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Luke Berrigan and J.D. Armstrong

Luke Berrigan, a soon-to-be junior at King Kekaulike High School on Maui, is the latest to receive academic recognition for his work in astronomy, guided by the University of Hawaiʻi’s Institute for Astronomy (IfA). Berrigans research on the origin of ʻOumuamua, an interstellar asteroid first spotted by UH astronomers, was awarded second place for the Best in Category for Physics and Astronomy at the 2020 Hawaiʻi State Science and Engineering Fair.

The odd interstellar object first detected in 2017 by IfA’s Pan-STARRS facility on Haleakalā, brought worldwide focus once again to Hawaiʻi’s observatories and earned an ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi name meaning “distant messenger reaching out to us.”

This artist’s impression shows the first detected interstellar asteroid ʻOumuamua. (Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Berrigan’s project, “Investigating the Source of ʻOumuamua,” involved finding a source of the object’s trajectory toward the solar system from its last known home in the galaxy.

As a ninth-grader in 2018, Berrigan became interested in the IfA program, HI STAR (Hawaii Student/Teacher Astronomy Research). The one-week astronomy “camp” is designed to immerse students in the scientific process of inquiry, research and presentation skills. Guided by his IfA mentor and HI STAR director J.D. Armstrong, Berrigan launched his study on the mysterious cosmic visitor. This interest culminated in awards at both the Maui District and Hawaiʻi State Science Fairs.

“What I love about the HI STAR program is that it lets young people like me who have an interest in astronomy to come and learn about it and do projects with it,” he explained. “J.D. was my mentor. He helps anyone who wants to learn, and when somebody has questions, he will help explain it to them in a way that makes sense—he is just a really great mentor.”

HI STAR mentoring goals

Armstong has garnered praise from a number of students he has helped mentor that also went on to win science fair accolades. “I don’t believe in steering students toward winning awards,” said Armstrong. “It’s more important to teach them to think like scientists and become critical thinkers in whatever paths they eventually choose to pursue.”

Berrigan is determined to utilize the skills he has acquired to pursue his dreams. “I hope to follow a scientific path and become some sort of scientist. Space has always fascinated me, so the long term goal is to be an astronaut.”

The HI STAR program is in its 13th year. Program team members are comprised of IfA staff, faculty and grad students from Maui, Oʻahu and Hilo, with HI STAR alumni participating as program support. HI STAR camps are hosted on the UH Mānoa and UH Maui College campuses.

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