Tuesday, March 3, 2009

To Observe or To Compute?

At CU we have two parts to our comprehensive exam. Comps 1 is a test which I have previously vented about at length here, here, and here. Comps 2 is a "publication-quality research project presented orally" along with a bit of on-the-spot grilling by your professors. This is designed to be done by the start of your third year, which means I am currently in the process of selecting a project. I have narrowed things down to two good options:
  1. I could continue to work on dynamo models of the sun and sun-like stars by implementing and testing improved small-scale turbulence models. In a nut-shell, our code cannot hope to resolve all of the turbulent scales of motion on the sun, so instead we resolve the largest scales and then parametrize the effects of the smaller scales as enhanced diffusion of momentum, heat, and magnetic field. Currently, we use a simple, effective, and essentially unphysical parametrization. I have played with some improved methods, so one possibility is for me to do my Comps 2 on a serious study of ways to improve our "turbulent closure model".
  2. I could go off the beaten path a little bit and do some work on actual observations of the sun. The interior of the sun can be "imaged" by measuring how acoustic waves propagate through the sun in basically the same ways that geologists use earthquakes to probe the Earth's interior. This is known as helioseismology. My project would be to characterize the uncertainty caused by one source of helioseismic error.
I could probably make a greater impact by sticking with #1 and in the long run I would prefer to stick with computational work, but Comps 2 would also be a good chance for me to get some experience with actual observations. And I hear that actual experience with observations is a good thing when it comes to getting a post-doc. So the question is to observe or to compute for Comps 2? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Interesting. We have just finished our unit on helioseismology and we have previously talked about the optical depths in the sun in my stars class here at UNC. It's interesting stuff.

  2. Helioseismology is great. What's even better is we should be able to do low degree asteroseismology using data from the Kepler satellite. However, as with any research area there is a bit of a learning curve and so what I could do with it is probably less than what I can do with the computational work because I am already in the flow of things. So the real question is how much is observational experience worth?


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