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Honors Student Wins Summer Internship at Smithsonian

Young woman in jeans, safari hat stands in front of observatory.

A.J. Salois poses in front of the GEMINI telescope in La Serena, Chile, after a night spent observing and documenting light pollution.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – University of Arkansas Honors College student Ameé J. Salois will combine her passion for astronomy and public outreach this summer as an intern at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Salois is a senior from Granbury, Texas, and is pursuing a double major in physics and English literature in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. She is one of 15 students selected from across the nation to participate in the internship program.

   “We selected A.J. for the internship because she has a combination of experiences and interests that we think will help her make an impact from day one,” said Katherine Moore, coordinator of the Public Observatory Project at the National Air and Space Museum. “In addition, A.J.’s personal goals align well with the goals of our astronomy education programs and the museum as a whole. Her abilities to operate telescopes, educate the public and communicate clearly and creatively, and her experience with astronomical research, will be useful tools as an astronomy education intern this summer.”

   Salois will focus on planning and presenting educational programs on astronomy.

   “I’m excited – this sounds exactly like what I want to do,” she said. “I like to explain things to people that they thought they wouldn’t be able to understand. I hope to inspire every person I meet to appreciate science in an entirely new way.”

   Salois also hopes to develop an exhibit on light pollution, an issue she has championed through volunteer positions at the International Dark Sky Association and GLOBE at Night, a citizen science project to track light pollution around the world. She has facts at hand about the impact of light pollution on birds, bats, sea turtles and humans, but fundamentally she loves what she describes as the “glittering brilliance” of the Milky Way: “It is a treasure, and something that every person should be able to appreciate,” she wrote in her application essay.

   A.J. Salois’ internship builds on a previous summer studying white dwarf stars at the McDonald Observatory in Texas, where she also helped to host “star parties” for the general public.

   “The little kids would look through the telescope and see Saturn, and then they’d look at the other end and ask, ‘Where’s the sticker?’ It was so much fun to see their faces light up in surprise and wonder. That’s when I realized that public outreach was most fulfilling for me,” she said.

   Salois also spent a semester researching radio emissions from quasars and galaxies at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, and has twice presented her findings at annual meetings of the American Astronomical Society. This summer, an Honors College travel research grant will support her trip to the Astronomical Society of the Pacific national conference in Baltimore, Md., which will focus on science education and public outreach.

   On campus, Salois has engaged in research since her freshman year, when she participated in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute research program. Currently she is preparing to defend her honors thesis on V1094 Tau, a largely unstudied binary star system that she investigated with faculty mentor Claud Lacy, a professor of physics and member of the Honors College. Salois is considering graduate programs in science writing, museum studies, public policy and communications, but is leaning toward museum studies.

   “I enjoy the atmosphere in museums,” she said. “As a kid, I was always begging my parents to take me to science museums. Now I get to spend the entire summer in one!”

Salois will be blogging about her summer internship at http://mindpursuit.wordpress.com/.

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CONTACTS:


Kendall Curlee, director of communications
Honors College
479-575-2024, kcurlee@uark.edu


Ali Williams, interim director of communications
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-8402, art05@uark.edu