McNair Scholars Profile: Aspiring Astronomer Conducts Out-of-this-World Research at CWU

Long before Isaac Smith set foot on the CWU campus, he had his sights set on becoming an astronomer.

Now, the first-generation college student is looking to capitalize on his one-of-a-kind experience in Ellensburg and carry that knowledge with him to graduate school.

“When I was applying to colleges, I was looking for a place that would provide me with opportunities to grow, and I knew that the larger schools wouldn’t be a good fit,” said Smith, a senior physics major from Spokane.

“Looking around the state, CWU was the only place that had a high-end telescope available to students, so that got me really excited. I’ve been able to spend around 400 hours working with ours, and that kind of experience is just incomparable.”

Over the past two years, Smith has been working with Professor Cassandra Fallscheer to build a spectrograph as part of his McNair Scholars research project. Unlike a telescope, which only sees in black and white, spectrographs help astronomers analyze colors in outer space and identify exoplanets.

With Fallscheer on sabbatical during fall quarter, Smith is now managing the project—something most undergrads could only dream about.

“Most undergrads, if they even get to do this kind of research, are usually just grunts,” he said. “But this summer, I got to help install a $70,000 piece of glass into a telescope. And that’s just one example.”

Smith, who also leads the CWU Astronomy Club, said it’s “all on me to get stuff done” while Fallscheer is away. But he’s up to the challenge.

“That never happens anywhere else, let alone in a setting where you are getting paid,” he said. “To say this opportunity is priceless would be an understatement.”

comments powered by Disqus