College of San Mateo (CSM) student Luis Alvarez is about to embark on what may be the ultimate hands-on homework assignment: this 20-year-old astrophysics major from San Mateo is preparing to spend three weeks in the subfreezing landscape of the Arctic as part of an astronomical research project. Alvarez has been selected as the student intern for the San Mateo Arctic Research Telescope (SMART) Project and will accompany a team of scientists to conduct research related to site and weather evaluation for the establishment of the San Mateo Arctic Research Telescope. The SMART Project is a collaboration of four organizations: Mars Institute, SETI Institute, San Mateo County Astronomical Society and CSM.
Alvarez begins his journey on July 9 when he will depart for Canada, bound for Resolute Bay, Nunavut, a small town north of the Arctic Circle. For the last leg of the trip, he will be transported via Twin Otter to the Haughton-Mars Project Research Station
(HMPRS) on the edge of Haughton Crater, Devon Island, in the high Arctic’s polar desert. This crater is the result of a 39-million year-old asteroid or comet impact. While at the HMPRS, Alvarez will assist scientists with research activities that include the testing of a robotic arm and spacesuits, and conducting astrobiology studies related to permafrost. He will return to the Bay Area in early August.
SMART will be established in the Arctic as part of the Haughton-Mars Project, but at a location that will depend on this year’s findings. The telescope will take advantage of the long Arctic winter nights to study exoplanets and the long Arctic days to study the sun. The data gathered by the telescope will be sent to the SETI Institute and CSM’s Observatory for astronomy students to analyze and conduct first-hand astronomical research, providing students with a research opportunity that is on par with top-rated universities in the U. S.
Alvarez’s passion and enthusiasm for science is palpable as he anticipates his upcoming assignment, “This project is my first step into the realm of research, and the real world in regards to my career so I want to make this, along with every other venture I go into, a project that I give 150 percent of myself plus more!” says Alvarez.
CSM Professor of Astronomy Mohsen Janatpour explains why Alvarez was chosen as the first intern for the program, “We see a great potential in him as a future astrophysicist. He is a graduate our San Mateo Middle College program and a very high achieving, hardworking student. Luis has the energy of the present and a promise for the future.”
“This is a pilot project inaugurating a multi-year program benefiting our students and our community.” Janatpour says. “Luis’s participation in the Haughton-Mars Project is supported in part by the Mars Institute and the SETI Institute, and partly through donations from private individuals associated with San Mateo County Astronomical Society and CSM along with a grant from the San Mateo Community Colleges Foundation.”
How does this future astrophysicist plan to follow up on his Arctic experience? This fall, Alvarez returns to CSM to complete his lower division studies with his sights set on transferring to California Institute of Technology.
For information about CSM’s Astronomy Program, visit collegeofsanmateo.edu/astronomy