national labs


Alligator and Rhinoceros-like fossils from Badlands National Park demonstrate that the climate in the era 30 million years ago when the sediments were deposited was much wetter.

Mind blown whilst reading more of the theory underlying my lab.

“Lets examine what is going on in the chaos game. Information from the roll of the die is random. The system has no idea where it is going, until the dice is rolled. Forecasting the direction of the system is impossible. Yet, once the system receives information, it is processed according to internal, deterministic rules. The result is a limited range of possibilities, but the number of possibilities is infinite.”

Matt Berninger of The National crowd surfing at Greek Theatre Berkeley, April 26, 2014. Photo by Heather Polley (please do not delete credit).

Impossible Project BW I-Type instant film, Impossible Project instant lab.

I’m working on bits of my sociology of STEM manuscript while my code runs through large data sets. 

And it strikes me: Wow, I started out at fashion school and here I am, six years after the fact of dropping out, as a computational neuroscientist/statistical physics trainee.

I am glad our academic system makes that possible, that I was able to pull that off and that my sociology work goes toward answering the question how that path is very weird.

Simulations reveal the invisible chaos of superluminous supernovae

Sightings of a rare breed of superluminous supernovae – stellar explosions that shine 10 to 100 times brighter than normal – are perplexing astronomers. First spotted only in last decade, scientists are confounded by the extraordinary brightness of these events and their explosion mechanisms.

To better understand the physical conditions that create superluminious supernova, astrophysicists are running two-dimensional (2D) simulations of these events using supercomputers at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) developed CASTRO code.

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The day before I left for Princeton, I slept on my desk at the NIH, needing access to a color printer from which to print my poster not yet completed. My first night at Princeton, I slept on one third of the hotel bed while the other two-thirds were occupied by a poster. The second night, I slept in and wandered around the chemistry building, which is particularly charming early in the morning. The cloud-like structures are science-y dream-y when the light comes in through the all glass wall. And looking at them from above, it is quite clear they are meant to imitate clouds from one angle and, from another, to imitate electron clouds.

I had been coding all day on Friday. I think it might have settled the mind, reeling through all that logic, both for the act of it and the success of having done it.

My voice become low, comfortable, and I felt no anxiety in speaking with my advisor to show him the results. My advisor – who when I first started working with him intimidated me so much with how much respect I have for him that I could barely stand to approach him at all. And yet like that, a short instant, a short discussion about the results brought a piece of publishable science to fruition. Then, a burst of conversation – energy, eyes flitting and scribbling on paper on his side, calm wrapping-of-the-mind, eyes gazing and commenting on the conversation on my side – about which analyses are best to use for how to best make the case for our results.

I don’t know where all my anxieties went that usually accompany me at every step. Our result is in applied mathematics, essentially, and I felt like I was at ease in a hot bath while discussing it. The mind was clear. And, even more, the science came to fruition in a matter of minutes, while I have hitherto only experienced a science result wrought into being, slowly, torturously, and through squinting eyes at many figures and tables.

I can see how one can get addicted to this. We found a piece of knowledge, we hopped a few jumps in logic and found a piece of knowledge waiting to be picked up, is how it felt. It felt like a small hit of a drug, and the companionship behind it, the human element of the science, felt so intimate. The confusion of our results for the past few months were elucidated, corrected, accounted for and a large swath of literature, in the course of a few minutes, proven wrong. And I am especially pleased our result is applied mathematics, which is the PhD I want for MD-PhD programs.

And Friday night, a sense of relaxed accomplishment. We shall bring a piece of knowledge to light. Then Saturday, an excited scrambling of ideas about how best to show what we found with pen and paper.

I am going to be published, likely in two papers – one in comp neuro, one in applied mathematics – within the next bit of time.

I want to skip ahead 20 years and be a seasoned scientist or physician. This 20-something flailing around, feeling dizzy and lost and confused and wanting at the accomplishments of the older and accomplished around me, – a chronic phenomenon at the NIH! – is so confusing.

The sky is so white today and laying in bed next to a giant window feels like I’m in one of those shiny white tiled psyche wards. I kind of wish there was a psyche ward – or someplace – that would scoop me up, take me in, let me take a break from life and assign me to some person whose job it is to tell me how both science and myself work and how to make them work optimally.

How do I even express… Is this just what happens when you graduate? 

…Tomorrow is another day. I will figure this out.


“We often forget that WE ARE NATURE. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.” -Andy Goldsworthy

I’m a true believer that nature is meant to be experienced firsthand. Trees are meant to be touched and climbed, meadows laid in, rivers swam in, mountains scaled… so go get off the trail, stand on cliff edges, get rained on, wander in woods and find yourself.

*To see captions and type of film used, click on image.*

In observance of National Pink Day we bring you Mr. Pink

Quentin Tarantino brought Steve Buscemi to the 1991 Directors Lab at the Sundance Mountain Resort in Provo Utah to workshop his first feature film, Reservoir Dogs. The iconic film later premiered at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival. 

© 1991 Sandria Miller for Sundance Institute