Thursday, July 19, 2018

Scholar Spotlight: Gerlinder Difo Cheri

The fourth TAURUS scholar spotlight of the summer focuses on Gerlinder Difo Cheri, a rising senior at the University of the Virgin Islands. Gerlinder is working with Andrew Vanderburg this summer, searching for evidence of planetary destruction around the burned out remnants of stars like our Sun.

This summer, Gerlinder Difo Cheri joins us at the University of Texas at Austin from more than two thousand miles away in the US Virgin Islands. Coming to UT Austin poses both challenges and opportunities by virtue of the university’s sheer size: the number of students at UT Austin (about 51,000) is a bit more than half the total population of the US Virgin Islands (100,000). This summer, Gerlinder is making the most of the opportunities and resources in pursuit of his goals and ambitions.

Gerlinder grew up on a steady diet of science and technology related media. He recalls being inspired at an early age by scientists he saw on television, like Bill Nye the Science Guy, who “just went out and solved things.” Gerlinder’s interest in astronomy seemed natural to him. “How can you not be interested in astronomy?” he asks. These science and engineering role models drove him to enroll at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and begin studying computer science.

Once he arrived, Gerlinder found the professors at UVI to be valuable role models as well. Before enrolling there, his role models were scientists and engineers (fictional or otherwise) he saw on television, ranging from Neil Degrasse Tyson to Tony Stark. But when he arrived at UVI, for the first time he met people who lived on his island and were pursuing his passion. Gerlinder found it indispensable to ask his professors about the challenges and struggles they faced.

Despite Gerlinder’s interest in astronomy, he was unable to dive in when he first enrolled at the UVI because at the time, the school did not offer any astronomy courses. Therefore, when the University of the Virgin Islands offered their first astronomy class ever, Gerlinder was excited to sign up. From there, Gerlinder took a leap and applied to be a TAURUS scholar at UT, which brought him here.

“The future of astronomy is beautiful and expansive,” Gerlinder says. He sees and values how astronomy can capture the public imagination, like how his imagination was captured as a child learning about science and technology from communicators on television, but recognizes that initiative is required to overcome barriers. When asked what advice he might give to a younger student in a similar position to himself, Gerlinder says “You have to actively search for what you want to do, and don’t just wait for it to fall into your lap.” If you take the first step, you might just find yourself studying the stars.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Scholar Spotlight: Oscar Cantua

The third TAURUS Scholar Spotlight of the summer is all about Oscar Cantua, who is a physics major at the University of Texas San Antonio just 100 miles down the road from us in Austin.  Oscar is working with Dr. Jorge Zavala this summer on the characterization of some of the Universe's most luminous and dusty galaxies.

This summer Oscar Cantua is joining us from a familiar institution that is also a part of the UT System: the University of Texas at San Antonio. Despite being in the same state — less than 100 miles from his hometown and in the same educational system — this research experience in TAURUS represents a new world of opportunities to pursue his future career in astronomy, Oscar says.

Oscar’s interest in astronomy goes back to his childhood when he first moved to the US from Mexico and used to read a lot of books to learn English. He soon realized that science books, and particularly astronomy-related stories were the most interesting to him. Some years later, astronomy went from being only a hobby to a potential professional career after he spent a summer working at the NASA Johnson Space Center (yes, NASA!) as part of the Texas High School Aerospace Program. Nowadays at UTSA, Oscar is a physics major with a minor in astronomy. 

Oscar is part of the UTSA’s Top Scholar program, which combines a comprehensive four-year merit-based scholarship with personalized experiences in academics, leadership and community service. Thanks to this opportunity, he was able to become involved in scientific research at an early stage in his college career, analyzing data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory in order to study the nature of binary systems in nearby galaxies, under the supervision of Prof. Eric Schlegel. This summer at UT Austin, Oscar is jumping wavelengths from the very short and energetic part of the spectrum to the longest wavelengths observations achieved with the most powerful radio telescopes in the world, in order to identify and study the most distant dusty star-forming galaxies in the Universe. 

While looking back in the past, Oscar realized that it has not been easy to reach this point in his professional life.  Being a first generation college student, living far away from his family, and having to work while studying. Now he is closer to his dream of going to graduate school, not only with passion and enthusiasm for astrophysics but also with a lot of knowledge and experience. 

When I asked Oscar to give advice to young people, particularly to those belonging to underrepresented groups like him, he simply said "never stop chasing your dreams.”

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Scholar Spotlight: Gabriella Sanchez

This week's TAURUS Scholar Spotlight focuses in Gabriella Sanchez, a rising senior at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.  Gabriella's research focuses on gas outflows in nearby galaxies.  She recently sat down with her research mentor at UT, Dr. Justin Spilker, to discuss her path to TAURUS and what's in store for her future.

JS: Who are you/where are you from?
GS: I’m Gabriella Sanchez. 21 years old. I was born and raised on Oahu, Hawaii’s most populated island. I am the 5th of seven children. And will be the second to graduate from college next year. I’m majoring in astrophysics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

JS: What inspired you to pursue a career in astronomy or science?
GS: Honestly, I thought it would be pretty cool. I was always interested in NASA and outer space. To me, astrophysics seemed like a challenge and the most interesting major of my choices. I wanted to pursue a career that made me think critically and that I would always be fascinated by. In addition, I specifically chose astrophysics because I was interested in astronomy, but I wanted to learn/use a lot of math (I like math) and physics concepts.

JS: What aspects of your life do you think led you to do astronomy?
GS: As a child, I was always curious. I think I thought about space a lot and always had the need to know what else is out there in the universe. My favorite movie at one point in elementary was Armageddon. I thought it was absolutely amazing! Of course, now that I’m more informed I see that it’s full of inaccuracies, but still… it’s a great movie! And perhaps the little kid in me dreamed of being an astronaut or discovering new objects in space.

JS: What are you most proud of so far in your life / career?
GS: I’m most proud of a lot of things that I’ve experienced so far this year. First, I’m proud of where I am mentally. I feel I grew so much as a person and an adult. I’m proud I finally took initiative in applying to REUs and got accepted into 3 out of 5. I’m proud I’ve made it even this far in my college education, and glad at how much I was able to push myself. Lastly, I’m incredibly proud of myself for accepting this TAURUS internship and finally braving the experience of leaving home and being on my own for the first time. It’s been one of the greatest experiences in my life so far!

JS: Wow, hopefully this summer doesn't disappoint! What mentors, teachers, or role models have been the most inspiring to you in your life?
GS: My biggest role models have definitely been my parents. They both didn’t have the opportunity to get a college education, didn’t come from “well-to-do” families. For so many years, they have struggled and sacrificed a lot, raising seven kids, but they always reminded us to work hard and to never do anything less than our best. Seeing them work so hard, and continue to do so, to provide for their family, and being able to give myself the opportunity for a better future and career has been my greatest motivation in life.

JS: Where to next? Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years?
GS: In five years or so I see myself with better experience in the research field and working with other astronomers. I hope to be working on my masters/PhD. I don’t have an exact plan to follow. I’d like to take my time and experience different fields of work. I’d also like to start a family sooner rather than later in my life. At the moment, I’m looking towards having a career outside academia but staying within the astronomy community.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Scholar Spotlight: Steve Anusie

The first TAURUS Scholar Spotlight of the year focuses on Steve Anusie, a rising senior at Howard University majoring in Electrical Engineering.  Steve has strong interests in astrophysics as well, and is using his summer experience in TAURUS to explore possible astronomy-related careers.  His research mentor, Dr. Cynthia Froning, writes about his path to-date.

Steve Anusie is an electrical engineering major at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Steve has just completed his first year (as a junior) at Howard after transferring from Morgan University in Baltimore, MD. The youngest of six sons and a Baltimore native, Steve traces his interest in astronomy to a single moment when, while delivering pizzas, he saw a bright light in the sky and almost swerved off the road trying to look at it. This was followed by a night of online investigation during which he identified the object as Venus and then was consumed with investigating other planets and the stars. Steve has always been interested in science and nature. What draws him in particular to astronomy is its scope: the excitement of knowing that we will never be done studying and trying to understand the universe. 

When asked about previous mentors or inspirations, Steve mentioned his Astrophysics teacher at Howard, Dr. Alfred, who introduced Steve to his research work and collaborations at Goddard Space Flight Center. Steve particularly appreciates Dr. Alfred’s approachability, his kindness, and how he demonstrates the pursuit of a well-rounded life. Steve majored in EE at the urging of his mother and is now glad that he has taken this path, because he enjoys the intellectual challenges and the opportunity to pursue hands-on application of his STEM skills. He considers mastering mathematics and C++ as his greatest challenges to date, but appreciates how they are teaching him to be persistent in learning new information. Of his achievements, he is most proud of being accepted into the TAURUS program, as well as how his career are gelling after his transfer to Howard.

Steve's goals for the TAURUS program include learning about how research is done and what it would be like to pursue a graduate program in astronomy. He is also interested in instrumentation and the possibility of applying his engineering skills to astronomical work. His plans for this summer are to gather the experience necessary to set his targets for the remainder of his undergraduate career. He appreciates that his engineering major and astronomy interests give him the ability to pursue a broad range of professional options and plans to use the TAURUS program to decide where to direct his focus going ahead. 

This summer, Steve is working with Dr. Cynthia Froning. He will be constructing light curves of flares in cool stars with the goal of identifying tracers of stellar activity and understand how flares affect the habitability of exoplanets around low-mass stars. Steve is also talking to different instrument builders in the Department and McDonald Observatory, touring labs and facilities, and learning about astronomical instrumentation careers as part of his summer research experience.

Monday, June 11, 2018

TAURUS 2018 is here!

L to R: Steve, Gabriella, Analis, Jordyn, Oscar and Gerlinder.
Thrilled to have started off year three of TAURUS with a bang! Six more scholars arrived in austin today to kick off this year’s nine week program.

We welcomed them this morning with new scholar orientation, then we got them set up in their offices in PMA, got them UT ID cards, and they had a feast with their grad student mentors for lunch. After lunch it was off to the races with their research projects, discussing their research in detail with their mentors.  Later this week will be the marathon python workshops to brush up on their coding skills, and some much needed time to settle in. Check back soon for more TAURUS news from 2018!

Our scholars are... drumroll....

Steve Anusie from Howard University
Oscar Cantua from the University of Texas at San Antonio
Gerlinder Difo Cheri from the University of the Virgin Islands
Analis Lawrence from Florida International University
Jordyn Mascareñas-Wells from the University of Oregon
Gabriella Sanchez from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Saturday, January 27, 2018

TAURUS Scholars at AAS 2018

We were thrilled to catch up with our TAURUS bunch at the winter 2018 AAS meeting in National Harbor, Maryland.  TAURUS Scholars presented their research via posters, schmoozed with graduate schools at the undergraduate student networking event, and had the opportunity to meet several of their peers from other astronomy programs across the country.  The five day astronomy extravaganza proved overwhelming as usual, but our group had a great time.  We are excited to see where they go from here!

Aldo Sepulveda (UT San Antonio) at his poster

Adrianna Perez (CSU Dominguez Hills) at her poster

Andrew Cancino (Missouri State University) at his poster.

A joint gathering between TAURUS, Aztlán, Banneker and AstroCom NYC students at the AAS!

We also spotted 2016 TAURUS alum Danielle Rowland presenting.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TAURUS Scholars' Symposium 2017

The 2017 TAURUS Scholars' Symposium was held on Friday August 11, the last day of this summer's nine week program.  The room was packed with members of the astronomy department and McDonald Observatory staff, eager to hear about the scholars' work over the past several weeks.  The symposium is a great time for the UT astronomy community to celebrate the accomplishments of TAURUS scholars with their mentors and share the great science which has consumed their summers.

The program of talks was:

Star Formation in Merging Galaxies using FIRE
Adrianna Perez, California State University Dominguez Hills
Mentor: Chao-Ling Hung

Kepler Meets Bayes: Dynamical Mass of the Exoplanet Host Star HR8799
Aldo Sepulveda, University of Texas San Antonio
Mentor: Brendan Bowler

Investigating Lensed Galaxy Structure
Alexander Fortenberry, University of the Virgin Islands
Mentor: Rachael Livermore

How well can we really measure the substellar boundary?
Andrew Cancino, Missouri State University
Mentor: Trent Dupuy

Probing Into the Atmosphere of the Young Exoplanet K2-25b
Pa Chia Thao, Mt Holyoke College
Mentor: Andrew Mann

Categorizing Candidate Galaxy Protoclusters with Planck
Jonathon Brown, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mentor: Caitlin Casey

After the talks we celebrated with refreshments as we wished our TAURUS scholars well on their journeys back to their home universities!  But this isn't goodbye, because we will all see the TAURUS scholars again soon at the 2018 winter meeting of the AAS in National Harbor, Maryland this coming January!

Here are some great shots of the 2017 TAURUS send-off:
The reception after the talks!

TAURUS Scholars with Director Caitlin Casey.

The silly group shot. :)

TAURUS Scholars with their Grad Mentors!