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From NASA to Costa Rica Spreading the Wonders of Astrophysics: LeRoy Larry

Written by Marisol

While in the southern United States, LeRoy Larry had the opportunity to be in a summer program for minority students at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, also known as Fermilab, which is the largest particle accelerator in the United States.

Since then, his path in the aerospace industry took off and brought him to Costa Rica, where he was the first to teach physics in English at UCR. He also brought his mother tongue to astrophysics presentations at the San José Planetarium, making the space more accessible to foreigners.

The astrophysicist is part of a talk sponsored by Tecnológico de Costa Rica this Friday 15th, along with Marc Rayman, head of Science and Operations at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Larry, who is a research assistant in astrophysics and a member of the Galileo Project at JPL, spoke about his career

How did you start your investigations?

“My first experience was in Fermilab, a real research laboratory with real scientists, and there I learned about the area of high energy physics. I would return to Fermilab during the summers and also after obtaining my master’s degree. Shortly thereafter, I had the opportunity to be a research assistant at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center”.

“The research group participated in the development of an instrument that could measure the effects of the solar wind, which is a space plasma, and also on the Earth’s Magnetosphere on the Space Shuttle while orbiting the Earth. This was great, I had come to NASA as a graduate student”.

What difficulties did you encounter on your way to NASA?

“My dream was to be a full-time scientist at JPL. JPL was responsible for space probes as impressive as Voyager, which is now somewhere in deep interstellar space and goes where no human-made object has been before”.

“The only way I could think of to stop being invisible to them was to drive to Pasadena, so I loaded my car with my physics and math books and my only suitcase, and headed to California”.

“When I first arrived in Pasadena, I still hadn’t made enough money to buy an apartment and was sleeping in my car. A janitor at the high school I started teaching at let me sleep on the couch in the staff room at night”.

“She instructed me to make sure that none of the other teachers and certainly none of the students knew about it. So in the mornings I would be washing up and sitting at my desk like I got to school before anyone else, and I would still be at my desk working until everyone was gone, like I was working late into the night”, narrated the scientist.

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