University of Texas at Dallas
Space Physics and Astronomy
Colby grew up in Red Oak, Texas, a small town near Waxahachie. He
became interested in Physics during the summer before his junior year in
high school after reading Understanding Physics: Motion, Sound, and Heat by
Isaac Asimov. His comprehension and affection for physics increased over
the next two years, as he took high school physics and then Advanced
Placement (AP) physics. In 1994, he graduated from Red Oak High School,
having won the Don Powers Science Award (a local award), as well as other
academic awards. The following fall, he headed off to the University of
Texas at Dallas. Surprisingly, he chose to major in physics. Colby
participated in the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and the Environmental
Club, as well as other activities. He also served as president of the SPS
chapter during his final year at UTD. During this time, he also worked on
research projects with two professors, both of whom did research in space
science. After graduating from UTD in May, 1998, he decided to take his
first summer vacation since many years before. He begins graduate school
in the Fall at the Rice University department of Space Physics and
Astronomy, and hopes he will enjoy his time there almost as much as he
enjoys his vacation.
During my first year as a graduate student in the Space Physics and Astronomy department at Rice University, I am expected to concentrate on the required coursework. I will not begin my research until the second academic year. As such, I have no proposed research to write about. However, I do know a little about the courses I will take during the coming year, and I will describe these courses. I will try to be as detailed as I can at this time, but not so detailed that the reading becomes laborious. In the Space Physics and Astronomy department, incoming graduate students normally take about ten hours per semester during the first academic year. During the Fall semester, I will most likely take Introduction to Plasma Physics, Solar System Physics, and Astrophysics I: Suns and Stars. In Introduction to Plasma Physics, I will study the fundamental processes of cosmic and laboratory plasmas. This includes kinetic theory, waves and shocks, magnetohydrodynamics, and other topics. Solar System Physics will cover topics such as the Sun and solar-terrestrial relationships, planetary atmospheres, ionospheres, and magnetospheres. The third course, Astrophysics I, will detail the subject of stellar physics. Solar phenomena, stellar interiors and atmospheres, and stellar evolution are the primary subjects presented in this course. I currently know very little about these subjects, and they all seem very exciting. Hopefully, my feelings will not have changed after completing the courses.
In the Spring semester of the academic year, I will likely take Astrophysics II: Galaxies and Cosmology, Classical Electrodynamics, and Quantum Mechanics. Astrophysics II includes the study of such topics as interstellar matter, Milky Way structure, and Big Bang cosmology. Classical Electrodynamics will include special relativity, radiation processes, and mathematical methods. Quantum Mechanics, which is offered by the Physics Department, will cover the usual topics such as Bra-ket notation, Schrodinger's Wave Equation, incompatible and compatible observables, and various operators such as the translation and momentum operators.
As I understand, I will devote most of my time during the following summer studying for the comprehensive oral exam which I will take in September of my second academic year. This will cover Introduction to Plasma Physics, Solar System Physics, Astrophysics I, and Astrophysics II. I will also be expected to have some dexterity with undergraduate-level physics, including mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, statistical physics, and modern physics. I should already know these subjects, but I hear it wouldn't hurt to refresh myself. These courses which I will take all sound very interesting, and I look forward to the coming Fall semester. However, I hope there will be something more to be said about my first year at Rice, and I am sure there will be. In fact, I have been told that I will be helping to videotape the weekly colloquia for the department. This and my other responsibilities will undoubtedly make my first year unforgettable.
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