Alec Vinson

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Alec poses in front of a scale model of the Cassini spacecraft, which provided the data used for Alec's work on Titan

Alec is physics major for whom astronomy has been a passion since Junior High school, when his father introduced him to one of his favorite shows, Carl Sagan's Cosmos. He has always been intensely curious about how the world works, and he participated in the CAMPARE program this past summer 2012 at JPL, to give himself the opportunity to learn more. This is his story.

During my time at Cal Poly Pomona, I’ve had some great opportunities to do some very exciting research in astronomy. I’ve had an internship at JPL as part of the CAMPARE program, and an internship at SETI as part of an REU program. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Dr. Matthew Povich here at Cal Poly, who I will be working with on my senior project.

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Alec meeting Dr. Frank Drake (of the Drake equation) during the summer of 2013 at the SETI Institute.

During the summer of 2012, I worked at JPL using data from the Cassini spacecraft in the Saturn system. Studying Saturn’s moon Titan, I used data from the Cassini’s radar instruments to probe through the moon’s thick haze to view the surface. On the surface of Titan are large dune fields in the equatorial region of the moon. My work involved studying these dunes and finding out more about their morphology. Aside from my actual work, this was also a very exciting time to be at JPL, as this was the summer of the Curiosity rover’s landing on Mars!

I spent the summer of 2013 working at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA. This was an experience I will never forget. My work at SETI was more in the field of theoretical astrophysics. I studied circumstellar disks around other stars, and specifically modeled the disk around the star T Cha. Disks such as the one around T Cha are especially interesting as this is the time that planets would be forming around the star. Modeling these disks determines the mass and temperature distribution, size, and composition of the disks.

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(From left to right) Brian, Mario, and Alec sitting in the main control room at JPL, while being given a quick tour of JPL by CPP Physics alumni Gregory Villar, who was on Curiosity's EDL team

These projects I’ve had so far have taught me a great deal, and have me looking forward to continuing to do research in astronomy and astrophysics into grad school. I am also currently looking forward to conducting more astronomy research with Dr. Povich for my senior project. I have had many great opportunities while here at Cal Poly, and there is so much that I have learned. I have also met some great people through these research opportunities, and have had a lot of fun!