Nick Joslyn: Green Bank Observatory


What was he up to?

Nick Joslyn ’18 spent his summer performing research for the Green Bank Observatory located in Green Bank, West Virginia. Green Bank Observatory is a research facility for radio astronomy, where the renowned Green Bank Telescope is located. Nick is pursuing a double major in Physics and Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science at Simpson College.

How did he hear about the internship with Green Bank Observatory?

Joslyn responded, “Following my senior year of high school, I attended the National Youth Science Camp in West Virginia. As part of the experience, we took a tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (now known as the Green Bank Observatory). The science conducted and the technology employed at GBO is unmatched. Now of eligible age, I applied to their REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program.”

What did a typical day include at his site?

According to Joslyn, his research project, at its essence was, “attempting to improve detection techniques of the Green Bank Radio Telescopes. Specifically, we tried to eliminate radio frequency interference (cell phone signals, GPS signals, SIRIUS radio, etc.).  As a result, my work involved heavy computation. However, I was not limited to writing code. Due to the nature of my project, I met with software engineers, electrical engineers, and astronomers to discuss approaches.”

Typically, he arrived to work at around 8:30AM. In the mid-morning, he participated in a discussion/meeting with his mentor and the other active members of the project. The work day generally concluded around 5-5:30PM, but he was often “so engrossed in [his] work that [he] stayed much later.”

In addition, Joslyn stated, “All of the summer students were provided workstations in the reference library of the laboratory, engendering thoughtful inter-project discussion. Furthermore, the scientific staff was eager and willing to help with any difficulties we experience. It was an excellent environment to work.”

What was his favorite aspect of the experience?

Joslyn commented, “I will answer this in two ways. First was the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) itself. The GBT is the world’s largest fully steerable telescope. The dish is 100 meters across, and the structure itself is 485 feet tall. Not to mention, in all, the GBT is 16 million pounds. Seeing the GBT juxtaposed against the West Virginia landscape never ceased to amaze.

On a more practical level, my favorite aspect of the experience was the intrinsic motivation I gained by working on a project that has such grand applications. The program has the potential to improve detection techniques. If successful, it could be used by every astronomer using the Green Bank Telescopes.” 

What was the biggest takeaway from his experience?

Joslyn expressed, “Although there are many, the single most important take away from this experience was scientific computing ability. Not only did I learn new coding languages and operating systems, but more importantly, I was exposed to unique and novel scientific ways of utilizing computers. I plan to apply these methods to current research projects I am involved in at Simpson.”

What are his future plans?

Joslyn divulged, “Almost immediately following the conclusion of my summer research project at Green Bank Observatory, I began preseason for Soccer. Upon return to Indianola, I picked up several of the research projects that had been put on hold for the summer.

Looking further ahead, in mid-September, I will take the Physics GRE. Following my senior year at Simpson, I plan to attend graduate school, likely in physics, applied physics, or materials science.”

What advice does he have for Simpson students regarding gaining experience?

Joslyn’s advice to all Simpson students is that he highly recommends research and internships. “Not only (depending on the location) do you earn money, but you also get to experience the institution. More specifically, to the science students, apply to REUs. The selection process is very competitive, but the rewards are great. The education you receive at Simpson makes your application of interest to selection committees. The opportunities for independent research, collaborative/interdisciplinary research, and club participation provided by Simpson can only enhance your resume.”