Nicole Wolff

Student, Columbia University
  • Columbia University
  • People
  • United States of America

About Nicole Wolff

Hi! I’m Nicole and I’m a first-year undergraduate at Columbia University planning to study astrophysics. This summer, I’m living in New York City and conducting remote astronomy research. My project is searching for gravitational wave counterparts, particularly binary-black hole mergers, by looking for signature halos of scattered X-ray light. Aside from research, I love rock climbing, playing tennis and piano, and exploring the city! 

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Scholar

Area of Expertise

Physics Science

Research Topic

Astrophysics

Laidlaw Cohort Year

2021

University

Columbia University

I am from:

United States of America

I speak:

English Russian Spanish

My hobbies/interests are:

Foreign languages Hiking/walking Music Reading Tennis

I am open to participating in mentoring/buddy programmes

Yes

Influencer Of

Topics

Rooms participated in:

Columbia University

Recent Comments

Jul 07, 2022

Week Five:
What new skills and/or knowledge have you gained from your summer experience? Have you met anyone who has been instrumental in shaping/helping you conduct your project? Briefly, how has this person impacted you? What have you learned about leadership from this individual, and how might it influence your actions, work, and self in the future?

First of all, being in Italy, I learned a lot of Italian! I learned how to carry a basic conversation in Italian, how to understand some spoken Italian, plenty of astronomy/science vocabulary, some regional differences in Italian culture, and how their high school and university systems differ from the United States. As for astronomy, I  learned how to find a good number of constellations, how to orient directionally at different points of the night, several of the myths behind the constellations, and how to find some objects using a telescope. I learned a little about how to control the planetarium's projector, which illuminates the dome with the apparent positions of the stars, planets, and the sun as viewed from a flexible position on Earth. I learned that there's so much I don't know about the astronomy governing basic events in our solar system, like eclipses, solstices, and equinoxes. Once I learned something new, I tried to practice explaining it to the visitors of the planetarium. 

I can't begin to describe how important my project mentor was during my six weeks. She helped me manage tasks throughout each day, practice speaking Italian, practice both of my lectures, and even took me around outside of work to see different sights in the area. From her, I learned the importance of mentorship and how formative it is to have a good mentor - it makes me want to one day mentor someone, too. I learned from her how to communicate science to the public in an engaging, interactive, and accessible way. I also learned from her how to be a true leader by communicating with all your coworkers and addressing disagreements upfront and directly. From my short six weeks here, I've decided I might like to pursue a similar job in a planetarium in the future. 

Jun 21, 2022
Replying to Dennis Zhang

Week Three:

A typical day volunteering in the Huntington's disease unit at the Terence Cardinal Cooke (TCC) Healthcare Center starts in the Recreation Department office. After arriving in the morning, I get debriefed on my hour-to-hour responsibilities. In general, I'll usually start off my day by heading over to where our Huntington's residents live and checking in! I'll then walk over to a different part of the complex to help facilitate activities ranging from word puzzles to horticulture. Throughout the day, I'll also shuttle residents to the outdoor patio area of the TCC. This is often my favorite part of the day because the residents instantly get more lively when they're outside, making the patio a fantastic space to chat with and get to know the residents! I'll usually wrap up each day by checking in one more time with the Huntington's residents and then embarking on a scenic walk back to my summer residence through Central Park, which is conveniently situated right next to the TCC.

I'm attaching a link to the TCC's Huntington's disease unit website here (which includes pictures of Huntington's patients and what the unit looks like)!

Hi Dennis, I'm happy that you're able to work with patients hands-on this summer! As a scientific researcher, it's incredible that you're getting the chance to experience life alongside Huntington's patients in order to truly understand their experiences. It's also great that you can engage with them outdoors everyday, and that you're exploring new pathways to engage them through puzzles and lessons. I'm excited to see how this project changes your perspective as a researcher! 

Jun 21, 2022

Week Four: Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you?   How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?

As a personal interest, I've grown very intrigued by observational astronomy and have been exploring curiosities about the constellations and ancient mythologies from different parts of the world. My coursework at Columbia for the past two years and my research experiences have equipped me to explain the physical sciences, but I've discovered I'm lacking a lot in historical knowledge. Some of my coworkers are incredibly knowledgeable about the history of astronomy and its cultural significance in different parts of the world, and I've been trying to learn from them and absorb some of their knowledge. It seems that the American educational system places more of an emphasis on pure physical sciences, but lacks the historical and cultural significance, especially in bigger cities where observing the sky is difficult. I've realized how important it is to learn astronomy just to understand how our Earth functions, to understand the seasons, and even to navigate. Children here learn about the significance of the constellations, the moon, and the planets from a very young age, which is something I don't recall learning growing up near a big city in America. My work has definitely narrowed in this sense: I started my internship with an interest in pure science divulgation, and I'm ending with a curiosity about the more interdisciplinary aspects of science and astronomy. 

Jun 14, 2022
Replying to Nicole Wolff

Week Three:
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

I typically wake up around 7:30, get ready and pack lunch, and ride my bike to the planetarium by 9. About three times a week, a class of students from the area takes a field trip to the planetarium for a lesson. First, they're given a presentation in the dome, which offers a projection of the night sky and an explanation of the movements of planets and moons solar system, the Earth's rotation/revolution, and the constellations. One of my coworkers leads this presentation. Afterward is a lab, which is typically an arts & crafts project related to the planets or constellations, which I help to set up, assist during, and clean up. My Italian level is luckily good enough to communicate with younger children about the project! When I'm not doing this, sometimes I've gone in to a local high school to speak in their English classes about university life in the U.S., and to help students practice having conversations in English. 

My afternoon schedule varies. Even in my third week, it still involves a lot of training and instruction to familiarize myself with the planetarium and speaking in Italian. But each afternoon, I spend some time preparing for whichever event I have coming up. The steps are: research, write a script, create a slideshow with images, translate to Italian, check the translation, and practice my pronunciation. If I'm not doing this, sometimes I plan curriculum for a lesson or activity that I'm not going to teach here. Because of the language barrier, curriculum planning has been my strong suit. Throughout the afternoon, I take breaks in the director's office for espresso with the other volunteers at the planetarium. 

In the evenings, sometimes I go to a meeting with another astronomy club in Modena: GAGBA, who specialize in telescopes and sky observations, and COSMO, who specialize in space exploration missions and launches -- both topics which I don't know much about but have always wanted to learn. Sometimes, I stay late for English lessons for adults hosted at the planetarium -- it's fascinating to see how English is taught because it's something I never thought about as a native speaker. On other evenings, I go to the city center with my coworkers at the planetarium. I end each evening by going back to my host family, eating dinner, and reading a book! 

Here is the link to a photo of me presenting a conference! 

Jun 14, 2022

Week Three:
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!

I typically wake up around 7:30, get ready and pack lunch, and ride my bike to the planetarium by 9. About three times a week, a class of students from the area takes a field trip to the planetarium for a lesson. First, they're given a presentation in the dome, which offers a projection of the night sky and an explanation of the movements of planets and moons solar system, the Earth's rotation/revolution, and the constellations. One of my coworkers leads this presentation. Afterward is a lab, which is typically an arts & crafts project related to the planets or constellations, which I help to set up, assist during, and clean up. My Italian level is luckily good enough to communicate with younger children about the project! When I'm not doing this, sometimes I've gone in to a local high school to speak in their English classes about university life in the U.S., and to help students practice having conversations in English. 

My afternoon schedule varies. Even in my third week, it still involves a lot of training and instruction to familiarize myself with the planetarium and speaking in Italian. But each afternoon, I spend some time preparing for whichever event I have coming up. The steps are: research, write a script, create a slideshow with images, translate to Italian, check the translation, and practice my pronunciation. If I'm not doing this, sometimes I plan curriculum for a lesson or activity that I'm not going to teach here. Because of the language barrier, curriculum planning has been my strong suit. Throughout the afternoon, I take breaks in the director's office for espresso with the other volunteers at the planetarium. 

In the evenings, sometimes I go to a meeting with another astronomy club in Modena: GAGBA, who specialize in telescopes and sky observations, and COSMO, who specialize in space exploration missions and launches -- both topics which I don't know much about but have always wanted to learn. Sometimes, I stay late for English lessons for adults hosted at the planetarium -- it's fascinating to see how English is taught because it's something I never thought about as a native speaker. On other evenings, I go to the city center with my coworkers at the planetarium. I end each evening by going back to my host family, eating dinner, and reading a book! 

Jun 13, 2022

Week 2: If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?

Apologies for the late posts! Last week, I presented my first conference in Italian about planets and exoplanets. This has been my biggest interaction with the community so far, and I'm happy that everything went smoothly. It was exciting to plan a slideshow with images and videos to explain difficult scientific concepts to the general public, such as tidal locking of a planet or the sideways rotation of Uranus, which they found fascinating. Last Sunday, I organized curriculum for an event for families/children to learn about colors and light, then construct their own spectroscopes to look at different sources of light. I have another conference planned about black holes, along with an observation through a telescope of M87, the galaxy where the first black hole was photographed! I've been having a lot of conversations with children who are curious about science, and I've found that my lower level of the language actually helps make my explanations more accessible to young children. I've found a common cause with all my coworkers at the planetarium in that we are all trying to make science more engaging and accessible for the community. 

May 30, 2022

Week One:
As you set out on your research or community engagement project, do you find yourself experiencing any worries or insecurities about saying something that’s already been said? How do we as researchers and/or volunteers learn to address or set aside those insecurities or, better yet, to use them to our advantage? If your project this summer differs from your project last summer, has last summer’s project influenced your project this year, and if so how? If your project is different, what tools have you developed to help you work on this project?

This summer, I'm volunteering at the Planetarium in Modena, Italy. Before arriving in Italy, I wasn't quite sure what my work would entail. Once I arrived, the planetarium director gave me a very meticulous agenda for my daily activities and how I can help, even as an American who does not speak Italian well. To my surprise, the planetarium is not well funded - it operates with only one paid employee, and the rest of my coworkers are volunteers who put in immense time and effort to make the planetarium run smoothly. 

Each week, the planetarium has a few activities for classes of children on school trips. During my first week, all these activities were organized by my coworkers. During my six weeks, I designed curriculum for several events: a lecture about exoplanets and James Webb Space Telescope, a lecture about black holes (related to the research I did last summer), an activity for children about light and colors, and an observation for the planetary conjunction on June 24th. This week, I helped set up the events, clean, and answer basic questions during each event, but my Italian is still a work in progress! My biggest insecurity is definitely the language barrier. I've never taken a formal Italian class, and have needed to learn quickly because Modena is not a popular city for English speakers. Students learn English in high school, but many adults who work in restaurants, stores, etc. or who attend lectures at the planetarium didn't learn English when they were in high school. 

At the end of this week, I will give my first lecture. I've prepared a slideshow and a script in Italian, and will read from the script. I've found myself wondering about my credentials as a lecturer, because I am (of course) less experienced speaking in Italian than everyone else. I also worried that the topics of my lectures may have already been covered sometime in the past. However, I've realized this past week that any way I can help in the planetarium, even with simple tasks organizing/cleaning, is appreciated. I've also been going into high schools with the planetarium director, who works as a teacher of Engineering, and have advertised my lectures to the high school students. Many showed interest in the events, which was very encouraging. Lastly, I learned that the people here, including my coworkers, really value the opportunity to practice speaking English with me because they all want to improve their English. One of my coworkers studies astrophysics in Bologna, and all of his physics courses are taught in English. 

Last summer, I worked on a programming-based project searching for black hole mergers using data from an X-ray telescope. Though I enjoyed this work, I was eager to switch gears this summer to science communication. Last summer, I learned how to explain my project to audiences of different levels, and how to be adaptive with my explanations. I hope to apply these skills in the planetarium this summer, and teach both students and adults in a way that is engaging.