Saturday May 20th

JPL Open House

Made it!

  • So I got up at 4, running on twelve hours of sleep in four days. Took two buses, and when I got to my third connection, I realized after 30 minutes nothing was showing up. So I walked for four miles (two to and two back). Apparently, there was a bus, but there was some kind of cycling thing in the morning so no buses on my journey to JPL. I could have taken one back, but walking back was ok. I had a sno-cone so it was all good. Made my other connections, and back home.

I also had my first funnel cake!


The Experience

  • Going to JPL is always great, but I also wanted to get a sense of some stuff this time, because I plan to intern there within the next year or so. I didn’t come just to be a fanboy (or fangirl). I got some great advice, and people there have been going through a similar situation. Basically, the tech community is limited, and right now, everyone needs engineers…badly. I’m not talking about the cliche of “I work in tech”, but I mean the people who get their hands dirty. There just isn’t enough of them to go around.

    So people are getting poached like crazy. Basically, if you as a budding (or in your career) just focus on being good, you’ll have no problem at all. If you’re good, you really have your pick. This is a question that I don’t worry too much about, but comes back into my mind again and again. I’ve only just started, but the consensus thus far seems to be that people see me as intelligent/ competent, and so I’ve been getting good feedback. So then the problem becomes “am I sure I’m making the right choice?” going in one direction vs another. So far, I’m just grateful for everything.

    For a certain tier, it isn’t about the money. A lot of these people are the people who would be doing what they do even if they weren’t getting paid, and they are good. So then it becomes about working on interesting projects. For me, it’s not so much the company (even though I’m not worried, based on what I’ve seen thus far), but I just want to be good, and I’ve seen how a positive (or negative) environment can affect this. Also, safe choices can be a detriment later on. Better to be picky and have a colorful career than to be safe.


  • Here are some pics

A modular joint from Robo simian





  • I went to the Darpa Robotics Challenge as an attendee a few years ago. Fell in love with Robo-simian. Also, one of my professors worked on him. This professor is also working on the Mars 2020 Rover, and gave me my first recommendation, that got me into a JPL workshop, which is where my adventures with JPL began. And so I continue, hopefully next year with some sort of internship. In the meantime, I’ve met a lot of great scientists and engineers with whom I keep into contact, and with whom I sometimes go drinking haha. I also have a mentor with whom I hang out on Thursdays (typically). We talk about Mathematics and Computers, pretty much haha.

More photos


This one

  • I saw a video on this guy. Basically they used the gecko and created a robot and using biomimicry and the concept of Van Der Waals forces, created this gripping device. So the hooks help the robot to climb


Gripping device up close


Underwater robot and volcano bot


Beautiful image of Hyperion in Mission Control/Flight Operations Centre


More images from Mission Control




  • At JPL, most of the buildings are named by numbers. People also will use abbreviations for where they work in terms of the department. So for example, MSL is Mars Space Laboratory. If someone says “I work at MSL”, that’s typically what they mean. But in terms of buildings, it’s numbers.

    So when you work there, people usually ask “Where do you work?” and you’d say something like “261” or whatever. A mathematician friend of mine once joked that he was trying to figure out what algorithm he could use to figure out in what order the buildings were designated. It was only afterwards he figured out each building was numbered in the order in which they received funding to be built LOL.

  • But Pickering is one of (two?) to have an actual building named after him. His contribution is significant, and you can easily read about him. So one of the auditoriums is named after him (another is Von Karman).




  • How do you figure out if Asteriods will collide into Earth and destroy it? Oh, I totally learned today that Uranus’s moons rotate 90 degrees to the Sun, possibly because of some collison in the past. So the mission to Uranus is often quite challenging.

Visualization showing Asteroids and sizes detected



  • One of the first things they taught us in the workshops was about JPL’s use of radioisotopes. These contain Plutonium 238, which has a half-life of about 88 years. Today, I got to hold the plutonium, and talk to a scientist at length about cryobots that would melt ice in front of the robot, while the ice behind it stayed frozen, using radioisotopes, and about unicouples (which are sort of like thermocouples). Really fascinating stuff.



  • These block light. I really like this design. I thought it was a radial solar array at first. Welp. I asked about polarizers, and they said polarization is expensive. Oh, I also learned about Captron, which is like Mylar, but is the material used for the starshades. It’s more expensive than Mylar and harder to get your hands on commercially.


A few years ago


  • I was really into LEDs. So I buried myself in learning about MEMS, substrates, gallium arsenide and silicon carbide, epitaxies and etching wafers, etc. So it was really trippy to go by this room today. It’s a clean-room. I was able to talk at length with the scientist about how it compared to my visiting Intel and their clean-room, which has wafers carried by a railing system above what humans can touch. Humans, are of course, the biggest contributor of “unclean” to your clean room, because of their constant skin particles going everywhere yuck. I think he was talking about down to 14 nanometres for the etching. Again..really interesting stuff!

    Btw, the Intel Museum in Santa Clara is amazing. I definitely suggest visiting. Another museum I love in Silicon Valley, that is free.

Measuring Seismic Activity

  • This is Insight, which measures Seismic activity


  • I should have done a better image with this, but I was too busy chatting away. The guy said at the end that they’d love to have me, if it all works out. We shall see. But you can see the radial solar array here.

Tensegrity (one of my favourites)

  • This is a neat puzzle/invention. It is compact but also rigid. Basically, it’s about four rigid pieces, and the others are elastic. So it’s both flexible and rigid. Really great engineering.



  • Sorry I don’t have any code to show, but I’ve had about less than 12 hours of sleep total in the past four days. I think I knocked out on my way home, and almost missed my stop on the bus. Thankfully, there was a wheelchair getting off, so I grabbed my bag and got off the back exit. Must have been exhausted.

Plan for tomorrow:

  • Quiz
  • Homework
  • Maybe board, but probably not

For now, time to rest up! Next week will be fun, too. Will try to report on that.

Written on May 20, 2017