Scott Tarlow ’12, a physics major, spent his summer as an intern at Columbia University Earth Institute’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Scientists there observe Earth on a global scale, exploring climate change, earthquakes, volcanoes, environmental hazards and more. He worked on an optical flow modeling project that involved studying lava as it moves and cools, using infrared images of the process.
Hot stuff: “The big picture of this project is to create accurate equations that describe the motion of basalt lava flows. It’s important to look at the lava’s temperature while it moves because that’s what lava does in nature: It flows. The point is to create a controlled lava flow experiment that is as close to nature as possible so that we can use this research for hazard policies (maybe). I am not sure what the implications of my research will be. I will continue to work on this during the school year.” Major inspiration: “In the summer of 2010, I worked with geology professor Geoffrey Collins on a planetary science project that eventually led to a poster at the American Geophysical Union’s meeting last fall. There, I was exposed to Earth scientists who were all working on super cool projects. Energized from this meeting, I knew I had to explore career options in Earth or planetary science. That’s why I wanted this internship at the observatory.” Core connection: “This internship completely connects with my coursework. In this project alone I have used ideas from ‘Calculus,’ ‘Linear Algebra,’ ‘Differential Equations,’ ‘Optics,’ ‘Classical Mechanics,’ ‘Geophysics,’ ‘Statistical and Thermal Physics,’ and ‘Introduction to Computer Programming’—almost everything I’ve learned about physics.” Favorite class: “‘Geophysics,’ with Professor Collins. How could anyone not enjoy running around Wheaton with a sledgehammer and seismic sensors? We used the equipment to determine the kind of materials that the ground is made of on campus.” Physics attraction: “When I was 13 years old, my uncle, who works on NIF [the National Ignition Facility, a large, laser-based research device located at Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California], gave me a tour of it while it was still under construction. I was able to see a lot of the laser. It symbolized for me the amazing power of understanding science: to be able to build a machine that gets as hot as the core of our sun is amazing. That is what spurred my interest in physics.” Moving forward: “My goal is to become an Earth and planetary scientist, which means pursuing my Ph.D. The work I am doing now will be very similar to the work I will be doing in graduate school, so not only does this give me a little idea of what graduate school life is like, but it also gives me an edge over the competition.”