People: Alec Vinson
Alec Vinson

Alec poses in front of a scale model of the Cassini spacecraft, which provided the data used for Alec's work on Titan


Alec is physics major for whom astronomy has been a passion since Junior High school, when his father introduced him to one of his favorite shows, Carl Sagan's Cosmos. He has always been intensely curious about how the world works, and he participated in the CAMPARE program this past summer 2012 at JPL, to give himself the opportunity to learn more. This is his story.

Over summer 2012 I was given the opportunity of working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. I was incredibly excited to learn that I would be getting a chance to intern there. I've always followed the amazing work that they've done over there, and now I was going to be given the chance to work with and be around some of the most intelligent people in the world! And it was an exciting time to be at JPL, with NASA's flagship Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission having the landing of the Curiosity rover happening during my stay.

Alec Vinson

Alec meets Bill Nye the Science Guy after touchdown was confirmed at the Planetary Society's landing event for the Mars Curiosity rover, at the Pasadena Convention Center.

I had the pleasure of working with my mentor, Chuck Hays, and a group of planetary scientists who were all incredibly helpful. My project involved studying Saturn's moon Titan through data collected by JPL's Cassini spacecraft in the Saturn system. I examined radar images taken by Cassini's Synthetic-Aperture-Radar (SAR) instrument, which is used to penetrate Titan's thick hazy atmosphere to image the surface. My goal was to examine massive dune fields found on the moon's surface, and to find out more about morphological features of the dunes.

Alec Vinson

(From left to right) Brian, Mario, and Alec sitting in the main control room at JPL, while being given a quick tour of JPL by CPP Physics alumni Gregory Villar, who was on Curiosity's EDL team

The project was fascinating to me, and my entire experience at JPL was great. This was the first real research project I've ever undertaken, and I learned so much from this experience. Not only did I learn more about how to conduct research, but I also learned more about myself and what kinds of fields in physics and astronomy that I'd like to pursue. I was able to get out and mingle with not just planetary scientists, but all sorts of scientists and engineers at JPL and Caltech. And now my mentor has asked me to stay on and continue my work on this project during the Fall. This was a great experience, and I now look forward to continuing my work on the dunes of Titan.
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