Vicente is a Mechanical Engineering major who is also pursuing a minor in Physics, with an emphasis in Astronomy. Vicente spent the past summer working at the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in Mountain View, California. His work involved looking for man-made interference at the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a large radio telescope searching for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. This is his story.
Research at the Allen Telescope Array last summer didn’t quite meet my expectations as a mechanical engineering student. I’d always presumed engineering research to embody the classic “engineering” setting: noisy machines and a dust-grease atmosphere blurring scores of buttons and monitors. Nights spent in a dank dorm with none more than a pencil, pad of paper, a rickety PC, and a rusty metal ruler to keep me company.
This past summer, however, was a pleasant wakeup call; while I did spend nights alone with pencils, paper pads, rickety PCs, and measuring equipment (though a bit more sophisticated than your average ruler), I also learned something of the mantra overseeing research in general. My previous notions of the isolation in research – inferred from years of undergraduate competition in engineering classes - fell apart the first week. The class curve often forces science students to compete ruthlessly against each other. But this summer experience showed that, in the end, we’re all colleagues – particularly for this program – starry-eyed students hungry to learn and cooperatively contribute to the advancement of planetary science. While individual projects may not have seemed directly related on a surface level, we all recognized our connecting bond: our love and shared goal of advancing science.
And, hey, the breezy bike rides to and from the SETI Institute and the crisp, dewy morning walks to the Allen Telescope Array didn’t hurt (and neither did climbing an active volcano’s snowy peak in the middle of July). This summer experience obliterated my previously held research stereotypes and rekindled my childhood love of Astronomy. Engineering work and research in one of NASA’s research centers (such as JPL) is now one of my long-term goals. But for now, I have plenty left to learn as an undergrad. In the meantime, I will keep my gaze skywards.
To read more about Vicente’s experiences at the SETI Institute, click here.