Hey! I am Jinay Patel, third year Undergradate in Aerospace Engineering. Although my major is in Aerospace, my research interests lie in Astronomy and Physics. I am doing a summer research internship at Purdue University in the Physics and Astronomy Department.
Building my profile:
It’s never gonna be easy to find university internships without having some research experience beforehand. I wasn’t sure about pursuing my career in Aerospace Engineering until the winter of the second year. I interned at IISc in the winter, studying about mitigating instability inside aircraft combustion engine. After this, I realised that I was not interested in Aerospace any more. I had always been interested in Astronomy from my school days but I didn’t have much knowledge about it. My focus was completely shifted to Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Astrophysics is a field where it is very unlikely that you know the basics before coming to college as it is not taught at the school level. So, my first step was to gain some insights in this field which I got by taking some introductory courses. I took an Astrophysics course (offered by the Physics department) in my second year. Along with this I also took courses on edX and Coursera which turned out to be very helpful.
So, I decided to apply my theoretical knowledge of these concepts to real world problems. I contacted prof. Archana Pai (physics department) in my second year summers and started working on gravitational waves. Then I started working with prof Varun Bhalerao in the Physics Department from the very start of my third year. I am working on a satellite orbital simulation and orientation for detection of high energy transients sources in the universe. This satellite proposal has been accepted by ISRO. With these project experiences it becomes easier to get research internships outside your major branch at foreign universities.
I began looking for a University intern abroad (especially USA) because I wanted to experience the research facilities apart from those available at IIT. My internship is the result of rigorous apping, and not one that I acquired through PT cell. The process of apping is difficult and hence I started it in August which resulted in me sending hundreds of emails and receiving only few affirmative replies. Though I have a major in aero and I was apping in astrophysics, I was getting a good response which really boosted my confidence to send more emails.
One of the earliest opportunities came from UCLA within a couple of weeks of apping. But I didn’t like the project offered to me so, I decided to skip it. After a couple of months, I got a mail from my current prof of Purdue University and I was enthralled by the project. I didn’t undergo any special selection process apart from 5-10 minutes of an informal interview on Skype.
Immediately after that, preparation for my travel began feverishly. And then a lot of check-boxes had to be ticked within two months – a US visa, accommodation arrangements, finding relatives near Purdue, and much more. After immense paperwork, I finally arrived at the United States (yes, the process is very laborious and annoying).
I am working on the liquid XENON detector to search for Dark matter particles. XENON (Operated by international collaboration in Italy) is the world’s largest and most sensitive detector for Dark matter particles which have masses comparable to the that of an atom or heavier. My work essentially has a tinge of both experimental and analytical work on the small scale version of this detector (setup in Purdue university’s Dark Matter lab). My task is to set up a new system to increase the sensitivity of the detector. After this, I was supposed to undertake post-processing, which includes data analysis of large datasets from the DAQ system. Detectors like these dominantly detect background events like cosmic rays instead of dark matter. The ultimate goal is to reduce the detection of these background events in the detector.
Things to note before working in Lab: Safety is taken very seriously here, I had to take a few safety trainings online as well as from the professor, like handling radioactive sources, dealing with high voltage system, etc. Here people are really concerned about every small detail.
Every day we have some sort of meeting, be it a team meeting, one to one meeting with professor or a journal club in which we review each individual work so that everyone stays updated about others’ work too. We also discuss the latest research papers in the journal club and try to implement the new ideas in our project. My working hours are flexible, but I generally work from 10 am to 5/6 pm with a 1-hour gap for lunch. I usually have lunch with my research group, along with the professor. (btw my prof. is vegan 😛). My research group has a couple of Ph.D. students and a couple of Grad students who are very friendly and helpful.
I chose this project because we don’t know anything about the makeup of dark matter yet, except that it is not the same as normal matter. It only interacts with normal matter through gravity and possibly another weak type of interaction. So, detecting dark matter is very challenging and I always wanted to do something which is challenging and unexplored.
Asterix: Detector at Purdue lab
Food and Campus
The campus of Purdue is around 3000 acres vast and houses 45000 students. It is situated in the small city of West Lafayette, across which sits the larger city of Lafayette. In the Purdue campus, all buildings are made up of red bricks, which is corroborated by a myth of John Purdue (wealthy American industrialist and benefactor of Purdue University) who wanted it to be so.
The campus has a large variety of eateries: Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, American, etc (even I don’t know the rest 😃). With these various cuisines, there are various cafes and you can find a few on every street. People here drink a lot of coffee. The campus also has an Indian food and grocery store where all sorts of Indian items can be found but they are 2-3 times more expensive than in India 😭. The whole city of Lafayette (including the full campus) has free bus service for the Purdue students (you just need to show your Purdue ID to the bus driver). One good thing is that the Walmart store is located next to a bus stop, so it is very convenient to go and buy all of the basic stuff.
I am staying in an apartment just outside the campus which is a 15 minute walk (or 10 min by bus) from the Physics and Astronomy department, where I spend the rest of the day.
Physics and Astronomy Department
Exploring places nearby
The nearest is the Wabash River. It passes just behind the apartment in which I am staying 😛. However, this is not a tourist spot. Sadly there are not many places in Lafayette for sightseeing😓 , therefore, I had to look for the nearest big cities to roam around for the weekend.
The connectivity to cities nearby is really good here (Greyhound buses have a great network in the USA) although it is comparatively expensive. Rental cars are easily available here and reasonably priced. So, in the USA, having a driving license (Indian license works here, yes 😎) is a big plus point as it is very convenient and cheap to visit places.
The place one should visit is the windy city, Chicago which is about 2-3 hours from Purdue. One of the most beautiful cities in the world, it is known for its stunning skyline. We were in all 9 (insti junta) people who came from different places such as Purdue, Michigan and St. Louis. In Chicago, we visited some museums, Skydeck (view of the entire city from 103rd floor of Willis Tower), navy pier, millennium park, Buckingham fountain, aquarium, and planetarium. We also tried Chicago’s famous deep-dish classic pizza (though it was expensive 😭). We bought a city pass to visit these places, which is cheaper as compared to going to each place and paying there individually. Also, we bought another city pass for bus and train rides to aid our travel. For around $10, we can get an unlimited ride for one day in buses and trains both (same pass). The hotel we booked for one night was on the outskirts of the city. At night we realized that the hotel was too far off and some of my relatives had told me not to roam at late night in Chicago. As we all were scared to go to the hotel by bus, we booked an uber and had to pay a whopping $70 just to reach the hotel 😱.
Chicago Skyline Buckingham Fountain
Indianapolis is the state capital of Indiana state (A state that works). The downtown canal walk is a few miles loop which is a popular urban respite for fitness enthusiasts and serenity-seekers alike. This waterfront is dotted with pedal boats, bicycles and even Segways. Here we did kayaking which was a great experience and we really enjoyed it. Also, Indianapolis is known for motor speedways and it has a racing circuit where we can watch live racing.
Indianapolis Canal Walk
Las Vegas is quite distant from our place, in-flight it takes around 4 hours. As of now, I have booked the flight and hotel tickets, I have not visited it yet. Hotels can be booked through Airbnb, which I think gives the cheapest deals although we will not be staying in the Vegas strip. Vegas strip has a high concentration of large hotels and casinos with beautiful lighting in a radius of a few miles.
It has been a very fulfilling experience here. A big plus point from this internship is that it has prepared me for grad school in the future. It has also given me immense exposure to the new avenues in research, approaching the problems and implementing our own thinking. Apart from this, I also learned to interact with people from different countries and learn about their style of living.
Only a few days to go and I would like to sign off with this quote :
The Universe is governed by unseen matter. It is on us to take up this challenge: Time to be curious
Thanks for reading !