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Featured Researcher: Nick Tusay

Posted on June 2, 2021

Get to know, Nick Tusay, our new Featured Researcher. Nick is a graduate student at the astronomy and astrophysics department at Penn State and his research is out of this world.
Nick’s current research area is focused in SETI, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and he uses Roar to scan the universe for signs of life in outer space. According to Tusay, SETI observations create large volumes of data that are often too big for personal computers. That data also needs to be combed through for minute signals that life might be out there. He said that the computing cluster provides the perfect environment to analyze large data volumes and sort through the numerous results – and maybe even find ET.

How did you get into this research field?
I am extremely fortunate to be on a research fellowship, which affords me time outside of classes to do research. When I came to Penn State I knew that there were a lot of opportunities here to study exoplanets. That was my main area of interest at first and I still want to study exoplanets, but I found another research area that I never even considered and am excited to be a part of. By simply asking for work from some of the professors doing the things I want to do I was given an opportunity to do SETI research with Professor Jason Wright.

What do you hope to accomplish with your research?
SETI is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. So, it should be obvious what the ultimate aim of this research is. But along the way I am honing my skills, making connections and advancing the field so that when we find something interesting we can address it with scientific rigor.

How does supercomputing enable your research?
There are two main ways supercomputing enables my research. SETI observations tend to produce large volumes of data that are often impractically big for personal computers. And all that data needs to be combed through for the signals we are looking for. So, the computing cluster provides the perfect environment to analyze large data volumes and sort through the numerous results.

What is your academic background?
I am a non-traditional student. I graduated from Rutgers University in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, concentrating in aerospace engineering and minoring in mathematics. Many years later I decided to get back into academia by getting a second bachelor’s degree in physics from The College of New Jersey. I did this in order to reacclimate and better prepare myself for graduate school. And now I am a graduate student in the Astronomy & Astrophysics department here at Penn State.

What important advances do you think we’ll see in your field in five years? Ten? Twenty?

Within 5 years Breakthrough Listen will achieve its mandate of observing 1 million of the nearest stars for signals. This will be achieved with commensal observations at the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico and the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa. Within 10 years the Square Kilometer Array will come online. And that has the potential to provide unparalleled sensitivity for radio astronomy. It is my hope that in 20 years time the scientific community will have begun to seriously consider developing a radio telescope on the far side of the moon. It is the quietest place in the solar system, free from almost every source of radio frequency interference.

What’s your favorite sound?

The ‘dook-dook’ sound that ferrets make when they play. It’s so cute!

If you had unlimited money, what project would you take on?

I would put it all into developing fusion energy. It is a completely realizable technology. We just need to invest more into research and development. But corporate interests have lobbied hard to keep fusion energy funding at a minimum because they know that once fusion is made viable it will easily dominate the energy industry.

What’s your advice for would-be scientists?

Yes. You can do it.

What profession other than your own would you enjoy?

I thought about being a pilot for a while. I even took a few flying lessons. That would be fun.



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