College of Science

Evan H Nunez

Evan H Nunez

I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to study a subject that has inspired me since I was young. Like every other astronomer I became interested in astronomy when I was young and made a decision very early on that I wanted to be an astronomer. What that interest has turned into is quite miraculous honestly. I have done research for the past 4 years, outreach for the past 4 years, have developed a deeper passion for science and can say that I have greatly exceeded the expectations for someone of my ethnicity (Black and Mexican).

In total I have researched at 4 institutions: UCLA, University of Wyoming, Cal Poly Pomona, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. All of these institutions were fantastic and I am very thankful to have been affiliated with any of them. The quickest of them was at UCLA where I did second hand research with 2 others. The most fun of them was at the University of Wyoming where I got to live the astronomer's dream of driving up to a telescope, taking data, driving back to reduce data to be useful for science then conduct science at the end of the summer. The most productive of them was at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics where I worked on a project that I had no prior background on but moved quickly enough to exceed my mentors expectations of what we could achieve in 10 weeks. The longest and most fulfilling project that I have worked on has been here at Cal Poly Pomona with Dr. Matthew Povich.

My project focuses on the X-ray properties of Intermediate-Mass Pre-Main-Sequence Stars in the Great Carina Nebula with the ultimate goal of using them as sensitive chronometers (clocks) for young (< 10 Myr) star-forming regions. I first worked on IR modeling to classify our stars then transitioned to visually reviewing the x-ray spectra of the sources. The tools I picked up were coding in IDL and Python, using X-ray software such as High Energy Astrophysics Software (HEASoft) and Chandra Interactive Analysis of Observations (CIAO). This project has increased my discipline because I needed to keep myself on a set schedule of reviewing ~10 sources a day to leave myself a reasonable amount of time for classes and analysis. In the details of the project, especially coding, there have been many roadblocks that seemed like there was no solution, but I always found a way to persist and find a solution. I am currently preparing this research to be published in the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ).

I began working on this project Summer 2017 and will continue working on it until I graduate in Spring 2019. The reason it has been the most fulfilling is because I have given invited talks about this research to my alma mater’s West Torrance High School and El Camino College, current institution Cal Poly Pomona and an invited talk in Sacramento (CSU Student Research Competition). This research also lead to a poster that I presented at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) 231 in National Harbor, MD in the winter of 2018 and at the Chandra Workshop on Accretion in Stellar Systems in Cambridge, MA in the summer of 2018. Upon presenting my poster at AAS, I was named one of five Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Medalist out of 100 undergraduate who presented posters. This was a very humbling moment for me since it transformed my hard work into a tangible medal.

All of the accolades aside I am just happy and humbled to be able to conduct on a research that has been a part of me in a field that is not populated by folks like me. There is underrepresentation of minorities in STEM fields and Astronomy is not exempt from this. But my success and others like me are changing that around. Being part of this transition is very fulfilling and we will begin to see more and more folks like myself in the field.

Science is for everyone. Astronomy is for everyone. So let's get everyone who wants to conduct science in. Let's get to work.