UCF Students Help Organize, Present at Space Conference in France

UCF Students Help Organize, Present at Space Conference in France

Kelsey Hargrove, a graduate student studying planetary physics, achieved two of her dreams this summer.

She traveled to France earlier this month to give a talk at an international conference focused on future missions to asteroids, and she met a scientist many consider a rock star in the field.

“It was great,” said the student from Satellite Beach. “We discussed my research and he gave me wonderful advice and insight. It just wouldn’t have been the same over Skype or on the phone..”

Hargrove presented at the Asteroid Spectroscopy in Support of Gaia conference (http://assg2013.sciencesconf.org/ ) June 6-7. The conference gathered 43 experts in asteroids to discuss the October launch of the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission. (http://sci.esa.int/gaia/47354-fact-sheet/ ) The ambitious mission aims to map 1 percent of the stars in the Milky Way, or about 1 billion stars. The spacecraft instruments also have the capacity to detect Apohele asteroids – those that orbit between the Earth and the sun and which are difficult for ground telescopes to detect.

Three other UCF students also had the opportunity of watching the conference grow from its inception, thanks to professor Humberto Campins. Leaders at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur asked Campins to organize the event for the European community because of his expertise.

Campins is known internationally for leading a team of scientists, which discovered water on an asteroid in 2010. He’s also part of NASA’s upcoming OSIRIS-REx mission and the European Space Agency’s planned Marco Polo mission, both designed to recover samples from asteroids.

Research is important to Campins, he said, but so is teaching and preparing the next generation of scientists. That’s why he invited two students to help him organize the conference and two more to present their own work.

“This was a particularly good opportunity for these UCF students and I am proud of how well they performed during the conference,” Campins said.

The conference offered the students practical opportunities to use their organizational and subject-specific skills and the chance to interact with some of the brightest scientists in the field, he said.

“I absolutely loved the experience,” said Chrissy Comfort, who is majoring in international and global studies and completing a minor in physics. “It was humbling to be surrounded by an international assortment of astronomers. I learned so much more than I imagined, not only from the presentations, but from interacting on an individual level with the other presenters.”

For finance major Alexandra Betrone-Harpst, the conference gave her a chance to flex her organizing and finance skills. She met Campins when taking an undergraduate physics course and was spending a year in France as part of a study-abroad program when the opportunity came up.

And for Zoe Landsman, a graduate student and research assistant in the physics department, her first travel and conference outside the United States was “awesome.”

The Oviedo resident helped organize the conference and also helped Campins during the two-day event. She also gave her first international talk.

“Getting to hear the latest research first-hand is a fantastic learning experience,” Landsman said. “I am so grateful to Dr. Campins for giving his students the great opportunity.”

Hargrove agrees. She says that if it weren’t for Campins, she wouldn’t have had the networking opportunity.

“I met many top scientists in my field,” she said. “I believe these new connections will be crucial after I graduate when I’m looking for post doctorate positions or even further along in my career. We work in a really small field. Everybody knows each other so it was definitely important that we students had the opportunity to attend this meeting.”