While the University of Georgia owns campuses across the world, none of them compare to Planet UGA-1785. Thanks in part to Roger Hunter, UGA is the first university with a planetary system nicknamed after it from its discovery during the Kepler Mission.
“You can be proud of that, I don’t think any other university has that,” Hunter said. “You are the space dawgs.”
Hunter, program manager for NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program, spoke about his work with the National Aeronautics and Space Association as well as the great potential of students in the UGA Small Satellite Research Laboratory at the Charter Lecture on March 20.
“I come in here to talk to the students because the STEM fields are important,” Hunter said in his speech. “We need the next generation.”
Hunter discussed the importance of asking tough questions and solving them, and he continually referenced a group of students from the Small Satellite Research Lab as the ones who will ask and solve more complex questions.
“Good science begins with good questions,” Hunter said. “The challenging thing about science is the more questions you can answer the more questions that get asked.”
According to Hunter, NASA attempts to answer three fundamental questions through its research: are we alone, how to get here and how the universe works
Kepler Mission and Small Satellite Research Lab
As project manager for NASA’s Kepler Mission, Hunter launched a satellite that observed the Milky Way in order to discover potentially habitable planets in our galaxy.
In order to determine if a planet occupies a habitable zone, scientists must know the size of the star to know the size of the planet, its orbital period and how far it is from its star, Hunter said.
Two missions of Kepler were completed more than 9 years ago, but after the satellite lost two of its wheels, it instituted a new mission.
The Kepler K2 data relies on “citizen scientists to help us find the planets,” Hunter said.
The small spacecraft technology that Hunter and the students from the Small Satellite Research Lab work with help scientists determine their flight patterns and capabilities that would ultimately make them ready to be used in outer space. The small satellites UGA students develop are about the size of a loaf of bread, Hunter said.
The Small Satellite Research Laboratory was founded in 2016 in order for undergraduate students from all disciplines to build and ultimately launch their own small satellites into Earth’s orbit. Now they are partnered with NASA and the Air Force, and their work continues to prove beneficial.
“[Hunter] has generated enthusiasm and passion for this project as well as helping move UGA into the center of national research in this field,” associate provost for academic programs Meg Amstutz said via email.
Small Satellite Research Lab program manager and co-founder Caleb Adams considers Hunter a helpful resource and mentor for the students.
“He helps us get access to the current research that’s happening and current opportunities that are available,” Adams said. “He knows a lot about the good conferences to go to or good places to show off your research, he gives us good tips on where to improve things.”
Increase diversity, opportunity
Race and gender was also a prevalent topic in Hunter’s lecture. He spoke about his desire to bridge the racial and gender divide in science by including more females and people of color.
He cited Marie Curie as a necessary example of female success in science. Curie was the first woman and only individual to win a Nobel Prize twice and for two different sciences.
Hunter also emphasized an obligation to introduce underserved populations to STEM education.
“We're leaving people behind for no reason,” Hunter said. “That is wrong. My family grew up in poverty but UGA gave me a chance, and now I get to work at NASA and do cool stuff. I want to make sure that all the kids out there in those areas also have the same opportunity.”
Adams hoped attendees were inspired after listening to Hunter.
“He went here as an undergrad and he grew up to do what he’s doing now,” Adams said. “There’s a lot of growth along that path, and I think hopefully people can look at him and see a little bit of that in themselves.”
Hunter has a strong relationship with the university and the Small Satellite Research Lab represents the types of students UGA has produced since 1785, Amstutz said.
“The purpose of the Charter Lecture is to honor the high ideals embodied in the University's 1785 charter that made UGA the birthplace of higher education,” Amstutz. “The scientific work that is being done in our Small Satellite Research Laboratory is one embodiment of that level of intellectual inquiry,” Amstutz said.
The next event in the Signature Lecture Series will feature Robert Franklin from Emory University on March 21 in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education at 3 p.m.