I've lived in the small town of Burnt Hills, New York for all of my life. The town, really a hamlet, is about forty minutes from the capital, Albany. With its freshly mowed lawns and white picket fences it truly is the average suburb. I'll always remember biking down to the ice cream store and going to Friday night football games.
Starting at a young age I developed a love for science. In my spare time I would polish rocks in my rock tumbler. I spent hours digging around my gravel driveway trying to pick out the quartz among the limestone. I also enjoyed analyzing fingerprints with my toy forensic kit. At one point I actually wanted to become a forensic anthropologist (the show Bones was a favorite of mine). My father had a part in helping to propel my scientific interests. He had an old chemistry set and we would do experiments on the weekends. He also would set up his old telescope so we could gaze at the stars. Perhaps that's where my love of astronomy began. My interest in nature also influenced my passion for science. As a little girl I would catch frogs, butterflies, crickets - really anything I could get my hands on. I loved, and still love, fishing at my grandparent's lake, only a couple hours from where I live. Bloody Pond, despite the gruesome name, is where I have had some of my best memories. I've especially enjoyed my time spent looking up at the sky on those clear nights.
As I got older I watched documentaries and read books on concepts like light speed and parallel universes, which immediately captured my imagination. I was in awe by how the world works and how we can learn about it through equations and experiments. What drew me to astronomy and physics is the idea that it is the basis of study for the entire universe; from the most elementary of particles, such as neutrinos, up to the largest and most distant galaxy structures studied. My passion for science was escalated the summer going into my sophomore year of high school. That summer I attended a career exploration program at Cornell University where I took a workshop on astronomy. Immediately I fell in love with the field and the exciting research it was producing. I was fascinated by dark matter, exoplanets, and all of the mysteries in the farthest depths of our universe.
So, naturally when I was accepted into my school's science research program, that started my sophomore year, I decided to pursue an astronomy project. That fall I spent hours reading professional papers on various types of astronomy research. I also scoured through the internet searching for possible mentors at various college campuses. Incredibly, my science research teacher had arranged for me to meet with Professor Heidi Jo Newberg of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that November. At first Professor Newberg was hesitant to work with high school students, protesting that they weren't really interested in science and just wanted to win Intel science fairs (quite ironic since I was an Intel STS Finalist, but more about that later). However, once I told her I had read about thirty of her papers I soon joined the research team and delved into a project of my own.
In the spring of my sophomore year I became a Dudley Observatory Rising Star Intern. Through this program I was given my own telescope, a beautiful Dobsonian reflector. I attended star parties and taught local people in my community about astronomy. That next summer I was awarded a scholarship to attend the Advanced Astronomy Camp in Tucson, Arizona. While I was there I was able to work with various types of telescopes, from solar to radio. The sky was so clear that for the first time I was able to see the Milky Way with my own eyes - it was truly incredible. While I was there our group actually discovered several supernovas and the results were published! During my time there I was also able to participate in a mini research project where two other students and I measured the amount of dark matter in galaxy NGC 4559. We did this by first measuring the total mass of the galaxy by looking at the galaxys rotational curve. Then we measured the mass of the gas in the galaxy by using the radio telescope and found the mass of all the star light in the galaxy. When we subtracted the gas and stars from the total mass we found the mass of the dark matter! It was an extraordinary experience that I will never forget.
My love for astronomy and physics continued to grow. I branched out my junior year of high school by participating in an Astrobiology Short Story Contest funded by the New York Center for Astrobiology. I have always been fascinated by science fiction. I love TV shows such as The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Firefly, etc. I thought it would be fun to see how far I could stretch the science in my own story. I wrote about what life would be like on an exomoon millions of light-years away. I won the contest that summer and was interviewed on National Public Radio about my story.
I was selected to be a part of the NASA WISH (Women in STEM in the High School) Scholars program in my junior year of high school. I participated in graded online assignments that consisted of essays, math problems, quizzes and design modules. After completing all my assignments I was chosen as one of eighty girls that were able to participate in an onsite experience at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas that summer. There, I was able to tour mission control, design a mission to Mars and even ask a question to an astronaut aboard the International Space Station!
All of these incredible opportunities could not have been possible if I had not started my research project. Over three years my research with Professor Newberg blossomed into more than I could have hoped for. Briefly, my research investigates the mistakes with spectral classifications within the Sloan Digital Sky Survey database. Because of my research I have been able to present at two state level professional conferences, one at Skidmore College and one at Stony Brook University. I also presented my research at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Long Beach, California this past January. In addition, I have participated in various science fairs and have been honored to have been named one of the forty Intel STS Finalists for 2013. At Intel I met the most fascinating people and learned about such great research, all done by high school kids like me! It also didn't hurt that I got a minor planet named after me and met the President. :)
This fall I will be attending Stony Brook as a freshman and will be a part of the WISE honors program. What drew me to Stony Brook are the vast research opportunities and the world class physics program. After touring Brookhaven National Laboratory I was really impressed by all of the various research projects I could partake in. Another reason I choose Stony Brook is because I am very passionate about encouraging young girls to become involved in the sciences. Because of this passion I believe the WISE program is a great fit for me. At Stony Brook I plan to major in physics and minor in astronomy.
In addition to my scientific interests, I like to do a lot of different activities in my free time. I play field hockey and lacrosse. I am quite the shopaholic and have trouble fitting everything in my closet (condensing for college will prove to be quite the challenge). I love science fiction, as I mentioned, and will have TV show marathons with my friends. I also love biking, dancing, reading, listening to music, and trying new things.
I am extremely excited to work at the Laser Teaching Center this summer! I'm ready to use physics as my instrument to probe and explore mysteries of our world.