Kristen Luchsinger (A15) recently won a medal at the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Awards poster competition, held by the American Astronomical Society. We caught up with her to discuss her love of science and how the science program at St. John’s College prepared her for graduate studies in astronomy.
Science at St. John’s College
St. John’s College: How did you get interested in your scientific work?
Kristen Luchsinger: I wanted to be a theoretical physicist in high school and I read all sorts of books. Then I took a [high school] physics class and I decided that there was no way that I was going into physics. At St. John’s, we do a lot of astronomy. I really enjoyed that.
SJC: How is the science program at St. John’s different from the things you did in high school science?
KL: Science at St. John’s focuses a lot more on concepts and ideas, rather than just problem solving. St. John’s really allows you to look at the bigger picture and understand where the problem sets really fit in.
SJC: Is there an example from the Program of dealing with concepts instead of mere problem solving?
KL: I wrote an essay about Ptolemy and Job and how they were both received and how that allows people to think about the divine. You don’t think about Ptolemy and Job together, but it really clicked for me that astronomy is not just cool space stuff; it’s really a lot more than that. It answers a lot deeper questions.
SJC: How did you come up with your project, which won the American Astronomical Society’s poster contest?
KL: I had a [summer] internship at the National Radio-Astronomy Observatory. My mentor came up with the topic and I was working with him on researching it.
SJC: How did this inform what you want to do when you graduate?
KL: I had already been kind of thinking about grad school, going into astronomy, but this experience really shaped what I want to do in astronomy specifically.
SJC: Why do you want to go into astronomy?
KL: I wrote my senior essay on the role of beauty and belief in science, because EPR [Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen] concluded their quantum theory papers by saying, “We believe that such a theory exists.” And they were referring to a theory that describes everything. I think that science is, in a way, an art form. That sounds kind of silly to say out loud but I think that science is something that you should love and you should desire to see a beautiful result of your work.
For the Future Scientist
SJC: What would you say to a high school student who is looking at St. John’s who wants to be a scientist?
KL: St. John’s really does allow you to explore [the concepts], and you become prepared to do science without noticing it. You can go through the St. John’s program and never once think about doing science, but come out of it and realize that you’re completely prepared to go into a scientific career. I wanted to be a librarian for my first two-and-a-half years and I switched and immediately was prepared to go into science, even though you would think those two are very separate. St. John’s sneaks it in—the scientific mindset that you need.
—Brady Lee (AGI14)