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Spring 2014: Marcus Freeman

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Featured Graduate Student: Spring 2014

Marcus Freeman

Originally from New Hampshire, I spent a lot of time as a kid looking up at the night sky and at the many distant stars that dotted the darkness. Before long I knew that I wanted to understand what those points of light were, as well as what was out there in the black. I got a hold of books and read what I could throughout elementary school and high school. Then I went to undergrad at Williams College in Western Massachusetts, where I finally got the chance to get my hands dirty in Astronomy. I briefly studied planetary nebulae and solar physics (I even got to travel to Russia for a total solar eclipse) before writing an honors thesis on dark matter. After I finished my bachelor's in Astrophysics in 2010, I headed further west to Rochester to join the AST program at RIT. In the past three years that I've been here, I've spent time researching wind-blown bubbles and planetary nebulae again. I've also been given the chance to travel the world, to Spain and Mexico, and collaborate with other astronomers across the globe.


1) How would you describe your field of study/research to a friend who is not in your graduate program?

Astronomy isn't all about late nights looking through telescopes. Even though I look at beautiful objects in space called planetary nebulae, most of the images I work with come from space based telescopes, which unfortunately I am not allowed to go to. Specifically, I work with a space telescope called Chandra, which looks at X-rays from nebulae. From these images I try to understand why we see X-rays from them as well as how they make their interesting shapes.


2) What brought you to RIT for your graduate studies?

While applying to graduate schools I noticed a relatively young Astrophysics program at RIT, and I thought it would be interesting to be a part of something new. Something that I could have a hand in shaping. After visiting and discussing RIT life with the first generation of grad students I saw myself fitting in with the program as well as with the other students. Plus, Rochester has basically the same climate as my hometown, so it wouldn't be a big change.


3) What's been your best experience so far?

My best experience in the AST program has to be Imagine RIT 2012. It's always a lot of fun to work together with the other grad students in the program to come up with fun ways to talk with the public about what we do and about astronomy in general. In 2012 we did a tour of the life cycle of stars, which involved a fog machine, a weather balloon, and a very large tent. It was a blast.


4) What do you most enjoy about Rochester?

I love the size of Rochester. Not too big and not too small. During the spring I was able to walk through downtown and I got to go to the Museum of Play (which is tons of fun), and then over to a cupcake shop, and then lastly to a restaurant for dinner. It's a "just right" sized city.


5) What are your plans for after graduate school?

After graduate school I hope to get the chance to teach somewhere. While I would enjoy teaching at the college level, I think I would like to try teaching in a high school to help younger students find their path and show them that science isn't so scary.


6) What trait do you find most necessary to succeed in graduate school?

A continuing desire to learn. In Astronomy there are new things being discovered and reported every day across many different fields. Admittedly, it's hard to keep up with everything but it is important to read about new research in your field as well as others as much as possible. If you don't want to learn about new things outside of your specific research topic then you could find yourself too focused which can hurt you down the road.


7) Do you have any advice that you would give to a new graduate student in your program or someone considering graduate studies in astronomy?

To new graduate students, and to any grad student actually, I'd say be sure to find some stress reducing activities. There is a lot of work to be done and if you don't find something to distract you from it all you're going to burn out quick. To someone specifically considering graduate astronomy I'd say take the time to read about different topics so you will have a better idea of what you want to do research. Be sure to try to understand what sort of skills are involved, which will help you not only pick a grad school, but also help you determine what sort of path you're going to need to take.