Illusions and Reality

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” -Albert Einstein

Polar Research Board, My First Panel, and the White House 22 November 2009

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This has been a very interesting week.  I began the week by attending the second day of the meeting of the Polar Research Board at the National

Candy corn traffic cones @ Eastern Market

Academy of Sciences.  There was an interesting discussion on the new structure under consideration for the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) as well as updates on various polar science projects.

The last part of my week was spent as the panel summary reader for the IGERT Green Panel.  IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) is an NSF program that funds interdisciplinary graduate research programs.  The programs that the “Green” panel was reviewing were focused on ecology and sustainability.  My job was to listen to the discussion of the panel and then read the panel summaries for clarity and to help ensure that they accurately reflected the discussion the panel had.  It was an interesting experience and the proposed projects were very interesting.

Me at Barack and Michelle's house

Yesterday, I went on a White House tour.  One of my fellow Fellows who works in Senator Gillibrand’s office was able to get me a reservation for a tour.  The tours are self guided and you are not allowed to take pictures inside of the house, or even bring a camera with you for that matter.  All you are allowed to bring into the house are your keys, wallet, and a cell phone.  The tour begins (after a security screening and ID check) walking along an enclosed portico where there are pictures hanging showing different presidents with each large frame (6-7 pictures) centering on a different theme, like presidential pets, inaugurations, etc.  Then you enter a hall where you can look into the library, vermeil room, and the china room.  In the hall there is a china cabinet displaying dishes from several different presidents.  Then you go up the stairs and into the East Room.  The East Room is where the president has press conferences and other events.  You can see the red carpet in the hall leading to the East Room that the president walks

down on the way to a press conference.  Next is the Green Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room, and finally the State Dining Room.  In each room there are portraits of presidents and first ladies as well as works by American artists like John Singer Sargent and Albert Bierstadt.  Even though there is not a tour guide, there are secret service agents in each room who are knowledgeable about the art and history of that room.  Some of them gave a little talk, while others only answered questions.  After the State Dining room you leave out the front door, where you are allowed to take a picture with your cell phone camera.  The agent in the State Dining room did tell us that the whole Obama family was home yesterday, but unfortunately I didn’t get to see them.

Today I got together with Margie and we had brunch at Le Bon Cafe – delicious veggie strata.  Then we headed out to the DC Armory to do a little shopping at the National Geographic Warehouse sale.  There were amazing deals on all sorts of National Geographic books.  Then we went back to Eastern Market, and did a little browsing and just generally enjoyed a beautiful fall day in Washington, DC.


Perfect Autumn Day in DC 8 November 2009

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Apples from Showalter Orchard for sale at Eastern Market

Le pain grille et cafe au lait au Bon Cafe…C’est magnifique!!

A beautiful weekend day in DC…I went up to Eastern Market, walked around and then made my way down to the Capitol and then down Pennsylvania Ave., wound up at the National Portrait Gallery for a quick peek and then the Festival of Trabants on the street in front of the International Spy Museum.

Just a taste of autumn in DC…

Eastern Market: chilly morning, perfect for squash, pumpkins, and apples.  Walking on Capitol Hill streets – last weekend’s pumpkins lingering on front stoops, smiles starting to droop.

Le Bon Cafe – quirky, cute, discovered on the morning of the Library of Congress day.  A French cafe staffed by Spanish speaking staff – incongruous or cosmopolitan?  Marble topped tables with wrought iron bases – heavy, white, chipped cafe wear.  Beautiful toasted baguette spread with butter and raspberry jam, rich cafe au lait.

Interesting facades along 8th Street – not sure what they are.  Outlines of windows and architectural features drawn on the walls at street level, wrought iron outlines higher up.

A beautiful, sunny day with a cool crispness in the air…..perfection!

Facade Along 8th Street

Trabants at the International Spy Museum














Click here for more fall in DC and Virginia pictures.


President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)

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The last of the catch-up posts, my next posts will be written in a more timely manner.  I believe if I keep telling myself that it will actually come true J.  The same week that I visited the National Academies, I got to attend the open portion of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).  To say it was interesting to listen to the discussions of this group would be an immense understatement.  The council is made up of an impressive array of people from both industry and academia.

The majority focus of this meeting was STEM Education, although they had several sessions relating to the role of science and technology in foreign policy which were also very interesting.  The Einstein Fellows got a couple of “shout outs” during the meeting from Bill Valdez as well as Bruce Alberts – yeah us!!  More than anything, this meeting really gave me an impression of how policy gets formed and how people in positions of power gather the information they need to make decisions about areas in which they are not an expert.

All of the sessions were webcast and the webcasts are archived at: You can see me at the beginning of the webcast of the Thursday, 2:00PM session on Federal STEM Initiatives.


National Academies Day

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Front of the Keck Center at the National Academies

On October 19, we had a fabulous day at the National Academies.  We began with an overview of the National Academies which include the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council.  That National Academy of Sciences was founded in 1863 and their role is to provide advice on science to the nation.  Many of their reports are requested and funded by the government, but they are totally independent of the government in their findings.  One of the first tasks of the NAS was to work out how to keep the iron-clad ships used in the Civil War from messing up compass bearings.

The rest of the day was spent hearing from the various divisions of the National Academies about what they do and what resources they have that are useful for teachers.  There was a ton of stuff out there that I had no idea was there.   For instance the Division of Earth and Life Sciences has a whole page devoted to resources for teachers with great information on a wide variety of topics.

After hearing about the different divisions, we visited the Koshland Science Museum,  which is a small, but nicely done science museum which is part of the National Academies Keck Center.  After that it was back over to the bookstore at the NAS, where we got a 25% off discount and I got my very own Albert Einstein Action Figure.  He is very cute with hair you can play with and a piece of chalk in his hand.