August 07, 2019

Stela Ishitani Silva holding a NASA sticker

Stela Ishitani Silva, a doctoral candidate in physics, was awarded the John Mather Nobel Scholar Award this month at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where she has spent her summer as an intern.

In a social media post, the National Space Grant Foundation shared that she offered the following advice to future NASA Goddard interns: “Be positive! Work hard, but do not forget to have fun. Being at NASA is a privilege, so we must do our best while enjoying the experience to the fullest.” 

Stela Ishitani Silva accepting an award at NASAIshitani Silva has been working in the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory at Goddard studying gravitational microlensing — a refined technique used to detect exoplanets, planets outside our solar system. She is currently building a neural network (a set of algorithms used to recognize patterns) to identify gravitational microlensing events and to determine detection efficiencies. Her research is part of the preparation for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which is the flagship of a new generation of space telescopes and the top-priority large space mission of a decade. 

By studying at Catholic University, Ishitani Silva has been able to connect with scientists at NASA with the help of professors like Steven Kraemer, director of the University’s Institute for Astrophysics and Computational Sciences, and Duilia de Mello and Tommy Wiklind, who she says have “always supported and guided me throughout my experience at NASA.” The University collaborates with Goddard through the Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science and Technology II (CRESST II), which allows students like Ishitani Silva to conduct research at Goddard.