Thursday, October 26, 2023

Meet Central American-Caribbean Astronomy Bridge Program Fellows - Part 4

The Central American - Caribbean Bridge in Astrophysics (Cenca Bridge) is a nonprofit organization established in the state of Tennessee in the United States with the mission to create and develop astronomy research opportunities in Central America and the Caribbean. Opportunities to pursue astrophysics in the region are few with only a handful of programs offering master’s in physics with a concentration in astronomy.  Cenca Bridge connects undergraduates from Central America and the Caribbean to mentors and advisors overseas in hope that they have the choice to pursue astrophysics as a profession. Every year, Cenca Bridge holds the remote internship program, where undergraduate students from the region apply to be selected for a 3-month long paid research internship. As the only organization to provide a paid research remote internship, it is important to highlight the contributions that many women in astrophysics from Central America and the Caribbean have already contributed to our field.

In this series, we will highlight selected fellows. If you'd like to learn more about the program and ways you can get involved please visit

My name is Catalina Morales-Gutiérrez, and I am from San Jose, Costa Rica and I am very passionate about science and outreach. My journey began as a student at the University of Costa Rica, pursuing a major in Food Engineering. It took just 1.5 years for me to discover that my true passion and purpose lay in the field of Physics. Although, my actual journey began as a kid, inspired by scientists and their ability to both conduct research and effectively communicate their findings. But also, while playing with my favorite toys a microscope and my dad's old binoculars – using them to explore the wonders of the world, from the tiny details in everyday objects to trying to identify constellations. 

How did you first become interested in astronomy or planetary science?

I have a vivid childhood memory of being astonished by the pictures of the 1991 solar eclipse, which was visible in Costa Rica. As I grew older, my fascination for this subject deepened and I became more aware of it. This happened during my teenage years that I stumbled upon the Zooniverse website; a platform dedicated to people-powered research. I enthusiastically engaged with their astrophysics projects during my free time. 

What are your aspirations?

I aspire to be a researcher in the area of physics, specifically I aspire to increase my knowledge on experimental optics, quantum sciences and nanoscience, and their applications to other areas of physics such as astrophysics. Also, I aspire to create opportunities for students and to create safe spaces within science.

What are you currently working on?

I currently have several projects. My main research has focused on theoretical and computational cosmology, mainly studying the Epoch of Reionization via the post-reionization epoch (using the Lyman-alpha Forest or HI line intensity mapping). My work has consisted of modeling, testing, and analyzing, using semi-numerical simulations (21cmFAST), the inhomogeneous nature of the reionization process for warm dark matter models (WDM) as well for different reionization histories. A recent publication, "Impact of inhomogeneous reionization on post-reionization 21-cm intensity mapping measurement of cosmological parameters", can be found here.

I have interest in other areas of physics as well, such as optical sciences, instrumentation, and atmospheric science. In optical sciences, I have been working on the measurement and analysis of reflectance spectra of cuticles of scarab metallic beetles of Costa Rica using a microspectrophotometer setup. For instrumentation and atmospheric science, I am part of the launch team for the NASA Ticosonde Project, in which I am responsible of the calibration procedures of electrochemical concentration cell (ECC) ozone sondes and I also work on the development of computational tools to facilitate data collection and analysis.

What else is important to you and how do you make time for it?

Physical activity is important for me, walking, swimming, or going to jiu jitsu classes. I am part of the Japanese jiu jitsu recreational team at my university which has established classes and that helps me make time for it. 

Spending time with friends and family is also important for me and I usually spend time with them over the weekends, by playing board games, going to the movies, and going out to eat. 

What community issues are important to you and why?

Based on my personal experiences, I am particularly passionate about the issues of education equity and opportunities for women. During my time in university, I became acutely aware of the disparities that existed among my classmates, such as varying levels of English proficiency and differing levels of preparation in science subjects, particularly math. It became apparent to me that some individuals who had attended public schools faced more obstacles in comparison to those who had received a private education. This situation seemed inherently unfair to me, as our educational system should be designed to provide equal opportunities for success based on the required level of knowledge.

Furthermore, I am particularly concerned about the limited opportunities available to women in the field of physics. This started when being witness of the disproportionately small number of women pursuing this career path. Moreover, I encountered discouraging comments suggesting that physics is primarily a field meant for men. I firmly believe that every individual, regardless of their gender, should have equal access to opportunities and be able to pursue their interests and passions without being limited by societal stereotypes.

What are your near-future plans?

My near-future plans are to finish my undergraduate degree next December, and I am currently working on my applications for physics graduate programs to start on fall 2024. While also, being active on my outreach programs. 

No comments :