John A. Johnson of the California Institute of Technology
I started out as an aerospace engineering student as a freshman at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Then I switched to mechanical engineering my sophomore year, before settling on physics for my bachelor’s degree. While studying physics, I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and I decided I wanted to study experimental cosmology. So I applied to a bunch of West Coast physics programs, and on a whim, I applied to the University of California, Berkeley, astronomy program. I had never taken an astronomy class in my life, and the first time I looked through a telescope was when I was 21 years old!
To my surprise, I was admitted to the Berkeley graduate program, and I met with Geoff Marcy during my campus visit. After talking with him and reading an article of his in Astronomy magazine (March 2000 issue), I was hooked on exoplanets. I was enamored by the sci-fi aspect of finding other worlds and by the considerable technical challenges involved.
Today, I like being the first human on Earth to know something and then sharing that discovery with other people. When my team finds a new planet, we’re the first humans to know of its existence. I find that discovery process absolutely exhilarating.
Courtesy John A. Johnson