I arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, late Monday morning and immediately made my way to Arecibo Observatory. I am living on the observatory campus in one of the family units with three other students. We share a cozy wooden cabin complete with kitchenette, bathroom and in-window air conditioners. One interesting feature is that none of the windows or doors is solid. Rather, they are wooden screens that can be adjusted to let more or less light and air in. The cabin is very open to the outdoors and we fall asleep each night to the jungle ambiance featuring the enthusiastically vocal coqui tree frog.
I spent my first day here moving in and exploring the campus. Arecibo is situated on very coarse terrain rampant with sinkholes, hills and valleys. To return to the cabin from the offices I have a stair climb roughly equivalent to climbing Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Arecibo was chosen as the site for the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope because of the terrain. The dish is located in a natural sinkhole, saving the builders the cost of excavating an area for a 1000-foot-diameter dish!
Last weekend we traveled to Old San Juan to explore the ruins. Many of the buildings date back to the 16thcentury! During that time San Juan was an impenetrable military outpost for the Spaniards and a place to store the riches they collected throughout the colonies. We visited Castillo San Felipe del Morro, commonly known as El Morro, which was the largest military outpost for the island. This outpost was used not only in colonial times, but also during WWII as a lookout for German submarines trying to enter the Caribbean.
I have only just begun the design process for my project. Unfortunately, the dish was built more than 50 years ago and many of the original specifications have been lost to the archives. So far, I have largely been brainstorming with fellow engineers and creating basic models of our ideas. This upcoming week is the official start of my program here and I am sure the project will advance rapidly from here on out. Until then.