Cal Poly Pomona Physics and Astronomy Student Evan Nuñez Receives the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Award
Evan Nuñez’s journey to Cal Poly Pomona started as a child when he watched documentaries about astronomy with his mother. His mother once majored in the subject and though she didn’t complete her degree, it remained a lifelong interest that her son inherited. One day his mother took him to the library and while exploring a book on Venus he came to the realization that astronomy was for him. At that time he didn’t even know exactly what astronomers did, but in high school he learned that in order to pursue his passion for the stars he needed to improve his math skills and study physics, which he did.
Nuñez’s experience at El Camino Community College was formative. There he found a nurturing environment and encouragement from professors. That encouragement included information about CAMPARE. It’s important to note that the Director of CAMPARE is Cal Poly Pomona Professor Alexander Rudolph. The program is a network of CSU and community colleges from which students are recruited to participate in 8-10 week research projects during the summer. Nuñez researched the offerings and saw that University of Wyoming had a very good telescope and since his interest was in observational astronomy he applied. He recalls “I got to live the astronomer’s dream, driving up to the telescope every night and recording data.” He was looking at quasars. The quasar research was his first exposure to the research world and it reaffirmed his passion for astronomy.
After the CAMPARE experience Nuñez presented at a research symposium at Cal Poly Pomona. During that symposium he met Professor Povich who invited him to join his research group and apply to the Cal-Bridge program. Nuñez had been accepted at Berkeley, UCLA and UC Santa Cruz but chose Cal Poly Pomona. His research work with Professor Povich and Professor Breanna Binder is what earned him the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Award. Only 5 undergraduate submissions are selected out of over 100 entries. The title of the poster he presented to judges at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington D.C. was, “Characterizing Intermediate-Mass Pre-Main-Sequence Stars via X-Ray Emission.” The research aims to determine the age of very young regions of the galaxy. Researchers looked at the Great Nebula in Carina and used the x-ray emission of intermediate-mass pre-main-sequence stars to determine the age of the region. What excites Nuñez most is the potential to gain insight into which stars may have solar systems and the potential for life.
The research required running models that required a lot of input and Nuñez says that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Dr. Binder. Nuñez was impressed by how supportive Binder and Povich have been. They ensured he had access to all the software he needed to do the work and taught him how to run it and interpret the data. Nuñez said they made him feel at ease with asking questions. After Nuñez earns his BS degree his goal is to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics. His experience at Cal Poly Pomona has inspired him to consider teaching as a profession. Though Nuñez likes research, he feels it would be an honor to be able to do for others what his professors have done for him.