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CAS Success Story

Alumni Success Story

Prestigious Internships Land
Physics Student Among the Stars

By Jessica Tabak

photo courtesy of Johanna Teske

Johanna Teske, BS Physics ’08, has always wanted to study the stars, but a string of prestigious undergraduate internships shifted her sights from the theoretical world of cosmology to the more observation-based field of astrophysics.

During her sophomore year, she completed her first internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where she worked on modeling photon orbits around black holes. While there, Teske had the opportunity to attend seminars on a wide variety of astronomical topics, from missions to the outer solar system to exploding stars. “There were so many subdisciplines that my eyes were opened to,” she says. “It made me see what was out there.”

The following year, Teske interned at the Maria Mitchell Association on Nantucket, a small island 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast and home to America’s first female astronomer. It was an ideal place to observe the skies. “You walk out there and see the brilliant moon and vast expanse of stars and it is absolutely breathtaking,” she recalls. Through her research on the chemical elements present in recently “deceased” stars, Teske gained “a better picture of what it meant to be a real astrophysicist.”

During the summer before her senior year, Teske collected and analyzed data on galaxy interactions at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She presented her independent research at the 211th Annual American Astronomical Society Meeting in January 2007 in Austin, Texas.

As a senior, Teske interned at the Carnegie Institute of Washington’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, where she characterized the composition of gas around young stars and searched for signatures of forming planets. With the help of grants from the physics and math departments, the honors program, and the CAS dean’s office, she attended the International Astronomical Union’s symposium on organic matter in space at the University of Hong Kong in February 2008.

Teske is currently enrolled in an astrophysics graduate program at the University of Arizona. Her studies are supported by a prestigious National science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.