A Fellow’s First Winter at KITP Summer Camp

Professor Louise Edwards

When I told my friends about my 8-week visit to KITP, the running joke became that I was at 'physics summer camp'. At first, I was taken aback – did they not realize how much hard work I just put in? But now, I see some similarities.

From my understanding of summer camp, it is fun, you make a bunch of new friends from all over, and you get to explore a new area. That all happened during my 8-week stay at KITP, where I attended two scientific programs (The Cosmic Web: Connecting Galaxies to Cosmology at High and Low Redshift and Building a Physical Understanding of Galaxy Evolution with Data-driven Astronomy) and their associated conferences as a KITP Fellow. What is more - and what I'm not sure most kids get out of summer camp - was that my future years have now taken on a clearer, more purposeful path.

There is one glaring difference, though, and that is the 'summer' part. My visit was from January 30-March 24th, 2023, during probably the most blustery-rainy-atmospheric-river-y Santa Barbara weather of the last 10 years! So summer, it was not.

I admit that the first few days were tough. Picture this: at afternoon cookie time, I walk out into the Gurley Courtyard, straight to the coffee. Huge crowd of folks. I don’t know anyone. People are already in little clusters. I grab some coffee. I grab a cookie--one won’t hurt. I look around nervously, then scamper back to my office. OUFF. That was not my best networking session.

The above experience describes my first few days. But, within a couple of weeks, I connected with a theorist I had lots in common with, and she made the effort to introduce me to her officemate. Not much longer, I was eagerly awaiting the daily cookie times to discuss new ideas, connect folks myself, and generally catch up with my new colleagues.

Participants in the 2023 KITP research program The Cosmic Web: Connecting Galaxies to Cosmology at High and Low Redshift

So, yes. It was like Physics Summer Camp. The time was enjoyable, I made many new connections and even new collaborations, got to see some rockets take off and gave a talk at the nearby Las Cumbres Observatory. Most importantly, the talks I attended, discussions I engaged in, and new resources I acquired have helped me to refine my research questions as I head toward investigating galaxies in upcoming large surveys. I know I want to focus on the local universe’s web and take full advantage of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time. I know where to go to explore state-of-the-art cosmological simulations that are good comparisons for the real data. Also, I’ve become a lot more well-acquainted with modern machine-learning techniques that can help explore large datasets (including their benefits and limitations). I left KITP with a pocket full of cosmic questions that I can’t wait to answer, and in the end, I didn't even mind the rain.



by Louise Edwards
Associate Professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo & 2022-2023 KITP Fellow

KITP 2023 Spring Newsletter