Jason Kalirai of the Space Telescope Science Institute
My dad tells me that I was always a curious kid, famous for asking the question “Why?” Since I can remember, more than anywhere else, I applied this curiosity to the night sky. I wanted desperately to know what was out there. How big was the Universe? How many stars were there? Is our planet unique? It probably helped that I grew up in a small town in the central part of British Columbia Canada called Quesnel. There was no light pollution, so the night sky was very dark and beautiful.
Through grade school, I fell in love with science and mathematics. Science answered my curiosity through a logical process, and mathematics was an elegant universal language that I could use as a tool. In high school, I was introduced to physics, and it blew my mind. I loved to manipulate equations and especially enjoyed solving a problem that I had never seen before. My grade 11 physics teacher introduced me to astrophysics, and I never turned back. I had found something very rewarding for me personally, and couldn’t believe that I could actually get paid to do it.
Today, I feel that my interest in astronomy still hasn’t piqued. I’ve never thought of my “job” as me going to “work.” I want to tackle new mysteries about the Universe, and spending time solving those problems is a part of who I am.
For my research, I’m very excited to use new technology to see populations of stars that have eluded us in the past. By pushing fainter and deeper with the greatest telescopes that humans have ever built, not only do I get to solve problems, but I also witness new mysteries emerging.
In addition, one of my true fascinations is when I see a young student becoming excited about a scientific problem for the first time. I spend about one day every month doing public outreach. I have collaborations with local schools in Maryland and also enjoy giving public lectures about space science, telescopes, and my research program to large audiences. Many middle school students have never met a scientist before. I can see their eyes light up with curiosity when I speak to them, and its rewarding to know that they may end up following the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in the future.
NASA/ESA/M. Kalirai (for STScI)