Heather Duckworth

Columbia University
New York, NY


2009 NASA Ames Academy Alumni

Ever since I attended the Educational Program for Gifted Youth Summer Program at Stanford University on Einstein's Theory of Relativity, I have had a passion for astronomy and cosmology that is endless and ultimate. At Stanford, I studied special and general relativity and visited the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC). The visit to SLAC opened my eyes and inspired me to pursue my deep rooted interest in Astrophysics. I have continued to follow my academic curiosity and have not stopped learning since years ago. Soon after my journey at Stanford, I continued on to Harvard to take more astronomy courses over the summer. Here I was able to work with telescopes and astrophysics software with labs and stimulations. I was able to experience a taste of the NASA world at Harvard through a few hands on projects. Those experiences at Stanford and Harvard led me to the next step of my journey.

Finally, I have landed at Columbia University and yearn for more every day. This past summer, and currently, I worked on a NASA funded project at Columbia University called GALEX under Professor David Schiminovich. I taught myself how to write computer programs using the Python programming language. This experience unveiled a whole other aspect of astrophysics that I had never seen. I spent days on end perfecting Python programs that graphed thousands of data points, matched 125,000 GALEX images with the low-z catalog from Sloan Digital Sky Survey, separated NUV and FUV data from large fits files, and much more. This Spring I worked to put together a catalog of recently accumulated GALEX data that will soon be released to the public. Working with GALEX has made me realize the incredible impact that astrophysics has on our lives. In addition, I recently took a trip to Kitt Peak and the Keck Telescope in Tuscon, Arizona to work with the 1.3 and 2.4 meter MDM telescopes. I worked with spectroscopy and photometry software to gather data on different types of stars.

My strongest areas of interest are cosmology, black holes, relativity, and quantum mechanics. Following my BA in Astrophysics, I hope to go to graduate school and someday work in the astrophysics world in some capacity at NASA. On top of my research experience last summer at Columbia working with GALEX data, looking into the research and experimental world at NASA will more clearly help me understand how my astronomy education is applied. In Stephen Hawking's words, "I could be bound in a nutshell, but still count myself a King of Infinite Space." I strive to be that King of Infinite Space, well I guess Queen in my case, and one day, my drive and dedication, as evidenced in my eight years of interest in astrophysics and space will lead me to my goals.

Extracurricular Interests:

I am also a professional dancer, performing as a Radio City Rockette. In addition to my passion for science, I am a dancer, singer, and actress. I have performed in musical theatre since I was young, and have danced since age three. I was nominated for 2 AriZoni Awards for Best Supporting Actress. On top of dancing, I have also choreographed children's productions, attended All-State Choir, and attended the Interlochen Arts Camp for 2 summers as a flautist.

In addition, I have had immense involvement with the American Cancer Society. My mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor. And so, I have been fundraising for the American Cancer Society since I began high school in 2002. I have been Team Captain for Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society fundraiser, for 6 years. Last year, I served on the planning committee for Relay for Life at Columbia University. Also, in 2004, I began a club at my high school called Wolves Pride Against Cancer where I served as Founder and President for two years. In addition, I directed and choreographed a fundraising performance called "Cured: An Upbeat Musical Review." Total, I have raised over $7,000 for the American Cancer Society. This leadership opportunity not only helps the American Cancer Society, but also gives hope to my mother that one day there will be a cure.