Success in JPL’s Saturn Research

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el-vaquero-staff-writer/" class="creditline">NANCY AGBENU
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Images of Saturn, scetches of double-strand molecules and colorful maps of the solar system hang on the laboratory walls that surround the Cimmarusti Science Center. They create a scientific adventure atmosphere and display what has been Ara Muradyan’s world for the past six months.

As the first GCC student to ever get published in the Astrophysical Journal, the top journal in that field, the 24-year-old native Armenian is also one of the few college students who was chosen to receive a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) internship program as part of the Student Independent Research Intern (SIRI) program.

“Ara’s research will have a tremendous impact on future JPL interns as they strive to match his success,” said Richard Guglielmino, assistant professor of physics and faculty coordinator for the JPL internships.
Leaning against the wall at the upper Science Center, in jeans and a neatly ironed white shirt, the math major frowns. “I’m not a genius,” he said quietly yet convinced. “It’s not that it’s easy for me. Actually, math is probably one of the hardest things for anybody…It’s just the challenge. I love challenging things.”

When Muradyan was ten, his parents decided to move to California in order to create greater opportunities for him and his 4-year-old brother. First, “it was a culture shock,” said Muradyan. “But I was young and I was able to adapt pretty fast.”

He attended Marshall High School and right after graduation started working for an insurance company. “After working for a few years, I felt that I needed something more challenging in my career to be blissful,” said Muradyan. He decided to get a degree in mathematics.
to California in order to create greater opportunities for him and his 4-year-old brother. First, “it was a culture shock,” said Muradyan. “But I was young and I was able to adapt pretty fast.”

He attended Marshall High School and right after graduation started working for an insurance company. “After working for a few years, I felt that I needed something more challenging in my career to be blissful,” said Muradyan. He decided to get a degree in mathematics.
“Ara didn’t really have much physics background when he entered the program, but I let him apply anyway because I sensed that he had tremendous potential,” said Muradyan’s teacher Guglielmino.

After his first semester at JPL, he simply stayed at the NASA affiliated JPL, because “they decided to keep me on,” said Muradyan.

His article, which was published in March, is a summary of research he had done on Iapetus, one of Saturn’s icy satellites. The research involved Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIM), an instrument that is riding on the Cassini satellite and takes images of Saturn and its moons.

Last fall Muradyan assisted the VIMS team at JPL in deriving the composition of the surface of Iapetus.

“Iapetus is known for its two faces,” said Muradyan. “One side of Iapetus is about ten times brighter than the other.” Scientists from the VIMS team, including Muradyan’s mentor Dr. Bonnie J. Buratti, were able to validate that indeed Iapetus is made up of ice water, and from the dark terrain on Iapetus, carbon dioxide was detected.

“For my efforts in … compiling the data, I was given credit for coauthoring the article, for which I am very grateful,” said Muradyan.
This semester, in addition to his research hours at JPL, Muradyan is taking two math classes and one physics class.

“Ara is a cool and hard working fellow student,” said architecture major Eric Toss, 30. “I met him in the math science center and we would study together.”

Toss believes studying science is “a lot of practice and a lot of hard work,” but “once you’ve seen the pattern, you kind of see the light.”
Though his commitment at JPL envolves about 10 to 15 hours a week, in his free time Muradyan loves to be physically active in all kinds of sports. Since childhood, he has been an avid fan of judo and boxing.
“Both are Olympic sports,” said Muradyan. “Judo is great because there’s so much science involved.”

“A one-hundred pound woman can throw a two-hundred pound guy very easily,” he says. “It’s about balance, not power.”

At a judo competition, he once met a 17-year-old girl and she outclassed him, performed at a higher level, said Muradyan. “It was awesome. You are very humbled when you meet people like that,” he said.
He feels like every day awaits a new challenge with new rewards, said Muradyan.

“Ara has grown tremendously, personally and in his technical skills,” said Guglielmino who is Muradyan’s most appreciated support in his walk toward and in JPL, said Muradyan.

“Ara will likely become a very successful engineer and a legend at GCC for being the first student to get published in such a prestigious journal,” said Guglielmino.

In the fall Muradyan will transfer to UCLA which he chose after receiving admission to UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and Berkley. Muradyan, who holds a 3.4 GPA, said he felt it was better for him to stay in L.A. and near his family and friends. “My family inspires me the most,” he said.

In the summer, Muradyan will take his last general education class, history, by attending a study abroad program in Armenia. Muradyan loves travelling to different places, he said. “You see new things. When you get out, you see different cities have different vibes.”

A few seconds of silence follow as the student who knew most answers contemplates on his future. “I want to be happy in my life,” he said. He believes it is important to have good friends, good family and “people who are happy with your presence.”

“Happiness is a packaged deal. Satisfaction with yourself, your job, your family. A big part of it is what you do. It’s not only what you are doing, but if you’re happy with what you’re doing, he said. Muradyan wants to be a professor of math one day. His goal is to apply math to real-life problems and to see how it can [solve] real life problems, he said.

“I like having an influence on the people in the right way, make them understand not just the subject itself, but education,” said Muradyan who has tutored high school students before, loves teaching and passing on knowledge.

But even if he did nothing with math and do something completely diffferent “like being a real estate guy or a baker,” he’d still be interested in science, said Muradyan.

He laughs, “I’d still read science journals and stuff like that.” He contemplates. “But I can’t see myself doing anything else than math.”