Artist concept of our Milky Way galaxy

Jobs in the 21st century are only getting better and better, as the call for students with planet-finding talent grows louder. Through the Michelson Fellowship Program, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., recently awarded three post- doctoral and four graduate fellowships to students with innovative proposals for enhancing NASA's search for planets around other stars.

"Support of students -- our future astronomers and space scientists -- is a high priority for NASA and JPL," said Dr. Rudolf Danner, director of the fellowship program. "Not only will we benefit from the high caliber of their research, the recipients will have a unique opportunity to participate in current mission work, as well as to prepare for new career opportunities in astronomy."

Funded by NASA's Origins Program and JPL's Space Interferometry Mission, the fellowships are named for Dr. Albert Michelson, the first American to win a Nobel Prize in physics. Michelson is known as the father of interferometry, a technique that combines and processes light from multiple telescopes to obtain a clear image of distant objects. Interferometry is a key technology for the Origins program in its effort to detect faint, Earth-size planets around stars light years away.

The annually awarded fellowship sponsors three years of graduate research at the student's host institution and covers tuition, a student stipend, and a small budget for travel and other research expenses. The graduate student award is about $30,000 per year, while the post-doctoral awards range from $60,000 to $80,000 per year, depending on the nature of the research.

This year's graduate fellowships were awarded to:

Yuan Liu, State University of New York at Stony Brook, who will develop a technique to detect binary (double) stars;

David Berger, Georgia State University in Atlanta, who will develop a method to reduce the obscuring effects of the atmosphere in ground-based telescopic observations;

Doug Hope, University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, who will apply information theory -- the theoretical understanding of how computer algorithms work -- to the analysis of images taken by optical interferometers; and,

Kuo-Chia (Alice) Liu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, who will study the engineering challenges associated with large space interferometers, seeking ways of taking more and better images within a shorter amount of time.

Post-doctoral fellowships were awarded to:

Dr. Marc Kuchner, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, who will study the earliest stages of planet formation by looking for dust around nearby stars at Harvard University's Center for Astrophysics, Boston, Mass.;

Dr. Maciej Konacki, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Poland, who will develop new methods for planet detection at Caltech; and,

Dr. Jean-Philippe Berger, Observatoir de Grenoble, France, who will pursue research at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics on ways to combine the light from several telescopes so that they act as a single, much larger one.

The application deadline for fellowships for 2001 is December 2000. Information is available at the following website:

The Origins Program seeks to understand the emergence and development of galaxies, stars, and planets, as well as the possibility for life elsewhere in the universe. JPL, a division of Caltech, manages the Origins Program on behalf of NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC.

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