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3 headshots of graduate students
From left, Madeline McKenna, Cory Gerrity and Travis Berger.

NASA awarded three graduate students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with $45,000 grants annually for up to three years for their contributions toward reaching science, technology and exploration goals.

Honored by the Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) program were atmospheric science student Madeline McKenna and astrophysics students Cory Gerrity and Travis Berger.

FINESST funding is quite competitive, so receiving three awards is indeed a great achievement for UH,” said Christina Karamperidou, assistant professor of atmospheric sciences in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST).

Madeline McKenna

The FINESST grant for principal investigator Karamperidou and SOEST doctoral student McKenna will support their investigation of persistent weather phenomena, called atmospheric blocking events. They cause mid-latitude jet streams to divert from their typical paths, often producing extreme weather such as heat waves, cold spells, droughts and floods.

Their research goal is to assess the relationship between El Niño and blocking events, and how this impacts the occurrences of extreme weather.

Cory Gerrity

Physicist Philip von Doetinchem and graduate student Gerrity will try to detect antimatter particles, in particular antideuterons, in cosmic rays that could be produced through annihilations and decays of the dark matter that dominates the mass of the universe. They are part of the General AntiParticle Spectrometer (GAPS) team searching for low-energy cosmic-ray antideuterons via a series of long duration balloon flights at high altitude in Antarctica.

Gerrity began his research for the GAPS experiment in von Doetinchem’s Cosmic Ray Antiparticle group when he arrived at UH Mānoa for graduate school in 2016. This award will support Gerrity’s continuation of research for the GAPS experiment for the next three years.

The GAPS experiment is slated for a first balloon flight for late 2021.

Travis Berger

Institute for Astronomy researcher Daniel Huber and graduate student Berger were honored for their project, “Revealing the Radius, Metallicity and Age Demographics of Kepler Exoplanets in the Gaia Era.” Their research uses data provided by the Gaia space telescope to improve the understanding of both the stars and extrasolar planets studied by the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

The ultimate goal is to reveal how planet properties change based on the properties of stars they orbit. This fellowship will help fund the remainder of Berger’s doctoral work, and will assist in his eventual applications for postdoctoral positions.

See the SOEST website for more.

—By Marcie Grabowski

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