Nicole began as a child covered in finger paints. She grew up with marker-stained hands, a passion for pencils and paper, and a dream of becoming an animator. Little did she know science was stalking her from the shadows, biding its time. It only took one college Astronomy course to turn her. She went from armloads of charcoal-smudged sketchbooks to equation-filled textbooks, from dark rooms hunched over a drawing table to late nights stargazing through a telescope. A year of community college and three years of university later, she hasn’t looked back. This is her story.
My first taste of research was as a community college student after my very first year of astronomy study. I, along with another fortunate student, went with Professor Gary Fouts to Mauna Loa Solar Observatory on the island of Hawaii to calibrate the water vapor and aerosol detecting equipment we used in our study at Santa Monica Community College. At 3 am, we awoke each day to begin the long trek up the 13,000-foot mountain to take observations while the sun was still high. Though, truth be told, standing on a mountain top in a parka and four layers of pants whilst painstakingly collecting data with delicate instruments in shaky, frozen hands was not exactly as thrilling as my imagination had made it out to be.
So we returned to the mainland. I had enjoyed my experience, and while the sight of Hawaii's star drenched sky had served to solidify my love for astronomy, I had begun to fret over whether I was truly cut out for the grueling dedication necessary for the research-based life. Or maybe solar astronomy just wasn't for me.
My continuing education then took me to the California Polytechnic University in Pomona. After my first year there, I once again had the opportunity to go out into the field and experience research. This time, it was in the form of an acceptance into the CAMPARE program. Excited at the prospect of working with stellar astronomy this time, I and my fellow Camparians were whisked into the dry heat of Tucson to study all summer at the University of Arizona.
Turns out, solar astronomy just wasn't my thing, because there, under the sweltering sun of the Arizona desert, I found my calling. Whether it was staying up until the wee hours of the morn waiting for the clouds to clear and allow us observing through one of the plethora of telescopes in the area, which happened more infrequently than I first anticipated, or spending countless hours in front of a computer screen running a multitude of codes repeatedly until they produced the correct collection of data, I was thrilled by every moment I experienced that summer. There was where I first began studying the Omega Nebula, also known as M17, specifically the giant molecular clouds in the region. This study culminated in a poster that I then presented at the Winter 2013 American Astronomical Society Meeting in Long Beach.