Sukrit Ranjan

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Boston, MA

Physics

Principal Investigator: Nathalie Cabrol
Project: Mars Habitability and Life Potential Through Mission Data Analysis and Exploration of Terrestrial Analogs

Professional History and Motivation:

Ever since sighting Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997, I have been hooked on astrophysics. From building experiments for the space shuttle in high school to conducting research on extrasolar planets in college, astrophysics has continued to inspire and drive me. My experiences, both within the classroom and without, have convinced me that I want to pursue research and teaching in astrophysics. In pursuit of this dream, I majored in physics at MIT and have now enrolled in a PhD program in astronomy at Harvard.

NASA has always inspired me. In high school, I participated in the NASA Student Involvement Program, designing, building and executing experiments for NASA vehicles such as the Space Shuttle and suborbital rockets, and high-altitude balloons. Becoming involved with NASA and actually participating in science was a fantastic and inspirational experience, and inspired me to continue research in college. From correcting astrometry software to studying the Earth's ionosphere, from searching for yellow supergiants in M31 to examining the influence of Martian topography on clouds, my passion for the space sciences has continued to drive me.

Most recently, I have been very excited to work on the search for extrasolar planets and evidence of life (biosignatures). Since summer 2008, I have worked to understand how to better detect and model exoplanets, and on how to detect atmospheric biosignatures on these worlds. This is the stuff of science fiction translated to facts! Forty years ago, humans landed on the Moon, establishing a beachhead to the heavens, forever shattering the divide between the celestial and terrestrial realms that had defined the human experience since the dawn of time. Today, I have an opportunity to participate in the quest to determine whether we are alone in the cosmos. I hope to pursue this quest at the NASA Academy by working in astrobiology or exoplanets, noted strengths at Ames.

I look forward to the Academy as an opportunity to grow not just as a researcher, but also as a leader. I look forward to taking advantage of the team-focused atmosphere of the Academy to learn how to effectively interact with a large research team, both as a member as well as a leader. Leading student groups and research teams at MIT has taught me that team-based work, if done right, is both more rewarding and more productive. I hope to continue to learn how to build more effective collaborations. I further hope to take advantage of my time at NASA Ames to better understand the nature of its exploratory and scientific mission, and to understand how I can best contribute to it.

Extracurricular & Leisure Activities

A central part of my college experience has been the time spent and shared with my friends with whom I hang out and explore MIT, science, and life in general. From planning a community Thanksgiving dinner as a living group Chair to organizing dinner with professors as President of the Society of Physics Students, from organizing game- nights as Strategic Games Society President to late nights spent defending students rights with the Student Committee on Educational Policy, my experiences with my peers have been inspiring and fulfilling.

Teaching astronomy is as important to me as researching it. Every time that I go in front of the students, I recall what inspired me about astronomy. It renews my passion for it. At MIT, I have taken every opportunity available to me to share the wonders of space, from mentoring local students in science fair projects to teaching courses at MIT and in Spain. As a NASA ambassador, I have founded and organized a course that brings local high-school students to MIT, to explore the night sky with telescopes.

I am an explorer at heart. While astronomy gives me a chance to explore the universe, I also enjoy exploring the air, land and sea of our earth. I enjoy hiking, and from trekking the mountains of New Hampshire with classmates to hiking the Grand Canyon with my fellow astronomers, I have found it a great way to explore nature and bond with friends. Similarly, participating in an underwater archaeological excavation in Italy, taking advantage of a Flying Club scholarship to see the New England foliage from above, and organizing water-gun fights in sailboats on the Charles River have all been great experiences. I look upon going to NASA Academy as not just an amazing academic growth opportunity, but also a chance to experience a whole new level of adventure. I look forward to new voyages of exploration with my fellow Academites.