Wednesday, August 3, 2022

TAURUS Scholar Spotlight: Diego Garza

Our last TAURUS Scholar Spotlight of the summer features Diego Garza, who is a rising senior at the University of Chicago.  Diego is working with Prof. Keith Hawkins this summer on the chemical properties of our Galaxy's fastest stars.   Prof. Hawkins sat down with him recently to learn more about Diego's passions and interests.

KH: Where did you join us from? Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

DG: I am originally from Houston (H-town) born and raised. I went to high school there in Houston. The high school program I was involved in allowed me the opportunity to get an associates degree in science upon graduating high school. Most of my family is in Texas and while I have Mexican-American roots, I decided to go to the University of Chicago for undergrad. So the heat here in Austin, I am used to it.

KH: What drove to you to do undergrad in Chicago?

DG: I had my first interaction with the University of Chicago through the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute. This fund enabled me to go to a program at the University of Chicago for the first time to learn about what college is like and how the application process works. As I went into my senior year, I began applying to college through the Quest-Bridge program; a program designed for underrepresented low-income high school students to apply to many top colleges. The program provides a list of the colleges from which you can rank your top choices and the Quest-Bridge program will help match you to those schools based on your interests. The application process is similar to a “standard” college application but is a bit more detailed. Quest-bridge enabled me to achieve a full ride scholarship. I ended up getting admitted to the University of Chicago.

KH: Astrophysics, what drew you to it? Is there one moment you knew you wanted to study it or was it something that developed?

DG: My interest in astrophysics grew over time. In elementary and middle school I was always interested in science and math and I would ask myself what kind of science would I do. I did small science projects as a kid. Like in middle school, where we had to build a solar system on a poster board and my dad and I did it together. I remember how I would have to google what Jupiter looked like and finding the right paint or colors to match what Jupiter looks like. I remember asking why there is a red spot on Jupiter. Or why Saturn had its rings. I was a curious kid and my dad encouraged me to read books on the topic.

Originally, I had planned on being more of an engineer going into high school, but the more I learned from ‘pop science’ about astronomy it grabbed my attention. So when I entered college, I chose to double major in Physics and Astrophysics.

KH: You must be really busy on campus with so many classes! What other activities or student organization are you involved in at the Univ. of Chicago?

DG: Classes keep me quite busy, especially with the double major. When I do get some time though I enjoy physics tutoring and that led me to become a teaching assistant for a computational techniques course in astrophysics. I also work at the main computer lab at the university and have built a community there and learned a lot about computing and coding.

In terms of extracurriculars I have gotten involved in on campus include Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). I have also gotten involved in ‘Moneythink’, which teaches high-schoolers financial literacy and entrepreneurship. I also work as Vice President within my school’s Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) chapter. I was excited about this because I am interested in the topic. We have done things like rocketry and build model rockets.

Outside of school, I like watching and playing soccer, playing pool, hanging out with friends, and watching TV shows (just finished Mr. Robot).

KH: What made you interested in joining the TAURUS program this summer?

DG: A couple of things: (1) The program’s goals focusing on underrepresented minorities. In this way, I have been able to connect with people that have experiences that are similar to my own in ways I cannot connect with people at my college. (2) UT Austin’s Astro department is pretty good and I wanted to check it out more. (3) It’s in Texas and for me it was kinda like coming home. (4) My brother is in town doing a masters degree in civil engineering.

KH: What excites you most about doing research?

DG: As a kid, I always thought scientists and NASA already had everything figured out. If I googled any question, an answer would come up. What I find exciting is that science isn’t just about doing a small project you might do in a class but research is dynamic, answering the questions that don’t currently have answers. I also like that research is collaborative and a community driven effort to answer key questions.

KH: Tell me about what you do for fun. Do you have any hobbies?

DG: I enjoy watching tv, hanging out with my friends, playing billiards, and playing (and watching) soccer, Houston Dynamo is my favorite team. And I even got to see them play at the Q2 stadium here in Austin. But I grew up watching them play in Houston.

KH: Where do you like to travel, and where do you most want to visit that you haven’t seen yet?

DG: I haven’t had the opportunity to travel that much, I mostly have visited places in Texas, especially the Rio Grande Valley. I’ve been to Florida and Colorado, but I would love to visit Colorado again. I would also like to visit California, Europe (and tour some of their soccer stadiums).

KH: What’s in your future?

DG: I plan on finishing my double major BS degree in Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago and definitely graduate school in Astronomy to obtain a PhD and hopefully be a scientist at NASA.

Friday, July 29, 2022

TAURUS Scholar Spotlight: Malik Bossett

Malik Bossett joins us from Northern Arizona University as a rising senior majoring in Astronomy. He is working with Dr. Zhoujian Zhang this summer to characterize the cloud properties of giant planets and brown dwarfs in the solar neighborhood by comparing these objects’ spectra to model atmospheres. Zhoujian recently sat down with Malik to learn more about his background, interests, and future plans.

ZZ: Could you tell us more about your story?

MB: I am from San Francisco, California. The initial spark of my interest in astrophysics came from a young age, as I was particularly intrigued by the exhibit about our solar system when my father took me to the California Academy of Sciences. I started reading books and watching shows related to astronomy since then. As I was in high school, I got selected into an internship program at the California Academy of Sciences! I was excited to gain experience in public speaking, science communication, and general research, and learn how to collaborate with other people on research projects. Then after entering Northern Arizona University, I started working at the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered in 1930. This place is also where I gained more science communication experience and hope to get more connections to research opportunities. I am now about to finish my bachelor's degree and am considering applying for graduate school this year.

ZZ: I know you are very proactive and passionate about the astronomy research. Could you tell us something about your previous research experience?

MB: Prior to the TAURUS program, I attended two REU programs. The first one was online during the summer of 2020 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I analyzed the surface brightness of galaxies. The second one was at UC Berkeley in the summer of 2021, as a part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program. My project was to use stellar spectra to search for potential techno-signatures. At my home institute, I have been conducting a research project that utilizes data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to hunt for transiting exoplanets. It is really exciting that I presented this research in the International Astronautical Congress 2021 in Dubai last year!

ZZ: Awesome! I wonder what is the most interesting and exciting thing you find about astronomy?

MB: I like astronomy because it has endless possibilities. No matter how far into the future humanity survives, we will always be studying astronomy because it is one of those things that are potentially infinite. Astronomy is also a way to bring us perspective. If there is nowhere else that life can flourish outside our solar system, then as one of Earth's species, we should really take care of our planet.

ZZ: How is your experience over the past few weeks in the TAURUS program?

MB: This is a great program and the pacing is good. I enjoyed my visit to the McDonald observatory a few weeks ago and learned how the telescope works to get spectroscopic data. It was nice to get myself refreshed about the astronomical terms and equations through all the talks in the program. It is also good that the program provides housing!

ZZ: What do you think is the biggest challenge that you have experienced?

MB: The biggest challenge is to balance research and school. Over the freshman and sophomore years, I was able to work on my college research for a good while. However, during my junior year, the majority of my focus was on school coursework, so I did not have a chance to do as much research that year as I wish I should have. I also had to balance school and my science communication work at the Lowell Observatory. Now my goal for the senior year is to produce more progress on the research conducted in the TAURUS program and at my home institute.

ZZ: How do you like Austin so far? Did you get a chance to explore the city during the summer?

: Everything about the city is great except for the heat. I like the live music here and now I can see why Austin is the live music capital of the world! The bat watching is great too.

ZZ: I agree! What do you usually do when not studying or working?

MB: I like camping, hiking, and traveling. I also did a couple of road trips inside the country. Photography is also one of my big hobbies.

ZZ: What are your plans for the future?

MB: I do want to become a professional astronomer specializing in exoplanets. I hope to become a member of the exoplanet search team that uses ground-based or space-based telescopes to find exoplanets using different methods. I am interested in studying their composition, mass, size, density, and basically all characteristics to figure out whether the planets are habitable or not.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

TAURUS Scholar Spotlight: Cosme Aquino Ovelar

Cosme Aquino Ovelar is a rising junior at the University of Oklahoma. During the program he is working with Dr. Juan Farias performing numerical N-body simulations of stellar associations collisions. He is investigating if this mechanism is a viable path to forming bound stellar systems.  Juan sat down with Cosme to know a bit more about his background.

JPF: Please tell me who you are and how you got into the Taurus program.

CAO: I'm a rising junior from Paraguay at the University of Oklahoma. I applied to TAURUS this year because I wanted to get a feel of life as an astrophysics researcher, visit the well-established McDonald Observatory, and because I value the program's commitment to diversity. All of the above made TAURUS an excellent environment for me, so when I got accepted, I was very excited!

JPF: I understand you are a non-resident. How did it happen that you came to study in the US? Did you come alone?  Are you enjoying your stay?

CAO: That's right! From the moment I started to see astronomy as a possible career path, I knew I had to migrate if I wanted to study this subject at a higher level since no universities in Paraguay offer astronomy as a major. In 2018, I was privileged to attend a United World College in Victoria, Canada, for my last two high school years. This invaluable experience gave me the perspective to consider new educational opportunities, like applying to some North American universities. That's how I got to the University of Oklahoma. I came to the United States by myself. Still, I made incredibly kindhearted friends along the way who have been a support network in my life here, like my family back home, encouraging me in my educational journey right from the beginning. 

JPF: How did you get interested in Astronomy? Did you consider other majors?

CAO: The universe has always been a fascinating topic, but the concept of black holes was particularly the fuel that inspired me at a younger age. In later years, my participation in astronomy olympiads in Paraguay contributed significantly to ensuring I was doing what I enjoyed the most. So when it was time to go to college, I was confident I wanted to do astronomy.

JPF: Tell me about your Silver medal in the Latin America Olympiad you got. How did you get involved in it? How did you prepare? How did it feel to compete?

CAO: Of course! 2017 was an enriching year since I was selected to represent Paraguay as part of a team at the Latin American Olympiad of Astronomy and Astronautics [OLAA] in Antofagasta, Chile. The preparation included intense months of learning astronomical concepts and solving theoretical problems, and I enjoyed learning about the different topics a lot, so this was a hobby for me. I was lucky to meet other astronomy enthusiasts from the region and visit the Very Large Telescope [VLT].

JPF: Nice to hear you visited my home country! I hope you enjoyed it! So, what do you think was the most challenging aspect of the experience? What was your most difficult topic? And your favorite?

CAO:  The most challenging aspect was making sense of the mathematics behind astronomy. Especially spherical trigonometry, which I avoid to this day. My favorite topic was pulsating variable stars since they are fundamental for measuring extragalactic distances. 

JPF: Ha! I also try to dodge trigonometry as much as I can. There is no escape I’m afraid. How is the program treating you so far? What have you learned?

CAO: The program is treating me great so far! I'm enjoying my time here. I’m learning much about everything in this field, from current research problems in astronomy, like the plane of satellite galaxies problem and the detailed formation of open clusters, to code development, machine learning, and even Astro twitter.

JPF: What lessons do you think you will be taking away from the program?

CAO: Science is collaborative. This is something that I thought I knew, yet being present here has added another layer to my understanding of this topic. Theorists, observers, engineers, and science communicators are all involved in producing/sharing knowledge. It was particularly touching to experience this during the release of JWST images. 

JPF:  What do you like to do outside astronomy? 

CAO: I love cooking, making coffee, and playing sand volleyball. I would always be down to do these activities, especially during summer. I also enjoy watching sunsets, writing poetry, and listening to music. 

JPF: What are your plans for the future? 

CAO: My plans for the near future include going to graduate school, volunteering for
Astronomy for Development
, and traveling to more places. 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

TAURUS Scholar Spotlight: Cayden Kirkpatrick

Cayden Kirkpatrick joins the TAURUS program from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is double majoring in astronomy-physics and history as a rising junior. Cayden is working with Dr. Dominique Segura-Cox and Professor Stellar Offner this summer to measure the masses of some of the youngest protostars by studying how material in their surrounding disks rotate with ALMA data. Dominique recently sat down with Cayden to learn more about his background and interests.

DMS: Where did you join us from? Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

CK: I’m currently a rising junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I also grew up in Madison. I’m majoring in astronomy-physics and history, and I’m working on two minors in French and American Indian Studies. I took an interest in space and astronomy from a young age, which has only grown over time. Since middle school, I’ve been studying astronomy extracurricularly, especially through Science Olympiad events.

DMS: Astrophysics and history is an unusual combination. What about history interests you?

CK:  There’s something intrinsically cool to me about analyzing what happened in the past, but what’s most interesting is learning from the past and how the past can impact present day events. I think of history as a good tool to investigate the world around us, similar to a scientific investigation. There’s a lot of history that’s really under-studied, especially in terms of Native American history, which is what I concentrate on.

DMS: You must be really busy on campus with so many classes! What other activities are you involved in at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

CK:  I’m involved in a number of clubs, including the astronomy club on campus. I’m in a choir and do intramural sports. Mostly, I spend my extra time working with Native American student organizations. I’m an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and I’ve always enjoyed participating in cultural events and learning about my heritage. That’s partially why I’m interested in history. I’m currently learning the Choctaw language through a summer course, which will also count towards my American Indian Studies minor.

DMS: What are the Native American student organizations you’re involved in?

CK: There’s a social/community organization, Wunk Sheek, and I’m on a multi-college advisory board that helps make college life inclusive for Native American students. I’m also involved in AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society), which I serve as the vice president of.  I’m transitioning to be the AISES president in the fall. I’ve also attended nation-wide AISES conferences, and at this fall’s National Conference I’m going to co-host a session called “Indigenizing STEM,” which will focus on ways to make STEM career paths more accessible and open for Native American youth.

DMS: What made you interested in joining the TAURUS program this summer?

CK:  I haven’t been involved in research at my home institution, and I wanted a chance to dedicate myself to research over the summer. When I was looking for programs I really appreciated how the TAURUS program fostered a sense of community and was really supportive of students, more than standard REU programs. I had more than one option for research over the summer, and in the end I also really liked the research topic that was proposed to me through TAURUS.

DMS: What excites you most about doing research?

CK: The idea that I’m looking at something novel, that no one else has done this before, that I’m contributing to the greater field of astronomy. Actively doing research is a great contrast to classes, where we learn about what other people have done. I like the independence of research and being able to explore and try out my own ideas. I like the potential of discovering something unexpected, since the results aren’t predetermined like they are with homework.

DMS: Tell me about what you do for fun. Do you have any hobbies?

CK: I do a lot of geocaching, which is using GPS to hunt for hidden notes or little treasure boxes at specific coordinates. I like to hike and explore new areas. I also really love to travel.

DMS: Where do you like to travel, and where do you most want to visit that you haven’t seen yet?

CK: I like traveling to more obscure, unseen places. Big cities are fun too, but I like smaller places that have unique things that they’re known for or that have historical significance. I’m doing study abroad next spring in France, which I haven’t been to yet, and I’m really excited. In the future I just want to explore other places new to me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

TAURUS Scholar Spotlight: Isaiah Pipkin

Isaiah Pipkin is a rising junior majoring in Astronomy and Physics. He didn't have far to travel being at the University of Texas at Austin. Working with Professor Karl Gebhardt, he is going through the very large database for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment and helping to calibrate the machine learning efforts. With millions of sources, we rely on machine learning to help decide which ones are actual galaxies, and Isaiah is working the hard and extremely important step of making sure the machine learning has the best inputs. Karl had a great conversation with Isaiah on his experience so far.

KG: You just returned from observing at McDonald and it sounded fun. How did you keep yourself up at night?

IP: What? Staying up at night was easy. This was the most fun I have had in the long time, and just the excitement of taking data and using the telescope kept me awake. No problem. I could easily see myself becomming an observer, after this experience. I would love to go back and do it again.

KG: What made the observing experience so special?

IP: Over the pandemic, many people had to stop observing and go all remote. Being physically at the telescope made it that much more special realizing how unique a siutation we have here at UT. Being a student operating this telescope was exciting. It's the whole process that was fun, from just learning to troubleshooting to taking data. It never got bored. Being on your own operating this telescope is an amazing experience. I basically got to experience the art of discovery. I was being trusted to do science, and do it on my own. I told my family about it and told them that this is what I really want to do. I was able to see myself do this for a living and I loved it. My mother was very happy to hear that.

KG: Why astronomy in the first place?

IP: My mother wanted me to go into engineering. I wanted astronomy. What drove me is the power of discovery; the fact that I could make an impact, whether small or large, on this human pursuit that has been going on for centuries. The feeling of having contribution to exploring the wonders of the universe is special. This is something where Astronomy can play a unique role compared to other disciplines.

KG: What in your background might have generated your interest?

IP: My mother bought me a telescope when I was a kid. The point was to just have fun with it, but I quickly realized how exciting it was to look at the universe. That set me on my path. My high school physics played a significant role in fostering my love of this field. She had a huge impact and encouraged me to pursue this in college.

KG: What did you miss in Houston when you first went to college. I ask this since my daughter is moving out of state for university this fall, and I want to know what to do and not to do.

IP: The thing I missed the most was family and friends. Of course, I made friends here but the trust one develops to know someone will be there is important to have. I had strong encouragement from my mother and that helped a lot. Some of the strongest advice would be to just be there and listen. You don't even have to say anything. Being away from home is hard in itself, and sometimes you don't need a solution or guidance, but just being a listening friend. Do that, and it will make everything so much easier to transition.

KG: What would excite you the most in research?

IP: Getting my first paper out! It means you are in the game. I want that experience and excitement of doing the science on my own and contributing.

KG: If you could go back and speak to yourself as a young kid, what would you say now to encourage that kid to go into astronomy and research?

IP: Give them your story. It is so powerful to make a connection by what you went through. I did not have a lot of opportunities, but I did have individuals who were very supportive. Hearing similar stories and background from someone who is in the field provides powerful motivation. This is the motivation that that kid is looking for. Make it clear that this path is available to everyone, and you should push for it. It will be hard but I'd make it clear that you will find support. There is nothing to be afraid of. College can often be seen as just a burden, an extension of high school. I'd make it clear that it is opportunity to do what you want and find a home. I love what I am doing right now. That's the strongest message one can give.

Monday, July 11, 2022

TAURUS Scholar Spotlight: Ian Wolter


Ian Wolter joins us from Smith College in Massachusetts, where they are a rising junior double-majoring in astronomy and physics. This summer, they are working with Professor John Chisholm and Dr. Michelle Berg on determining the star formation rates for galaxies in a group that houses a quasar and large blobs of cool gas. Michelle sat down with Ian to learn more about their interests.

MAB: What are some unique things about yourself that you would like to share?

IW: I guess these are unique in academia: I’m trans non-binary and LatinĂ©, specifically Dominican-American.

MAB: What do you enjoy most about astronomy and physics?

IW: I find astronomy and physics to be fields that are much more creative and imaginative than they’re given credit for. The practice of searching for the unknown. Coming up with the questions that we need answers to. We’re studying the universe, the broadest thing we can imagine, by looking at such specific, focused things. I enjoy the process of doing astrophysics research. It’s like watching a story unfold.

MAB: I love that description. Have you had any previous research experiences?

IW: This past year, I was on a student research team at Smith College that observed exoplanet transits. It was mainly observational research where we tracked TESS candidates and hot Jupiters. It was a lot of fun getting to use a 16” telescope. The night sky is much darker in western Massachusetts than in New Jersey where I’m from, and it makes me so happy to be able to see more than 5 things in the sky. It was a great introduction to research. I got into the rhythm of observing, photometry, and working with the team to deal with the obstacles that inevitably arose.

MAB: What are your hobbies outside of school?

IW: I love learning languages. I’ve been learning German since starting college and before that I was learning Norwegian. I learned Norwegian when I was a high school exchange student in Norway for a year. It was incredible to be immersed in a new language and culture. I also love cross country skiing, camping, and reading. I’m currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

MAB: No way! The Night Circus is one of my favorite books. We will have to chat once you finish it. What are you most excited about for this summer?

IW: The McDonald Observatory trip. I’m hoping we’ll get to see the Milky Way. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to seeing how much I’ll grow by the end of the program. I’ve already learned so much and it’s only been a few weeks.

MAB: What are you most proud of?

IW: I’m most proud of how much I’ve grown into myself in the past few years, the past year specifically. I’ve gotten a lot better at advocating for myself, asking for help, and at expressing myself. Especially in regards to my queer identity, I’ve become more accepting of myself.

MAB: Are there any mentors of yours that have been helpful or inspiring along the way?

IW: You [Michelle] have been a great mentor to me; I’ve learned so much from you already. The grad students have also been great mentors. My grad student mentors - Kendall and Olivia - inspire me so much. Back at Smith College, my advisors Doreen Weinberger and James Lowenthal have given me so much advice that I’m so grateful for. In addition, the recently graduated senior class of physics and astronomy majors have given me a sense of belonging and made me feel that I have a place in this field.

MAB: You absolutely have a place in this field. What advice would you give to high school or undergraduate students who might want to follow a similar path to you?

IW: If you find astrophysics fun and exciting and you want to keep doing it, that’s enough. Don’t think you have to be a superhuman prodigy that never makes mistakes and fits into a rigid mold. You can do astrophysics and also be fully yourself.

MAB: Any ideas about future plans?

IW: I’ll be spending this upcoming school year studying abroad in Germany, which I’m very excited about. Further into the future, I want to go to graduate school for astrophysics and continue pursuing research.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

TAURUS Scholar Spotlight: Rachel Nere

Today's TAURUS Scholar Spotlight is on Rachel Nere, who is pursuing her degree in physics at the University of Massachusetts Boston.  This summer, Rachel is working with NASA Hubble Fellow Dr. Arianna Long on understanding the colors of distant galaxies that will be measured soon with the James Webb Space Telescope.  Arianna sat down with Rachel to learn more about her passion and motivation.

AL: Please tell us more about you. What's your story?

RN: I'm from the Greater Boston Area, and I went to school there my entire life. I'm a first generation Haitian American and also a first-gen soon-to-be college graduate. I grew up reading every book I could get my hands on about astronomy and physics. So I went to college to study those things. I ended up transferring a few times because I wasn't getting the support I needed from other schools, or in a personal sense. But I’m now at a school where I’ve gotten the support I needed to pursue a career in physics and astronomy. That made a huge difference in my career trajectory and in my confidence in doing the work. I took every opportunity I had, even if it wasn't astronomy or physics based, to get experience until I could get the experience in the field which fulfilled a childhood dream of mine. Those experiences solidified that I wanted to pursue research in a doctoral program after I graduate. I'm studying physics at UMass Boston, and I have an English minor with a certificate in quantum information.

AL: What inspired you to pursue a career in astronomy?

RN: I was six years old playing in my backyard with my dad and siblings when I looked up into the sky at night and wondered what made the Universe tick. From that moment on, it made me want to be an astronomer/astrophysicist and it made me fall in love with the night sky. I've wanted to pursue astronomy and physics ever since.

AL: What are you most proud of?

RN: The first thing I thought of was my Hot Science Summer proposal. HSS was a crowd funded project sponsored by VanguardSTEM to give Black and brown women / gender minorities the chance to do science the way they want to. I was part of the inaugural group and I got to do observations at the Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket, Massachusetts with this funding. I was also part of the inaugural class for the Quantum Information Certificate in my school (there is a big push for QI education in the U.S.); it was really fun to do. Also all of the research opportunities I've gotten, both in school and outside of it; they motivated me and gave me the confidence to keep going in science, and I'm proud of myself for that. It makes me see how everything is interconnected, and how beautiful all of it is. 

AL: What mentors, teachers, or role models have been the most important to you in your life?

RN: Professor Stephen Arnason, Professor Mohamed Gharbi, Professor Alioscia Hamma -- they were the first professors that truly believed in me, gave me guidance on what I needed to do to be better, and gave me support when I transferred to UMass Boston. They also have a hand in giving / introducing me to a bunch of opportunities in physics. Rudy Montez Jr. and Sophia Sanchez-Maes -- they were my first official research advisor and STEM mentor from last summer; they gave me a lot of support, cheered me on, understood me, and were very kind, and patient with me, especially during a global pandemic. And of course you (Arianna) and Quang (UT grad student) -- because you guys are such good humans, supportive, kind, real, uplifting, and understand all aspects of what makes me, me.

AL: Ah well it's a pleasure! What challenges and obstacles have you faced in your career? How have you overcome these challenges?

RN: A lot, to put it in short. Genuinely. I don't feel comfortable mentioning most of it, but some points did push me to do / pursue things that I wouldn't have otherwise. For example, I had one of my friends pass away right when we were both accepted into the internship from last summer. I almost didn't accept it, but when I heard the news I decided otherwise because who am I to reject it when she was so excited for it. I did it for the both of us. I ended up wearing a t-shirt dedicated to her every single week in the program when I was with the other students so it felt like she was there with us. Experiences like that pushed me to do things I never thought would happen, or meet amazing people and get the support I need to keep going in academia and in my personal life.

AL: What advice would you give to high school and undergraduate students of similar background to you who are interested in following your path? What’s one piece of advice you wish you had when you started your STEM journey?

RN: I'd say, say yes to everything, take every opportunity you can. Feeling like you're not smart enough is a common feeling. Almost everyone has that feeling of not being enough for something, but you have to remind yourself that it's not true. You are more than smart enough and you should therefore go after whatever that thing is. You never know what you don't know until you take that thing (class, opportunity, etc.). Also, ask ALL THE QUESTIONS because there's probably someone who has the same question, and lots of people love questions. Part of learning is to ask questions. It also helps breed your own curiosity, and curiosity is part of what keeps science and the world going.

AL: What else are you passionate about?

RN: I'm passionate about music, I listen to a lot of different genres. I play the violin and piano. I also love dancing (hip hop, contemporary, bachata, salsa, kompa, afrobeats). I like to write poetry and sometimes short stories. I like reading, mostly mystery and fantasy. I watch a lot of anime and K-dramas, and I read manga. And I enjoy spending time with good people, friends, and loved ones.

AL: Anything else you want people to know about you?

RN: I used to be a video game addict! I still have admiration for video games; my favorite one will always be Kingdom Hearts.