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Underrepresented Astrophysicists Awarded Black Hole Physics Internships

The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian has welcomed two new summer interns thanks to a partnership between the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO).

Established in 2020, the NSBP/SAO Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Scholars Program awards internships in cutting-edge black hole research to early career physicists from underrepresented backgrounds.

The paid internships are awarded competitively and last 8-10 weeks. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all interns will work remotely this year. The internship includes mentorship opportunities with expert astrophysicists and members of the EHT collaboration, the international consortium of astronomers responsible for capturing the first image of a black hole in 2019.

“This program will help shape the next generation of black hole astrophysicists by offering a traditionally underrepresented group exposure to experts at the EHT and the opportunity to learn new skills," says Richard Anantua, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) who first proposed the scholars program. "I am impressed by the rapid adoption and partnership between two previously non-overlapping organizations, focusing on such distinct sociological and technological challenges."

"We are very pleased to welcome a new cohort of NSBP/SAO EHT Scholars this year," says Shep Doeleman, founding director of the EHT and astrophysicist at the CfA. "We are incredibly fortunate to have support from the National Science Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to jointly underwrite this important program."

Meet the 2021 NSBP/SAO EHT Scholars below.

Mentor(s): Alexander Raymond and Garrett K. Keating
Internship start and end date: June 1 – Aug. 6

Marvin Jones is a mathematician by training who dreams of being an astronaut one day.

Jones previously interned at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center where he assisted with nuclear fusion propulsion concepts for future deep space explorations.

Jones applied to the scholars program to expand his scientific toolbox. "I saw this as an opportunity to contribute to groundbreaking research, experience science outside of my home institution, and soak up all the knowledge I can from the extraordinary EHT team," he says.

Originally from Newport News, Virginia, Jones enjoys reading, grilling and cooking, travel and visiting museums. He is also interested in making science more equitable. Jones is a member of his physics department’s diversity committee and enjoys sharing the story of Dorothy Vaughn, a former black NASA scientist who helped put humans on the moon. Jones grew up in the same neighborhood Vaughn once lived in.

"We literally walked the grounds where a black woman helped change the space program forever," Jones says. "It reminds me why representation is about more than imagery, but really telling those stories of all who contributed to advancing scientific work."

Jones holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics from the North Carolina A&T State University and a physics degree from Indiana University, where he is currently a fourth-year doctoral student in astrophysics.

Martha Stewart
Mentor(s): Razieh Emami Meibody
Internship start and end date: July 11 – Sept. 28

Originally from Chicago, Brandon Curd holds a bachelor's degree in astrophysics from the University of Oklahoma and is currently a fifth-year doctoral student in astrophysics at Harvard University.

Curd completed two previous internships in astronomy at Cornell University and Leiden University in the Netherlands, where he studied Saturn's rings and triple star systems, respectively.

Curd is fascinated by black holes and their accretion disks—the disk-like flow of material that slowly spirals inward toward a black hole's core. He is interested in applying computer simulations to his research this summer, including tidal disruption events, when a star is torn apart by a black hole.

In his free time, Curd enjoys playing basketball, cooking, art and music. He also is a huge fan of the Waffle House, which he believes should be named a UNICEF World Heritage Site.

Curd is a former recipient of the prestigious Astronaut Scholars Awards, which recognizes the best and brightest undergraduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). He also is a recipient of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which is granted to those who show exceptional promise of becoming a future leader in STEM.

After earning his PhD in 2022, Curd hopes to obtain a postdoctoral fellowship to continue studying black holes.