UNIVARSITY.ORG | Summer of Research: Saving the Earth from Asteroids
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15 Jul Summer of Research: Saving the Earth from Asteroids



This video is part of a series on summer research opportunities for undergraduates at the University of Rochester, both for our own students, and for students from other research universities.

It’s a common plot line for disaster movies. An asteroid is speeding toward Earth, spelling certain doom unless some hero can step forward and save the day. While Hollywood might not always science right, researchers in the Infrared Research Laboratory at the University of Rochester know all too well how real that possibility is, given then right circumstances.

That’s why NASA has commissioned their lab and other researchers to develop the imaging technology that can spot these objects and potentially divert them before they can reach our orbit. NEOCam (Near-Earth Object Camera) will use infrared sensors that are being tested in this lab, with the help of a team that includes undergraduates like rising sophomore Diarra Bell, a double major in physics and astronomy, and computer science.

Working with Craig McMurtry, a senior research engineer in the lab, Diarra has been developing a computer program to analyze data that is being compiled by graduate students working in the lab. This data is related to the effectiveness of the infrared sensor at producing clear images.

The goal is to place these sensors inside a telescope that will travel in between the Earth and the Sun, scanning the solar system for asteroids that could pose a potential threat.

For Bell, the opportunity is unique, because she’s able to get experience working on research early in her time at Rochester, and determine if this is really what she wants to pursue. For McMurtry, the motivation to bring in a student at that stage is to have them trained for the long-term, so they can continue to help run the lab for several years, rather than waiting until they are almost ready to graduate, and then having to re-train another student.

While this lab may lack the glamor of Hollywood, having someone keep an eye on the skies and potentially rescue our planet from impending doom is quite heroic work indeed.

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