Major in Physics, minor in Earth Science
Jack Dechow ‘19 was selected for NASA's 2018 Student Airborne Research Program (SARP), an eight-week summer internship opportunity that provides undergraduate students with hands-on scientific research experience while using aircraft in the NASA Airborne Science Program.
Explain what you've been doing this summer.
I've been working for NASA in its Earth Science program. Technically, I am working under the NSRC (National Suborbital Research Center). The program I am a part of is called the Student Airborne Research Program (SARP). This goal of the program is to give opportunities to students from smaller, less research-oriented schools to do high-level research and therefore be more competitive when moving on to further schooling (i.e., graduate school) opportunities. Airborne science is an intermediate between satellite imagery and ground-based measurements. I flew on the NASA DC-8 Flying Laboratory for a total of 7.5 hrs in June and assisted some of the scientists with their measurements. One of the coolest things we did was fly through an active fire in the Fresno area and measure CO2 [carbon dioxide] and other atmospheric gas levels.
I am in the ocean-based remote sensing group. Remote sensing essentially means using satellite data to measure properties of the Earth, in my case the ocean. I am working with Professor Raphael Kudela from University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), and his graduate Ph.D. student Henry Housekeeper. My individual project is measuring the response of coastal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel to the influx of debris from the Montecito Mudslide that occurred in early January of this year. I am using satellite data to track the plume of debris as it is mixed into the channel waters by surface currents, as well as deeper currents like the California current.
What are some of the coolest or most surprising things you've learned or done through the program so far?
Along with flying through the fire, I spent a day on a research cruise in the Pacific Ocean. I got to measure several characteristics of the water, as well as be directly involved with taking samples and working on the boat. We also collected data on some local beaches.
How do you think your Knox experience helped prepare you for this?
Professor [Mark] Shroyer in the physics department (also my academic advisor) has had a huge impact on me as a person and as a scientist. He has constantly pushed me and countless other physics students to work hard and ask the question "Why not?" when it comes to putting yourself out there even if maybe you don't think you're qualified enough. The entire physics department has been like a second home to me at Knox, and I truly appreciate my time here. Professor [Katherine] Adelsberger in the environmental studies department (my minor advisor) really introduced me to the world of earth science and encouraged me to apply to this program, even though as a physics student I felt that I didn't have the necessary background. Now I'm getting ready to apply for graduate school in the field of earth science.
Another strong influence on me at Knox has been my time in Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE). I think the access to leadership roles helped me become a more responsible and well-rounded individual. It's also nice to have an extra 25+ people rooting for you. The environment at Knox truly is conducive to coming into your own true self and learning that maybe you don't want to do what you did when you were fresh out of high school, but instead find something even more exciting to work towards.
How does your participation in this program fit in with your future plans?
I'm planning on applying to graduate programs in several fields. Most of them in the larger earth science field, but also some physics programs as well as planetary science. I think for me, this program has really solidified what I wanted to do going for. Last year I was unsure, but now I have a dream program called "Watershed Science," working with hydrology and hydrated soils. The sense of direction I gained here has been immense.
(Photos courtesy of Megan Schill: Megan K. Schill Photography)