Southeast Alumna Taking Love of Planetary Science to Next Level at MIT

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Southeast Missouri State University alumna Samantha Hasler plans to take her love of planetary science to the next level at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she has been admitted and awarded a fully funded fellowship as a doctoral student in the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences department beginning in fall 2020.

“I wanted to study at MIT because they have some of the most active researchers in the planetary science field,” says Hasler. “When I started looking for Ph.D. programs, I wanted to find a place that would allow me to study exoplanets and habitability at the same time. MIT will be an ideal place for me to conduct research with scientists who have similar research ideas and years of experience.”

Hasler earned a Bachelor of Science in physics with a minor mathematics from Southeast in May 2019.

Hasler says when she begins her education at MIT, she will be joining the research team of Dr. Kerri Cahoy, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “When I first received notification that I was accepted, I almost didn’t believe it. I am very excited and honored to join Dr. Cahoy’s team, and I can’t wait to see what is in store for me in the fall.”

A Waterloo, Illinois native, Hasler currently resides in her hometown while she finishes a gap year. She earned a Bachelor of Science in physics with a minor in mathematics from Southeast in May 2019.

She says her instructors at Southeast were integral to her success.

“Every professor in the physics department genuinely cares about their students and they always wanted to help us succeed. Dr. (Margaret) Hill and Dr. (Michael) Cobb were huge driving forces for me. They inspired me to continue pursuing the things I was passionate about, and provided me with wonderful research opportunities that helped me get there.”

Hill said she was very impressed with ”the quality of Hasler’s work, her maturity, and her potential as a future scientist and researcher. She is very curious and focused, and will really thrive in a graduate research environment.”

Cobb said Hasler took on a “high risk, high reward project” with him and learned parts of the Linux operating system while downloading, editing, and running the climate modeling software from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies using the Department of Engineering and Technology’s high performance computer cluster.

“Her willingness to take on open-ended research projects and learn new skills contributed to her success,” he said. “She is a dedicated, hard-working person capable of accomplishing whatever she sets her sights on. Analyzing planetary worlds both in our solar system and outside is an exciting future for mankind’s knowledge.” 

Hasler (second from left) and several other Southeast students participated in the Citizen CATE project during the 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse.

Hasler says she chose to begin her education at Southeast because it was close to home and offered opportunities to pursue a scientific education.

She says her love for scientific research was strengthened by an experience she had during the 2017 eclipse.

“Dr. Hill allowed me and several other students to participate in a research project for the eclipse called the Citizen CATE project, which stands for the Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse experiment. This experiment consisted of scientists all across the country. We were just one of more than 68 sites. We were tasked with taking images of the inner solar corona during totality, which would allow for production of a unique data set. I loved being a part of this team, because I was contributing to a huge scientific project that would give scientists more information about something that was so difficult to study. The almost three minutes of totality that we all experienced that day were probably the coolest few minutes of my life so far.”

As a result of her work with the Citizen CATE project, Hasler founded the Astronomy Club at Southeast, Hill said.

In her spare time, Hasler enjoys playing piano, reading, spending time with friends, family and pets, and planning for a future that she hopes includes a tenure at NASA.

“I hope to, one day, be a planetary scientist for NASA, and hope to work to understand the origins of life and habitability on planets other than our own.”

She says, “I’m excited to start the Planetary Science Ph.D. program in the fall because it takes me just another step closer to my career goals!”

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