The first time, my advisor sent me an email out of the blue, "Hey, I can't attend this meeting, can you present something for me?" I honestly don't even remember the point of the meeting--maybe a nuclear fuels consortium? It doesn't matter. I said sure, and made up a poster highlighting my one and only (and in retrospect, very bad) result of my research. Believe it or not, it's common practice for scientists to print up posters showing off their research, and conferences and meetings will have a 'poster session' where you can walk around and look at everyone's posters and chat with the person presenting it. I was there for four days: I knew one person at the meeting, and exactly one person talked to me and asked about my poster (they were the same person).
The second time was actually also poster related, now that I think about it. I had won a poster contest (yep, such a thing also really exists, usually to encourage students like me) and there was a cash prize as well as an 'opportunity to visit INL to tour the labs and present the current state of your research'. As I was checking into my hotel, I got a call saying that the tour of the lab was canceled...because it was on fire. Wildfires had been threatening the area for several days before I arrived, and they had finally knocked the power out and hence shut down the lab. With a day to kill and four students on his hands, my advisor drove us around the desert in a rental Hummer. We gawked at the fire, visited the first town to ever run on nuclear power (pop. approx. 14), and somehow ended up at a dive called 'Pickle's Place'.
Rather than presenting to the materials science department of the lab, we ended up presenting in an auxiliary conference building to about 4 people since everyone had the day off after the lab shut down. Good times.
Rock bottom expectations make it easy to be impressed, but I'm having a fairly sweet time so far. No fires, the work is going well, but the gigantic cherry on top has been a weekend road trip. My office-mate (and friend, I don't want to pigeonhole you as merely a coworker) came out the week before I did and highly recommended a trip to Yellowstone National Park. I didn't really know that they were that close, but look:
It's only a two hour jaunt to the west entrance of the park! At first, it seems like your typical national park: beautiful mountains, lots of pine trees, picturesque lakes. But tucked into this are all of these crazy geothermal features that make you feel like you're on another planet. Brightly colored pools of boiling water....
|My shadow is making a cameo in this shot.|
Mud bubbling like a cauldron....
|This mud is actively bubbling! Glop, glop.|
Steam and water blasting up out of the earth....
The people living here hundreds of years ago must have been very religious, because how else would you explain this stuff without vast scientific knowledge? The most logical conclusion at the time would have been that GOD IS POWERFUL AND POSSIBLY PISSED OFF.
|A build-up of minerals and heat-loving bacteria make the beautiful colors and terraces around the pools.|
Many of the geothermal pools are readily accessible by terraces near the road. I decided that I wanted to do a little hiking and get away from the crowds. I pulled over at a trailhead that said 'Fairy Falls, 1.0 mi'. So two miles round trip, I could easily see the falls in 45 min. So I walked.
And walked, and walked, and walked. I kept thinking, 'OK, the falls must just be over that bend'. Since I do a lot of walking with puppy-boy, I figured I'd already gone two miles when I got to a sign, 'Fairy Falls, 1.6 mi'. Aaaah!! I turned around in defeat. I soon passed a couple of European guys who asked, 'Where are the falls??". I told them about my discovery, and they made irritated noises and started walking back with me. They passed the news on to another couple, who made some disgusted noises and turned back as well. We hiked for about a half-an-hour, these guys staring us down from the distance:
|Heh heh BOOBS!|
Geographical breasts being the most interesting thing I'd seen on my hike, I felt obligated to go see Old Faithful. Unfortunately, I got there just as the spout was winding down. To kill some time, I checked out the Old Faithful Inn and got some ice cream. Not a bad deal, it's an amazing old lodge (and ice cream is always welcome, natch). I hope to someday own a home someday with 100 ft ceilings and vast beams made of wood.
Ninety minutes later, here we were. Hundreds of people, all starting at a hole in the ground. I started to feel a little silly.
|Is it your ass, or a hole in the ground?|
It was actually worth the wait....
|OK, so it's pretty cool.|
Here's the only shot that contains me. One of the disadvantages of solo adventuring: no one to take pictures of you in front of picturesque spots, or pretending to pick a statue's nose, or standing on your head in front of a geyser to make it look like it's coming out of your rear end (the other disadvantage: no one to be your lookout when you need to take a leak in the woods).
|Proving I was there...not that the sunburn doesn't do the trick. Ow.|
My friend had advised me that it was quite cold, and that I needed a jacket. I hadn't brought much in the way of winter clothes, so I layered up before I left. About 30 seconds after stepping out of the car into the park, I stripped down to my long-sleeve t-shirt, and five minutes later I was down to a tank top. I hadn't brought sunscreen since I thought I would be wearing lots of clothes the whole day.
In eight hours I only saw a small fraction of the park, and I find myself trying to figure out some more work that needs to be done in Idaho Falls....