Rock Valley College astronomy students have certainly made a name for themselves in recent years. In 2010, three RVC astronomy students (Evelyn Pulkowski, Matthew Kelley, and Zachary Harker) were recognized by NASA for discovering a previously unknown asteroid near Earth. In 2013, Abby Becker was one of only eight community college students in the country chosen to participate in a National Science Foundation research opportunity.
Following in Becker’s footsteps is RVC student Max Adolphson. Last summer he was also one of only eight community college students selected from around the country to participate in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), a ten-week NSF-funded research training opportunity at Texas A&M University-Commerce, created specifically for community college students in physics and astronomy.
Recently, Adolphson had some of his findings from his research projects last summer published in The Minor Planet Bulletin, the official publication of the Minor Planets section of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers.
We caught up with Max to ask him more about his research, his findings, and his experience so far at Rock Valley College.
Can you talk a little about the experience you had at Texas A&M last summer and the subsequent findings you had published?
While living in Texas I was assigned a mentor to practice my research skills with. We were studying how fast asteroids in the main asteroid belt were rotating about their axis, or how fast they are spinning. We do this by measuring the difference in reflected light from the asteroid. Rotation Rates of asteroids was the focus of one of my papers. The other was using a new method of imaging to accurately determine the distance to an asteroid, producing a second paper. This research was conducted using telescopes from around the world and the research took 10 weeks to complete.
How long have you been interested in astronomy and why?
I have been interested in astronomy ever since I was a small child, but I never considered it as a major or a career. I never thought I could be “smart enough” to be an astrophysics major. But I have learned something while at RVC. It is not about your “smarts” it’s all about your interest and work ethic. If you are interested in a subject and work hard enough, I believe it is possible to be “smart” in any field.
I have been at RVC for four semesters now. During my time here I have joined two clubs and have taken leadership roles in both, while also completing my internship from summer 2014. I am currently the president of the Mathematics, Engineering, Physics, and Astronomy Club and the Vice President of Leadership for Phi Theta Kappa. I love getting involved at RVC. I have come to learn it is a great way to make new friends!
What do you plan to do after RVC?
After I leave RVC I plan to go to either the University of Wisconsin – Madison or the University of Colorado – Boulder to pursue my bachelor’s degree in physics. After I finish my undergraduate I would like to go to graduate school to obtain my Ph.D in a branch of physics.
How well and in what ways has RVC prepared you for your next step?
I was only made aware of the research opportunity through the RVC MEPA club. If I had not got involved who knows if I would have gone through the same experience. Also, academically, one of my research projects I conducted over the summer was directly reliant on the understanding of the six basic trigonometric functions. RVC’s trigonometry course helped prepare me for the mathematics involved in my research.
Are there any misconceptions about astronomy that you would like to clear up?
As I stated earlier, you do not have to be any sort of “genius” to be proactive in the fields of physics and astronomy. Showing interest in the fields and getting involved is the best way to learn! Once you get involved, the knowledge comes with it.
Learn more about the Introduction to Astronomy course offered at Rock Valley College.