Clifford Evan Watkins (age 29) is a physics major and rising senior at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. He is originally from Eastern Pennsylvania.
What is your research project this summer at JPL?
I am working with Paul Hayne to further develop a model of the equatorial cold spots found by the Diviner probe. During the summer the goal is twofold: 1) to characterize the cold spots using Diviner to measure the density profile and 2) to build a mathematical model in an attempt to refute or confirm the possibility of ballistic creation processes. This problem is interesting for the sparsity of surface data collected juxtaposed to the sheer richness of the Diviner data. Therefore the problem is described well from the top down, but very minimally from the bottom up; a situation lending itself to leaps of creative logic that having a measure of useful ignorance allows.
Why did you choose to study lunar science?
I like the idea of the moon. It is marvelous to have such an intrinsically fascinating dataset, but that would be a bit of a stretch of the truth for the only reason that I am at JPL. I am also here in order to test the waters of Southern California, and more-so I just the like the story of this. I think, retrospectively, a certain edacity for stories has led me to most of the places I have ended up heedless of some of the rather steep prices paid. This oozes directly over the numbers into the next question as the prime mover for my career goals as well.
What are your career goals?
I would like to consider myself interesting, work on interesting problems, and live in places that I can surf, cycle, and adventure. Put precisely, I would like to be able to tell of good story of the things that I have done and the times I have spent doing them.
What have you learned so far as a Diviner intern?
I have learned a lot as a Diviner intern. It is fascinating working at JPL, being surrounded by competent people and seeing the processes of the system that continues to push science forward. Moreover, I had the assumption of a more complete lunar science due to Apollo era scientific progress, but Diviner has shown this to be patently false. And lastly, I have learned that a lot more work is put into a lot of the details than I ever thought possible.
What has been your favorite moment or the best part of working with the Diviner team?
Thus far, and this is probably the nerdiest, but most honest, thing I can say; my favorite moment has been staring at a whiteboard with Paul Hayne as we try to get the unit analysis correct while developing potential models. Putting ideas into words and hearing someone be interested enough in them to thoughtfully critique their structure from the standpoint of an expert is a game-changing experience.