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People: Rena Katz Takes SLAC Experience to School

Rena Katz visits Ghirardelli Square during her summer stay in the Bay Area. (Photo courtesy Rena Katz.)

Rena Katz is still deciding which major she will declare in the spring: mechanical engineering or physics. The second-year student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spent last summer interning with SLAC's Advanced Computations Department. While her experience didn't settle her choice of major, it did give her a glimpse of post-collegiate options at a physics research facility, including roles in Web site design, computer modeling and outreach efforts to help increase youth interest in science.

During her internship, Katz worked closely with her SLAC advisors Kwok Ko and Zenghai Li to help rebuild the Advanced Computations Department's Web site and learned how to build a numerical model for an accelerator. As part of the accelerator modeling project, Katz ran computer simulations on one specific section of the linac, working to optimize the performance of her specific part. "The original design probably wouldn't have worked," Katz said. After receiving the basic design, Katz repeatedly modified measurements and ran the program to gradually improve the performance of the model. "I didn't have time to do the last little step, but it was definitely better."

Ko said he was impressed with both the quality and quantity that Katz took on during her three month internship. "She helped us with multiple projects and wrote a short paper on her effort in improving the accelerator model," he said. "I think that's a lot for a first-year student."

On top of her duties in the Advanced Computations Department, Katz also helped out with The 2009 Kid's Day Monster Muscles workshop. "Rena was just great," said SLAC physicist Dian Yeremian who led the workshop. "She helped with all four stations at the workshop and the kids loved her."

The Monster Muscles workshop explores the relationship between force and distance. With the SLAC helpers, children examined the relationship through activities such as balancing on an adjustable see-saw and constructing various pulley systems that the kids could take home at the end of the day.

"We did a presentation about forces and lever arms," Katz said. The event ended with a tug-of-war contest using a moveable pulley system. These systems combine many pulleys to make pulling much easier for one side, a huge advantage in tug-of-war. With the device, one child could easily overpower three or four children on the other side. "It was hopelessly unfair," Katz said.

For now, Katz's focus at MIT is on her courses and major declaration. And even though her internship did not sway her towards one degree or the other, the research experience did change her outlook on post-collegiate education. "It really made me consider going to graduate school," she said. "It made me see what you can do with an advanced degree."

—Lauren Knoche
SLAC Today, November 4, 2009