City Steps - Katie Brady

City Steps - Katie Brady
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    [S.K.] -Hi. Welcome to City Steps. I'm your host S.K. Rana and with me today is Katie Brady, say "Hi." [Katie] -Hi. [S.K.] So Katie can you introduce yourself? [Katie] -Yeah I'm Katie Brady and I'm a rising senior at Barnard College. I study computer science and the research I'm doing that we'll be talking about is in astrophysics. [S.K.] -Okay. Wow that's interesting. So you're a comp sci major but you're doing astrophysics research. How exactly does that work? [Katie] -Well computer science is a discipline that can be transferable to many different domains and every domain needs interfaces every domain needs applications so I'm just applying mine to astrophysics because I thought that would be an interesting field and they have a lot of data that needs a lot of parsed and they also were happened to be in need of an application in the summer. [S.K.] -Okay that's interesting. So what exactly is your research? [Katie] -So I work for a telescope. Well I work for gamma-ray astronomy. So that's like where particle physics meets astrophysics. And the way that works is through telescopes and the telescopes that I'm working with are through VERITAS program which is in, it's located in Arizona. There are these giant telescopes that have a ton of mirrors and they capture light from Cherenkov radiation. So what happens is the gamma rays they hit the atmosphere and they're absorbed and they cause Cherenkov radiation and then a photon hits one of the mirrors as light. So nothing can move faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. But in air things can move faster than the speed of light which is what happens with these particles. During the Cherenkov radiation the effects that happens. And it moves faster and it'll cause light and that lights blue and that is what the telescopes see. And so this happens over and over. [S.K.] -So I don't actually know this but what emits gamma rays? [Katie] -Okay so the most energetic sources like things in the universe and make gamma rays. Supernova remnants are one of those. Supernovas are like exploded dead stars and black holes which I think everyone's pretty familiar with black holes and pulsars. [S.K.] -Yeah and they all just release gamma rays which then eventually come to earth? [Katie] -Yeah actually everyone who listen to this. Well everyone on this-- everything is hit by these like cosmic rays and and all these showers from space. Because they just, you just don't know that but you're getting hit by them all the time. Especially cosmic rays. So that's the data that we're getting is how many times the telescope's being hit by gamma by what are gamma rays as high in space but we see it as these lights that hit the telescope in different shapes. So what I'm doing is I'm taking all of that data that we get when we do the runs and I'm making an application that allows the observer to well first take the data it parses it creates all this data analysis in real time and what it's useful for is somebody who's looking at the telescope site at night they can they know if the telescope's seeing anything they get real-time analysis of if they're seeing gamma rays if they're seeing muons if they're seeing cosmic rays. [S.K.] -Okay wow. That's really interesting and so Cherenkov radiation is is that like diffraction of gamma rays once it hits our atmosphere. [Katie] -Yeah pretty much. [S.K.] -And it shows up as blue light that we can't see to the eye but it can be observed through telescope and it's instrumentation. [Katie] -Yeah. [S.K.] -And you said the -- is it like the intensity it was a light that you're parsing or is it like the patterns in which it hit like telesco- [Katie] -It's mostly the patterns in which it hits the telescope but it's also the intensity. Yeah and so I think the most important it's the shape. So a muon is kind of like a ring, where as gamma ray shows up in what's like an elliptical shape. Okay and the ellipses have so we don't have just one telescope it's not one telescope sees one gamma-ray because it's a shower and it spreads out over the telescope sites and there's an array of telescopes there's like this four. And each telescope is hit with the same shower and the ellipse displays in different positionings and what I do is I have to code the thing that sees what shape the ellipses are in it then does it draws lines through the ellipses and it's and it does make a calculation to see the intersection of that which will tell you where the gamma rays came from. [S.K.] -Okay so your goal with this app is to determine-- what your goal with this program is to determine where the-- where the gamma ray originated from(?). Like where it hit our atmosphere (?). [Katie] -Like one goal but there's actually like 30 things they wanted to do. So one and it's not so actually little this is not the first time an application like this is being invented. I'm actually creating it based off the quicklink program that they have. So in reality mine isn't for VERITAS. Mine is actually for the next generation of telescopes and gamma-ray astronomy which is called the-- it's for the Cherenkov Telescope Array through the PSET. And the PSET is a different kind of telescope and it can see like a much wider range of energies and it's gonna be like incredible for actually seeing gamma rays. And so what I'm doing is I'm mimicking the quicklink one that already exists for VERITAS for the PSET. So the one for VERITAS has about maybe like 30 to 40 different applications that it can or different things it does. So one goal is it has the thing I just described which is a visual interface that shows the the ellipses and figures out where the gamma rays can come from. Another thing is there's just a histogram that tells you how many events are happening per second that the telescopes are seeing and there's tons and tons of other things that's the quicklink has to do. [S.K.] -Ans VERITAS is the telescope? [Katie] -It's the telescope array and the group and that works for the gamma ray astronomy. So another interesting thing about this is that VERITAS is not the only gamma ray astronomy, like astronomy thing doing this. There's actually another one called, another one called HESS called MAGIC. And those are pretty much the same thing but being worked on at other parts of the world. [S.K.] -Got it. [Katie] -And the organization is the CTA with the the Cherenkov Telescope Array. And that-- this group is going to have like over a thousand scientists working on this array. This array is very like a very big deal and it's just gonna have a lot more people working on it because there's going to be about over a hundred telescopes for this array. [S.K.] -Ao are you working for like the CTA or are you working...(?) -[Katie] I'm working for Barnard. [S.K.] -So how did that happen? [Katie] -Well because the way this works is this is like a science project. It's not like a company project. So the way the CTA is a collaborative collaboration between different scientists and professors from different universities and they're actually here right now. [S.K.] -Oh wow. [Katie] -At Columbia's Nevis labs. [S.K.] -So. Oh. What's Nevis laboratories? [Katie] -Nevis labs is a site in Westchester in which is specifically in Irvington that houses the particle physics and astrophysics labs. And it has a very rich history. In fact the building which is it's known for is Alexander Hamilton's son house. [S.K.] -That's that's really cool. [Katie] -It's really cool and there's so much history about it. There's also history with the science that's taking place there. There's like a radioactive experiment that's buried underground under five feet of concrete. [S.K.] -Wow they were doing a radioactive experiments in this building (!). [Katie] -Yeah it's like this building has massive history and it feels, uh some people I work with say it feels slightly post-apocalyptic. [S.K.] -That's one way of phrasing it. [Katie] -But it's really cool and it's a lot of space that is given to the science research which is really cool. [S.K.] -So what's it is-- this is this your first time doing research? [Katie] -Yes. [S.K.] -Was this-- like, is this what you've expected from research, is this what you thought it was gonna be like? [Katie] -It's really different from stories I heard before was that research is really competitive. I always heard about how like in graduate school like post-doc how it's always like trying to get the next position or in science like having to compete with other universities and other science projects doing similar science that there would be some sort of competition and stress related to that. And I I don't know if it's unique to my experience, but everyone I work with this incredibly, incredibly kind and joyous and, and it seems that the field that I've worked in is so collaborative my project is the project i'm working for it's in multinational and there's multiple projects that are happening at the same time doing the same sorts of research like HESS and MAGIC which are in different parts of the world. And and my research mentor is really great friends with a scientist at HESS and he's here right now with his students at Nevis labs. And she's sharing with them all of her knowledge. And it's like such a gracious community and gracious research project to be part of. That was something I didn't expect. [S.K.] -Would you describe yourself as an inherently curious person? [Katie] -Yes. [S.K.] -Do you think computer science is a science that's very much a tool that can be applied to other types of sciences, do you think that lends you to-- is that one of the reasons why you chose computer science? [Katie] Yes I actually there were so many reasons why I chose computer science you want to know? Wow, okay. So which one first okay well. I was really interested in being an artist and I okay well actually was interested in everything I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to be a yoga teacher, well I am a yoga teacher, and I wanted to continue to be a yoga teacher. I wanted to study English and human rights and I wanted to study science and I wanted to study like philosophy. I'm super into philosophy. And I wanted to be an engineer and I wanted to be lawyer I wanted to do absolutely everything. But then I took a computer science class. And the class itself it went to different domains it had three different domains in one class and it has uses the domain of finance, biology, and liberal arts as one whole, which is really funny. And, and this was my first coding class and I saw like how these things are useful for all these different domains which was really interesting I find like learning computer science really, really, really, interesting like just like I love going to computer science lectures. So I didn't actually take a coding class till really late in college and so I'm taking a lot at the same time so I can graduate on time. And every class has been-- there's never been a class that I haven't liked. I've liked every single class I've taken. And I take a lot at the same time which I think says a lot. I know for a fact there are subjects that I'm interested in like philosophy, but if I was to take three philosophy classes at-- three or four philosophy classes at the same time I would not enjoy that. But with computer science, I this was another big reason, I can do coding for a long time without losing focus, whereas with some of the other things I studied I would lose focus in five minutes those are my reasons. [S.K.] -That's amazing. [Katie] -Oh and. I like the opportunity to not work for someone else. When I was in-- when I wanted to do human rights I also realized that a lot of those domains, I had to get hired. So many of the routes to making big world impact that I could envision in my head that I thought were like really the things that I thought were really the ways I saw to do meaningful things in those fields that I was interested in doing, it was someone else had to give me authority and power in a position in order to instantiate those changes and to have effect and to like have that role. But I guess that's changing, but just the roles in my head that I could envision. But with computer science I realized that no one has to give me any authority. All I have to be able to do is code and have a not even a nice computer and I can make anything I want and I could make my own business. [S.K.] -It's so remarkable to see someone who's so passionate about what they do. Genuinely I'm not-- I'm I mean that truly from the bottom my heart. It's truly astounding to see someone who just loves this (and has) interests in the world and is interested in what they do, specifically. And the fact that you see a way to do this one thing and apply to so many different aspects of life to keep learning to be like, "oh I'm going to learn about astrophysics while also doing thing that I love," which is coding, that's so cool and honestly I-- I couldn't imagine a better wrapping off point that that impassioned speech about why to do comp sci also why to find something that you absolutely love. [Katie] -Because even when you do something you love though it's still hard. [S.K.] -I don't doubt it. [Katie] -So I can't I can't imagine not doing something I love because I-- I can't imagine when those barriers come up, like having to jump over them when you when you don't enjoy it. [S.K.] -Yeah that's amazing. Well thank you for agreeing to let me interview you. [Katie] -Yeah of course. I live with you. [S.K.] -I mean, that too. And this is our third episode of city steps. I guess I'll see you next time.
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