THESISCRAZY(part 6): Exciting Ways to Take Up Space (it’s funny once you Read More)

one of the motivating posters up in the historic Van Vleck Observatory

It’s technically The Day! We’re a go-go-go on these interviews, so stay tuned for these last couple uploads of terrific theses! We’ve got some fancy terminology coming atcha from some smart, smart people so stay tuned as we learn a little about solar cells, stars, and narratives.

Rhoen Fiutak ‘19, Physics (Geophysics track)

Working Title: Understanding Lifetime Dynamics in Gold Hyperdoped Silicon

On her topic: It’s particular solar photovoltaic device–basically a solar cell material–that’s still in its experimental phase, and we’re studying one parameter that would help efficiency. The best way to explain it is how my mom explains it. When people ask her what I’m doing, she says, “well, Rhoen takes this little sample and gets it excited by putting some gold in it and then she sees how long it stays excited with the gold”. So that’s a great explanation.

On how she thought of the topic: Well, Renee told me to do it.

[Do you like it?]: Oh yeah, I really like it, I’m glad.

On what she’s been working on: I took all my data in the fall and then started writing over winter break and then have pretty much been grinding out each chapter. I’m currently done with all my chapters, I just have to write my conclusion and be in the editing phase.

On her current mental state: Pretty solid. I don’t think any thesis writer is not stressed, even if the thesis is done. It’s never done until you pass it in, so I feel like you keep continuing to keep wanting to make edits.

On her most upsetting thesis experience: I was presenting on my research and Professor Voth was in the room and he asked the exact question about a particular thing not relating to the particular parameter that I’m studying that basically is the cause of all the problems that I’m trying to talk about in my thesis. So basically, I don’t talk about it on my thesis because we did one experiment in the spring that was like, “Oh never mind, it’s none of what Rhoen’s done, it’s actually this other thing”, so he picked that right out.

On her fave form of procrastination: Currently just started the new season, part two of Sabrina on Netflix. Not a good choice for this week.

On her plans for April 16: Well, I’m going to hand my thesis in and immediately have to do a take-home midterm for a physics class and also I will be heading straight from the steps to a workout for track.

On her advice for future thesis writers: Have a good advisor! Renee’s my favorite person in the whole wide world and I don’t think I would’ve gotten through without her.

On her favorite part of thesis: The fact that at the end of it, I’m going to have this printed awesome cool book with all my work that makes me feel like I’m a real physics person who did research!

On if her thesis was a song/movie/TV Show: All I can think of right now is Bill Nye the Science Guy but that’s because I have a sticker of him on my agenda that I’ve been trying to figure out where to put it haha.

Questions she wished we asked: I don’t know. I thought you were going to ask me what’s crazy about my thesis or have I had any brain cramps or something. But other than just, like, saying weird things, I do that all the time. Like I texted someone the same thing but worded slightly different within 20-minute periods of the day because I had forgotten that I had texted them that but then they were like, “you literally just texted me the same thing three times”. But that’s because I feel like I’ve been editing it and just staring at a page with multiple words all day.

Her most used word/phrase: Probably “silicon” because I had to go through my whole thesis and figure out on Word how to find ‘silicon’ and change it from uppercase to lowercase ‘s’, so that’s probably my most used word.

Theses Feces: Not great now. Leaning towards the liquid end. But that could be less of the thesis and more of because I’ve started racing again for outdoor track. So let’s blame it on the track.


Bobby Baldocchi ‘19, Astronomy                                   Bobby talking about his “pretty plots”

Working Title: “Visualizing the Data of Sloan Digital Sky Survey”, or “Bobby’s big box of tickles: how to visualize billions of spiders in three dimensions”

On his topic: I’m taking all the extragalactic data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey–galaxies, quasars, that fun stuff–and then I’m splitting those into…many categories, with three overarching categories of blue, green, and red–blue being star-forming, red being no-longer-star-forming, and green being the transitionary period between those. One those are split up, I’m splitting them into six further categories, so there are 18 categories.

[Oh shit]

Which is, if I can remember off the top of my head, is passive galaxies (which have no H-alpha emission), AGN galaxies, LINER galaxies, Seyfert galaxies, AGN+H2 (where they have an active galactic nuclei and also star-formation), and then H-alpha galaxies (which are mostly passive but still show some H-alpha emissions)…so then once I have all these categories, I’m plotting them in a 3-D environment just to show the overall distribution of these different types of galaxies and objects throughout the entire universes as far as we’ve taken data with SLOAN.

On how he thought of his topic: It started off as Roy and I just wanting to put the data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey into virtual reality. But then sometime over the course of that, it slowly drifted away from the VR part and became more of a data analysis thesis because no one has actually has parsed the data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey since data release 8 and we’re on data release 15. So the last time someone did this, they did this with 50,000 objects and so we did what they did, but with like a few more categories and with a few million objects.

On his progress: I’m like halfway done right now with the actual writing part. I still need to throw my stuff into 3-D, but that shouldn’t take too long since the code is already written and I just need to finalize my data before I throw it in there, so it’s almost done.

On his current mental state: My body is battered but my spirits are high.

On his most upsetting thesis experience: There was this one point where I parsed all these galaxies and I got all my red, blue, and green ones and they were each categories and there were a few million in each, and I was doing this and doing the more data analysis parts of it and trying to categorize them, and was like “shit, all of this is wrong”. So I go way back, like my actual initial queries is where I found the issue, but I essentially had to, not really start over because all the code and queries were written and stuff, but I had 15 or so queries that took 20 minutes each to run that I had to redo, so that sucked.

On his favorite form of procrastination: Playing Super Smash Bros.

On his plans for April 16th: Well, I’m definitely going to be drinking mad champagne on the steps. But after that, my roommate’s girlfriend is teaching me guitar so I’m going to try to learn guitar, but then honestly just enjoying senior spring without my thesis over my head.

His advice for future thesis writers: Make sure you like your topic, or else you’re going to hate yourself. I love my topic. I didn’t like it as much when it was throwing things in VR because I didn’t feel like I was doing any real science. But once I let go, something kind of clicked and I was like, “wait, what if I categorize everything? When was the last time someone did this?” and realized it hadn’t been done since 2010, so nearly for 10 years. And once I was like, “okay, here’s not a necessarily new thing but a useful thing I could do”, whereas when it was just putting into VR, I was kinda like “okay it is going to be cool, people would see the structure of the universe but there’s really not much, like, science stuff going into it”. So yeah, I like it.

On his favorite part of thesis: *starts grinning* My plots! Because my plots are so pretty!! And you can see these millions and millions of objects and they’re all going in the right shape and you can see all the correct correlations and when they all came out correct, it showed me everything I’d done was indeed correct. Yeah, that’s my favorite part, my pretty plots.

If his thesis was a song/movie/tv show: It’d be Free Bird. Because Free Bird starts off a little bit slow and I was like, “ah I don’t really know what I’m doing here” but then as soon as it clicked, that guitar solo drops and it’s like ‘NAAA” going ham, and then it’s like insane and high-paced and a lot’s going on. That’s kind of how my thesis was when I was very slowly figuring out how to use these 3-D plotting things and I was like, “how the hell am I going to turn this into a thesis?” and then once I started doing the data analysis part, it just sped up and I have so much I can do and that I wanted to do.

His most used word/phrase: It’s going to be “segregating”, “separating”, and “parsing”, like synonyms for those three things, where any time I have to say, “I have to split up these categories”. I saw “segregating these categories” in a paper, and I was like ‘that’s a good word!’, so now that has appeared a lot.

Theses feces: Oh my god, they’ve been terrible! Just because I’ve been definitely putting theses over health recently, and anything my body wants I’m just going to give to it so it’s one less thing that I’m stressing out about. So my poops have not been ideal. Also, sometimes I forget to eat…but they’re either too substantial or not substantial enough.


Kira Stern ’19, COL, Scili B-2

Working Title: Where am I: The Search for the Self in US Narratives

On her topic: Okay, this part is kind of tricky. It’s an attempt for me to locate myself and people like me in narratives and narrative space. So I find myself struggling to take up space because A) that’s a mental thing I have: I’m very bad at allowing myself to take up more space than is absolutely necessary, and that includes physical space, and space in a family narrative, space in a public setting, and space in the national, historical American narrative. So in order to try to alleviate that, this thesis is essentially me going through and trying to find other people who are like me — which is queer, female, and mentally ill — in other spheres, specifically American History.

On what she’s been working on: So I haven’t done a lot of outside sourcing — a lot of this is just me getting really angry (laughs). This is a collection of things I’ve been really angry about and didn’t really know why and so this helps me figure out why. And I had the sneaking suspicion that they were connected — and they are! So, comic books are really important to me because I love superheroes and I think they’re fascinating, so looking for representation in that sphere; I took a brief trip to Washington DC and did a little bit of monument looking, so looking for representation there; and I have an eighth grade history textbook from the middle school I attended, but it was re-released in 2018 I think.. So those are [some] avenues of self-searching.

On how she thought of the topic: It took me a very long time to get here. First I was going to interview high school students and see how they felt about the way they were represented in the classroom and in the textbook, but then it just became something that I needed to talk about myself and I didn’t have time to do that. I should also mention that [in my thesis] there’s looking for the self, and there’s also a sort of experimental attempt to diversify storytelling. I directed a musical, Cabaret, last semester. And there, we really made an attempt to try and have a multiplicity of voices because I believe — and this is very central to the project — [that] we use narrative as a tool for functioning, and we all need a narrative that works for us, and [I wondered] how can you have a multiplicity of narratives in a historical story. So that’s something we’re wrestling with.

On her current mental state: I woke up so anxious. I’ve been waking up so anxious, and then I’ll eat something and it’s gone. So yeah, I think I’m in a good place. I might wake up tomorrow and be like, “oh, that was stupid, I can’t sleep forever now,” but I think — I’m anxious, but I think I’m in a good place?

On her most upsetting thesis experience: Wow, I was not expecting that question. So I guess when I did the show — and I will say, I was not in a great state during the show; I had just gotten diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, and it wasn’t under control — so there were times where I absolutely behaved badly in a rehearsal setting and that was not okay, and that’s something where I’m still incredibly guilty about. But also, somebody wrote a response to my show that was basically like, “This show was terrible because it was trying to be both queer and Jewish, and you can’t do that,” and that took over my brain for a bit, and I was like “Oh my god, I have to write a response, like, yesterday. I have to track everything that’s happening on Facebook.” So that was distressing. But now it’s my thesis!

On the integration of Cabaret into her thesis: It wasn’t originally going to be. I was just doing it and then I was like, this is something I care so much about and it absolutely works with everything we’re doing, so I might as well: instead of trying to make a good project that my advisor will think is good — which is a problem for me — trying to do what I think is good with this.

On her plans for April 16: Well, obviously champagne. Right? And then — there are so many good lectures happening that day, and I’m like, “Girl, you have to obliterate yourself!” We’ll see. There are probably some folks in my major who are gonna burn the house down. We’ll see about that.

On her favorite part of thesis: Right now, honestly, working with my advisor. I’m going to miss just getting to talk to him and work through stuff and just hang out, for lack of a better world. And I’ve also never done anything like this, like most of us have never undertaken something that’s just “ours,” and that’s a good feeling I think.

On her advice for future thesis writers: Try and get an advisor now. I know. It’s really stressful, but that’s a good one. And also just, I don’t know, don’t panic. Like it will happen, and — it might not be what you had envisioned it, but you still created it, and that is valuable inherently.

Her most used word/phrase: “Narrative,” probably. I have an introduction where I use it like ten times. Or “Where am I?”

On if her thesis was a song/movie/TV Show: So I have a little set of audio files where I’m like “should I include this in my thesis?” Because they work, but I don’t want to be like, “guys, listen to my playlist!” But one song is definitely “Hide” by Rainbow Kitten Surprise: it’s about trying to be queer and struggling with that. So yeah, that’s definitely one of them. I kind of want to say “All These Things That I’ve Done,” but that’s too much, so I’m going to go with that one.

Theses Feces: Normal. That’s really funny.


interviews by un meli-melo and henry

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