Student looks to the stars

Steve Mairs will boldly go where few undergrads have gone before.

Steve Mairs will boldly go where few undergrads have gone before.

The third-year physics and astronomy student at UBC’s Okanagan campus leaves for Hawaii early next month for two weeks study at the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Mairs’ research at the renowned telescope supports his honours thesis of how giant molecular clouds collapse to form stars.

“We’re fairly sure we know the life cycle of a star — how it lives and breathes,” said Mairs, 20.

“But there are a lot of questions about the time between, such as when a star dies and when a new star will form.”

He credits his professor, Erik Roslowsky of the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, with motivating him to pursue his interest.

“He propelled my interest infinitely in the subject. I think this is really a beautiful science.”

Plus, the intimacy of the classroom experience on the UBC Okanagan campus has added a dimension to his education that he would not get elsewhere, Mairs said.

“This is a really good school with an amazing faculty.”

Roslowsky and Mairs developed a research collaboration with colleagues in France, who are providing additional data.

Roslowsky says it is “very rare” opportunity for an undergrad student to be able to utilize as important a research tool as the Mauna Kea telescope.

“Steve is the top astrophysics student I have worked with here at UBC’s Okanagan campus, and he is as strong as the students I’ve worked with at Harvard and Berkeley,” said Roslowsky.

“He has a broad research background and I think he could develop into a stellar astronomer.”

Roslowsky says the study of astronomy provides insight into our cosmic origins and how life could arise elsewhere in the universe.

“Steve’s thesis directly connects to this aspect of astronomy, namely understanding how the stars and stellar system that host life like ours form out of gas clouds in the universe.”