Student aims for the stars in research, athletics

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by Alexander D. Chapin
July 07, 2014
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Student aims for the stars in research, athletics

When Linda Kuenzi is not competing with ASU's track and field team, she's working in the lab with Christopher Groppi, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

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Linda Kuenzi, student and athlete, aerospace engineering (aeronautics):  I came to ASU because of a generous academic scholarship and the opportunity to pole vault on the track team. I also love the location and I like ASU's focus on research and sustainability.

I'm a pole vaulter on the ASU track team. It's really important to stick with the routine that means getting enough sleep and eating well.

I spend a lot of time visualizing, which was seeing the vault in your head and thinking about the things that I want to work on and then at the end of the runway you're holding a pole. You're just focusing on a couple of things and then you just let it loose.

Ron Barela, volunteer coach, pole vault:  Linda is one you don't have to worry about. She has everything that you want kind of a little crazy but always wanting to do more. I've walked away many times and I see Linda pop back out here on her own time and do it, because if I wrote it down on a paper, she's going to do it.

Kuenzi:  You have to be fast and strong for pole vaulting. We do a lot of running, workouts, and lifting weights four times a week.

Coach Barela is great because he just loves pole vaulting. He's a volunteer so he's out there on his own time and he just will do everything he can to help make the team better.

Barela:  I would say it's been fun, more so I just appreciate her desire because she's got the mentality that you need. Somebody that really, really wants to be good it doesn't mean you're always going to be good, but she's got what she really need, the wants.

Kuenzi:  I love my teammates and I really just love being part of the team, getting to travel and compete at the Division 1 level. My freshman year I've PRd by about a foot and vaulted 12 feet and I've been working up since then. My goal is to go 13 this year and I would really like to compete at the Pac‑12 Conference Meet.

I got started in research through the NASA Spacecraft Program. I submitted my application and they paired me with a mentor, Dr. Chris Groppi.

Chris Groppi, Ph.D, assistant professor, ASU:  My main area for research is learning to design and build radio cameras like the one that's taking the picture of me right now. Most radio telescopes have cameras that have only one pixel, which is like trying to make a picture with a light meter, you have to it point by point.

What we do in my lab is learn to make cameras in the radio, which it turns out there's been very little work done on that so far. What Linda is helping us do is design and build an automated system to help measure these radio cameras since we have to measure how well each pixel works and that takes long time of test to be done by it.

For what we want to do in astronomy, we like to learn how new stars and planets form. The places where news stars and planets form are these big clouds of gases in distant space called Galactus clouds. We need cameras to be able to take pictures where these stars are forming and we need to look in radio light because these clouds of gas and dust were invisible in optical light.

Kuenzi:  I have to program the motor to spin at a certain rate and then I also have to collect the data that's coming in from the receiver. I also have to send commands to the receiver to change their parameters. There's basically three different things that I need to control and part of that is developing software to integrate all of that.

For me it's about curiously. I think humans have a natural urge to explore so research is how you can learn more about the universe we live in.

Groppi:  Working in research the whole idea is we don't already know the answer. They're doing something no one has ever done before. It's very gratifying to see a student tackle a problem may be thinking at the beginning that they can't do it, but they can do it.

Kuenzi:  I won't lie and say it's easy to be a student athlete in engineering, but it's definitely possible and it can really be rewarding.