the mother, than the mother takes priority.  Simple.  And if someone states that they are deeply pro-life, then where is all the concern for life after birth? It is pretty obvious that the only life that is politically important is the fetus; once it becomes an actual child, well,good luck!  WIC benefits, welfare,  preschool funding, are all deemed not important.  Wars, which I think are fairly detrimental to life in general, are promoted, full stop.  Good health care, for all living humans, should be considered the most Pro-life legistlative action possible!

So I digress. I am very frustrated with the political world we live in. I hope that I am not alone. I hope that we, the tolerant, can impress on the world that we are not so tolerant of our rights being trespassed upon. I am sorry for such a downer of a post, I will now return to snarkiness and science.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The day the mares all went crazy...

   Just another fabulous day at the barn in February. For those not in the know, that means it was windy, cold, cloudy, with a chance of bolting horses. Ok, more specfically, mares. Today, all the mares were nuts. I, being the relative mare newbie, didn't read the signs very well. She was fussy when I was brushing, tap dancing merrily around as I tried to remove the crud from her legs. She was still dancing when I was standing on the mounting block. She continued to dance as I aranged my stirrups, and got settled in the saddle.

 Now this isn't totally unheard of from the Gray Mare. Usually, we solve this issue by leg yeilding, lots of leg yeilding. To the wall from the quarter line, and back to the quarter line. Spiral in, out and in on a circle. Lots of me reminding her that it is really hard to race away when going sideways. Except today, she had an advantage- she was nuts, and believed that she could still run away, while sideways. I did the sensible thing, and dismounted and grabbed a longe line. Her exberance exploded out onto the line in bucks and leaps.

 After a while, I thought, "jeeze, she is looking calmer, I don't want to wear her out." Probably a bad idea. Got back on, got some good work, was feeling pretty confident that our madness was behind us, and then I was unfortuntely right: the madness was right behind us- in the form of a pony, in a run, banging her head on the fence. "OMG!!! DEFCON 5!! Run!!!" was the mare's thought. Next thoughts were "Bronc, bronc, bronc, crap, not enough muscle to pull this off, sliding stop like a giraffe"

By this point I had muttered (yelled) some unkind (R-rated) words, and was sitting deep into the saddle, pushing her past the  pony of terror. On the adivce of my trainer, and my better angels, we decided that 1) Gray Mare was wound up tight like a spring, and 2) she wasn't yet uncoiled after those shenanigans. Completing one good task would be enough to call it good for the day, so we made a circle next to the deathwatch pony. One tight circle lead to a slightly more relaxed circle, lead to a softer circle, and then I let her flow gently down the long side of the arena. Dropping my stirrups, I lept off, before she could find anything else to be excited about. Tack was removed, clapping sounds were made, and one very excited gray mare bolted off accross the arena, heels well above head at times.

I was not the only victim of crazy mare day. Ther were other incidents, some much more vicious than mine. I feel lucky that I stayed onboard. In that way, today turned out ok.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Welcome to my blog.  I am tired of having these conversations in my head, so I will write them down... a little about me.  I am a 30-something (oh god, really???what happened to my 20's?), scientist, mother, equestrian, in no real order.  I am blonde, so therefore, I have spent a lot of my time convincing other scientists that I am not the secretary...
I never really thought of myself as a political being, but in today's climate, I don't think anyone can afford to be apolitical. I believe in the power of government as a force for good, when done properly.  I believe in the power of the people,  by the people, for the people.

I have an amazing daughter and a fantastic boyfriend. If that means I am the poster child for the breakdown of American society, well, ok.   My family also consists of my herd of fourlegged children, the Dark destroyer ( aka DD), the White Toe Crusher (Gray Mare) and the tenderfoot baby. They are very unconcerned with the breakdown of society, and really want the carrot in your pocket.

I do crystallography. It's not metaphysical- it's physics. We'll talk about it, don't worry.Science is awesome!

So there you go, I hope you enjoy my thoughts/discussions/rants as much as I will benefit from getting them out of my head.