UCF to Celebrate Arecibo Observatory Birthday

By: Zenaida Kotala on

The Arecibo Observatory will celebrate its 55th birthday next week, and as part of the festivities the University of Central Florida will host a program with one of its scientists.

Kristen Jones, a post-doctoral fellow working at the NSF-funded facility in Puerto Rico, will be at UCF talking about the observatory and how it helps her research, which focuses on the interaction between active supermassive black holes and the galaxies in which they exist.

UCF and its partners – Universidad Metropolitana and Yang Enterprises Inc. – took over management of the facility in April. To celebrate the anniversary, the facility in Puerto Rico will be hosting several hands-on workshops and guest speakers at the facility from Monday through Nov. 2. Exclusive content will be shared on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Jones will visit UCF and share her story on Monday, Oct. 29. She will speak at 3 p.m. at the Florida Space Institute in Central Florida Research Park. There is no cost to attend.

Jones began her career by developing instrumentation to study the cosmic microwave background while at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics and astrophysics. She earned one of the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grants in 2008, which allowed her to spend several months developing an 800 MHz receiver at the Arecibo Observatory. That’s when she said she fell in love with Arecibo.

She went on to work at the Dark Cosmology Centre, which is part of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. She earned her doctorate in astronomy as an NSF graduate fellow from the University of Virginia. When the opportunity at Arecibo materialized in 2016, she jumped at the chance to return to Puerto Rico.

“I’d worked there as an undergraduate doing a summer research project 10 years earlier and had fallen in love with the island, the mountains, the rainforest, and the incredible engineered phenomenon that is the observatory,” Jones said. “The science potential is unparalleled at any facility around the world.”

She’s eager to share her work and open the world of physics and space to students. She was a first-generation student and credits a high school tech class with hooking her on science.

“I got to play with lasers, build towers out of matchsticks, and program robotic arms as well as play in the machine shop and race my own machine-carved CO2-cartridge-powered PineCar,” Jones said. “I loved learning how everything worked so I went into physics when I went to college. It was really hard, especially as I was a first-generation low-income student. I didn’t really even know how to sit down and study or work for hours at a time on a problem. But as soon as I took my first astronomy class I was hooked — especially when we learned about how electron degeneracy pressure (a result of quantum mechanics, which affects the smallest things in the universe) played a role in the life cycle of stars.”

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