Monday, May 1, 2017

UNO Engineering and Math Student Lands Competitive Fellowship with Australian Astronomical Observatory

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Sophomore Prerak Chapagain isn’t one to sit around in his spare time.

What are you doing this summer?

Tell us! We want to hear from students who are spending their summers engaged in interesting study, travel, work, volunteerism, etc. Email, subject line "My Summer 2017."

A recipient of the University of New Orleans’ prestigious Homer Hitt Scholarship, Chapagain is also an Orientation Leader, a UNO Ambassador and a peer mentor, and he holds leadership positions on Honors Student Council, the Nepalese Student Association of New Orleans and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers at UNO.

So, it stands to reason that with the whole summer ahead of him, the electrical engineering and mathematics double major was on the lookout for the perfect internship opportunity.

He got it.

This summer, Chapagain will head to Sydney, Australia for 12 weeks to work with the Australian Astronomical Observatory. The 19-year-old Nepal native was one of six people selected for the paid summer program, which is open to students from across the globe who are studying astronomy, astrophysics, applied physics, engineering, math or other related subjects. Students are chosen for the fellowship based on academic merit, a candidate’s statement and the strength of their academic references. Andrew Hopkins, head of research and outreach at the  Australian Astronomical Observatory, said there were 10 times as many applicants as spaces.

“Just imagining researching with dynamic reputed people about different data from planets and deducing the most energy efficient methods to explore outer space feels great,” Chapagain wrote to the Australian Astronomical Observatory, a division of the nation’s federal government. “To be able to do that in a beautiful country like Australia and work with people ready to bring a change in the field of astronomy is definitely the right way to spend my summer.”

Chapagain said his work at the agency will be focused on helping to research and develop a new robotic device that has the ability to accurately position large payloads over the focal surfaces of what are known as “extremely large telescopes,” or ELTs.

The internship provides an opportunity for Chapagain to combine his lifelong interests in engineering and astronomy. The son of a civil engineer, Chapagain said his father at first encouraged him to pursue English. But Chapagain said he knew early that he loved mathematics and physics—and ultimately that passion pushed him to pursue a route that would allow him to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Chapagain, who is on track to graduate in May of 2019, said his ultimate goal is to work in the field of renewable energy and efficient energy conversion. He said that while the U.S. is appealing for international students, his ambition is to take his experience back to Nepal, where he sees potential for hydropower in areas of the country with only limited access to electricity.

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