Antarctica and the South Pole

This past austral summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend two months in Antarctica working on the BICEP / Keck telescopes under the United States Antarctic Program (USAP).1 Due to limited deployment slots, I was originally on a list of alternates, who also completed the rigorous physical qualification (PQ) process, and found out that I would deploy shortly before Thanksgiving—roughly two weeks before I left—after a slot opened up on the primary deployment roster.

Large white "Geographic South Pole" sign installed in snow with person wearing red parka standing next to it and metal Geographic South Pole marker in front of it. Continue reading

  1. And, yes, I got back almost six month ago and am just writing this blog post now. 

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BICEP Cookies

Earlier this week, this year’s BICEP / Keck collaboration meeting was held at Harvard (we build, operate, and analyze data from cosmic microwave background telescopes installed at the South Pole). As a collaboration member at the host institution, I decided to bake some BICEP-themed cookies for a coffee break at the meeting, arriving at the idea of making butter cookies in the style of Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies.

A dozen butter cookies arranged in a grid on parchment paper, with E- and B-mode polarization patterns, Antarctica themes, and BICEP themes as raised designs Continue reading

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An Improved CMB Map Colormap

Although a variety of colormaps have previously been specifically developed for displaying cosmic microwave background (CMB) maps, none of these have been designed with perceptual uniformity or color-vision-deficiency (CVD) accessibility in mind. To improve upon this status quo, in support of publications1 for the 2022 data release for the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor (CLASS), I used Matplotlib’s Viscm tool to develop a new diverging colormap that resembles the Planck colormap but is mostly perceptually uniform and is perceived similarly by both individuals with typical color vision and those with red or green color-vision deficiencies. The Q-band Stokes U map from the CLASS paper, which uses the new colormap, is shown below.

A CMB map in equatorial coordinates is shown under Mollweide projection. Data are shown for around 70% of the sky, and the Galactic plane is visible. The new colormap discussed in this blog post is used, starting from blue to a warm light gray and then to red. Continue reading

  1. Y. Li et al., “CLASS Data Pipeline and Maps for 40 GHz Observations through 2022”, arXiv:2305.01045.  

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Galaxy Pie

For the baking contest at this year’s Center for Astrophysics barbecue, I made a blackberry pie containing a spiral galaxy made from a coconut pudding.1 The pie ingredients were mostly chosen based on color and texture, as well as to accommodate dietary restrictions of colleagues. To make the inset galaxy, I created a vector drawing based on the M51 galaxy, extruded it into a solid, and 3D printed the resulting shape out of PLA to form an insert, which extended all the way down to the bottom crust.

Pie with a light crust, dark filling, and a white spiral galaxy inset in the filling Continue reading

  1. Although it ended up being a more general baking contest, the original email about the contest described it as a pie-baking contest, hence the pie.  

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Building a Cosmic Coffee Table

Now that I finally have a couch (and am living in an apartment big enough to comfortably fit one, unlike when I was in grad school), I decided I also needed a coffee table. Instead of just buying one, I decided to build one instead, with an astrophysics-related theme. To make construction without access to a woodworking shop easier, I sketched out a design based on square birch dowels, after which I selected a Hubble Space Telescope image of the Tarantula Nebula to use for the tabletop, and got to work building the table.

Black wooden coffee table with image of Tarantula Nebula on top and slats on the bottom Continue reading

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