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Local teen tracks asteroid

Jason Kim studies astrophysics at renowned research college

When Jason Kim needed to select a summer internship for the Math, Science and Technology Magnet Program at Camas High School, he went far beyond local opportunities.

“I am really interested in astronomy, and there really aren’t places I could do internships here due to the weather, so I began researching programs outside of the area.”

Kim applied for the Summer Science Program at the New Mexico Institute of Technology, not really expecting much.

“It was a very pleasant surprise when I was accepted,” he said. “I was pretty happy.”

Kim didn’t realize it at the time, but he was headed into the most intense, humbling 39 days of his life.

He was one of only 36 science students from around the world accepted into the program. Since 1959, it has offered teens their first taste of what research at a university level is all about. Kim and fellow students worked closely with university professors, met prominent guest speakers and took behind-the-scenes tours of local scientific, educational and cultural sites.

During the program, Kim and fellow students operated a research grade telescope to capture images of a near-earth asteroid, then wrote software to measure its position and calculate its orbital path, including the chance it will impact Earth in the future.

“I developed some really close friendships during my time with the program,” he said. “Because of how difficult the work was, if you tried to do it alone, you couldn’t. It forced you to collaborate and work with others.”

The ultimate goal of the program was to observe and determine the orbit of a near earth asteroid orbiting the sun. A typical day involved six hours of lectures on topics including astronomy, physics and programming.

“Then, we would spend the rest of the day and night working on our homework,” Kim said. “We also had different shifts for observing and imaging an asteroid.”

Kim noted that a highlight of the program for him was learning to be humbled.

“There are a lot of incredibly smart people out there, far smarter than I will ever be,” he said. “There was one guy who was amazing at programming. I used to think I was good at it, then I met him. It was just incredibly rewarding to be able to work with these people, who were also very nice.”

As he begins his senior year at CHS, Kim is taking a few lessons he learned during his internship with him.

“There’s an astronomy club at the high school, and it has pretty much been handed to me,” he said. “What I learned this summer will be useful to talk about with the club, and we are thinking of even building a telescope.”

As far as his future career choice goes, Kim is undecided.

“I am very open to many opportunities,” he said.

He added that 39 days in New Mexico made him appreciate the local area more.

“I love the Pacific Northwest and I think it is an amazing place to live,” Kim said.