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Haroon Khan

Khan Visits NASA’s JPL as a National Community College Aerospace Scholar

He was hooked from the moment he read an astronomy book in second grade. After that, he read every astronomy book in his school library. Combine that with being selected as one of only 40 community college students in the nation to participate in a three-day Mars Rover project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, and spending a summer researching binary-black-holes, it’s confirmation of his life goal: to work for NASA.

In February, Santiago Canyon College (SCC) student Haroon Khan of Orange was selected from more than 1,000 applicants to participate in the National Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) project, a semester-long program culminating in a three-day visit to JPL. There he interacted with NASA engineers and learned about careers in science and engineering. Khan’s hypothetical Mars mission proposal, “The Mars Subterranean Hydrothermal Exploration Rover – MaSHER,” which included a 3-D design, objective, launch and travel timeline, and budget,  bolstered his admission into the program with a 97% score, while the average score was 30%.

“During my time at JPL,” says the 21 year-old electrical engineering major, “I knew this is why I want to be an engineer.” Khan’s proposed mission involved landing the MaSHER rover in Mars’ Valles Marineris canyon with the primary goal of finding underground sources of water, gas, and/or potential life-sustaining materials. A poster summarizing Khan’s program is available here.

Before receiving the NASA honor, Khan was selected last summer to participate in the intensive eight-week Summer Research Undergraduate Experience at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). Khan joined the Gravitational–Wave Physics and Astronomy Center where he assisted CSUF Professor Geoffrey Lovelace, Ph.D. with research on the mergers of binary-black-hole systems using computer simulations. This summer, Khan will return to the program not as a student, but as a research assistant for Lovelace running advanced experiments.

On April 14, Khan received the highest honor that the Honors Transfer Council of California bestows on a student—the Director’s Scholarship for his research on “Simulating Binary Black Hole Mergers to Predict Gravitational Waveforms.” Khan, who will also have the opportunity to publish his abstract, was selected out of 300 community college students throughout California.

Khan admits that through his multiple honors and opportunities, he has fallen in love with physics. In the fall, he will transfer to a four-year college where major in electrical engineering and a minor in physics.

* - Home page Rover photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech