Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

A Side Trip to the Stars

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

A Side Trip to the Stars

Article excerpt


Miguel F. Morales

Title: Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Theory and Computation, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Education: Ph.D., Physics, University of California, Santa Cruz; B.A., Physics, Swarthmore College

Age: 33

Dr. Miguel Morales says there was always a distant chance that he would end up in academia. His fathin; now a Unitarian minister, came very close to being a professor, making it to "all but dissertation" status in American studies.

But it was Morales' grandfather who set him on the path towards astrophysics.

"Whenever the family had parties, my grandfather would haul the telescope out and we'd look at the planets. And I guess that's where it all began--just a matter of taking a winding path and following your nose," he says.

That path has led Morales to the halls of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was a postdoctoral scholar and a research scientist at the MIT-Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. It has taken him to Harvard University, where he's on his second postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Theory and Computation. The path has led him to teeming cities across the United States, Europe and Australia to present research. To collect that research, Morales' personal path has also taken him into the lonesome silence of remote places like the western Australian desert, where he spent months examining the depths of space using the immense radio telescopes at the Mileura Widefield Array.

The work Morales does in the field of radio astrophysics involves not just "looking at a time of the universe before the first stars had formed," explains his mentor and friend, Dr. Jacqueline Hewitt, director of the MIT-Kavli Institute. Morales is also leading the development of the instrument, the All-Sky Monitor (ASM) transient survey engine, that's doing the cosmological observations.

"Miguel's work has been critically important in pushing this project forward. He's got a lot of energy, and he's just plain smart," Hewitt says.

From an early age, there was always a fascination with science, but Morales says he ended up in physics almost by accident. He entered Swarthmore College leaning toward biology but not wanting to exclude engineering as a possibility. …

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