Oberlin Blogs

Hawaiian lasers smell like pineapple

June 23, 2011

Sophia Chen ’12

I grace my blogospheric presence (blagospheric? blegospheric?) to you today perched atop my bed in Hilo, Hawaii, which is very, very far from Oberlin, Ohio. Oberlin is kind of like Narnia before Aslan's return--mystical but snowy and full of beardy fellows who look like Mr. Tumnus--and Hawaii is kind of like, well, Hawaii. You know, where the ocean is a 15-minute bike ride away; pineapples are at their sweetest and juiciest; fresh home-grilled seafood is a reality...

The beach looking out onto the ocean
This is 15 minutes from my house.

A view of cliffs off the coast
This is Waipi'o Valley, about an hour from my house.

But my life in Hawaii is probably only about 3% beaches. I spend most of my time working on a polar nephelometer, which is an atmospheric physics instrument used to measure how light scatters off aerosols. The end goal is to find this jargon-y thing called the aerosol phase function, which is useful in characterizing the aerosols and necessary in climate models. My adviser works for NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration), and he takes weekly aerosol measurements on one of the local volcanoes, Mauna Loa, using a lidar.

Professor speaking in a lab room
My adviser showing us his hujungous laser.

A starry sky with a green laser shining up
The actual laser, plus some stars. The observatory is located above the clouds, and there's no light pollution, so the stars are amazing. I saw the Milky Way better than ever before.

I have to say though, that this experience wouldn't be nearly as rewarding without my Oberlin research experience. I definitely have a better sense of direction in the lab, even though my current research at Oberlin is mostly unrelated to atmospheric physics. I feel much more comfortable asking questions when I don't understand what's going on. Take-away lesson here: if you think you want to go into science, do research at Oberlin. And if you like it, do more research over the summer! It may take you to awesome places like HAWAII.

Just to prove to you I'm not in heaven, I'll tell you the cons about Hawaii.
1) Nothing is open past 8 p.m. in this town. At least that is my experience thus far.
2) I have about 20 mosquito bites right now. One of them is on my forehead.
3) I miss Obies :( It's like I'm Susan in the Narnia books. My budz Lucy, Edmund, and Peter are in Narnia, but I chose to be in England. (I think that is the extent I can carry this Narnia metaphor. I will stop now.)

I'll leave you with a picture of me smirking in Waipi'o Valley:

Student posing for the camera in front of a water inlet

Similar Blog Entries