silhouettes of bushy trees against a pastel sky specked with clouds

Take a sunset.

Take a blue like the ocean swells on a cool autumn day, shining with sunlight reflected off impenetrable depths, and paint it across the sky. Let it fade, lighter and grayer, slate blue and navy, into shades of yellow, orange, purple-red behind the silhouettes of bare-branched trees. Crush the petals of sunflowers, poppies, and scarlet zinnias; stir these and smear them along the horizon. The trees are black, almost, backlit and describable by some combination of "weathered" and "tranquil" and "majestic."

Take that sunset. Take all the connotations of finality, culmination, and conclusion. Fear, frailty, and beauty.

Now add the smell of possibility.

Stretch out the boundary: this is not a denouement, but an edge, a line to cross between this moment and the next. This is potential.

yellow sun setting over dark hills and navy water, faded sunset

Crisp air, cold and invigorating. Cracked pavement under your feet, wet from rain or melting snow. A feeling, deep in your gut, that this, the right here, right now, is going to change.

The term "bittersweet" applies. This is a contradiction, a paradoxical sense of endings and beginnings, a commencement and a climax. This is all the strange and wondrous things that belong to each.

Are you afraid? Are you excited?

This is a surreal meld of intoxication, terror, and melancholy. This is the jump out the airplane door, the hope of a parachute inflating, the exhilaration at both falling away and falling towards.

Nothing lasts forever.

curve of the earth with dark blue above and glowing yellow-red on the horizon

What do you leave behind? The familiar was comfortable and in the dark lies the unknown. What will you see when the sun sinks below the horizon? What happens when your feet hit the ground?

This sunset feeling: this is change.

What adventure next?


Yesterday was my last day at NASA Langley.

As always, leaving is bittersweet. Working in Garry's lab has been fantastic and it's going to be hard to find a job next summer that tops it. But I'm looking forward to senior year--a good lineup of classes, my thesis, the fencing team.

If I was to pick a favorite part of the summer, it'd be this: seeing my lab transition from complete strangers the first day, awkwardly introducing ourselves over lunch, to operating as a close-knit team. Helping each other carry computers to the freight elevator, debating algorithms for autonomous quadcopter obstacle avoidance, laughing over mugs of tea in the evenings. I've watched group formation theories in action (such as Tuckman's forming-storming-norming-performing theory). It may sound cheesy, but we learned to work with our differences, figured out how to combine our strengths, and the result was amazing. The amount of work we got done this summer setting up the Autonomous Vehicle Lab impressed a lot of people at Langley.

Yes, I'm nostalgic already.

I met a plethora of great people and learned so much. And I have more stories to share, of course. You'll continue hearing about my LARSS summer in the coming weeks.


_statue of a young girl holding a nest_

You may have noticed the new tagline on this site's header. If you were exceptionally observant, you may have noticed that the tagline, for about a day, said "... one girl's interactions ..." rather than "... one woman's interactions ...." It only struck me later, after seeing the word "girl" at the top the webpage, that I had chosen the wrong word.

As I'm sure you're aware, "girl" tends to be used to discuss younger female people. When does one switch to referring to those females as "women" instead? Certain criteria appear to be in place for the new title: an age requirement, a threshold level of maturity, specific biological changes. One might hold different standards for oneself than for other people, requiring a particular amount of self-assurance that one is, in fact, mature.

So, out of curiosity, when did you start referring to yourself, in your mental dialogue, as a woman rather than a girl, or as a man rather than a boy?

For me, "girl" would have still been the wrong word a year or two ago. Why did I initially select it anyway? Perhaps I'm still getting used to the idea that I'm growing up. Isn't the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood is a fascinating place to be?