When the stars aligned for a re-entry student – Orange County Register

By Derek White

The stars aligned for me Aug. 17 when gravitational wave observatories here on Earth detected the ripples in spacetime that traveled at the speed of light to our planet from their source a galaxy away.

Those ripples were caused by two neutron stars that had reached the last legs of their slowly collapsing orbit, roughly 120 million years ago, eventually colliding into one another in an event that literally sent out shock waves through time and space.

Derek White — Photo courtesy of the writer

This was the first time the phenomenon had been detected from neutron stars, and the data surrounding this event was new territory for all but a few highly specialized astrophysicists across the globe. One of those happens to be CSUF’s own Jocelyn Read, assistant professor of physics, one of only a handful of the world’s experts on neutron stars.

I’m a member of her team of undergraduate researchers and was lucky enough to be a part of the early stages of data collection and interpretation after the initial Aug. 17 detection.

For me, that date is validation of the research career path I had adopted for myself — later in life than most scholars. It was confirmation that I was finally doing something right with my life.

At the age of 34, I’m completing my general education courses at nearby Fullerton College. I started college only two years ago. Though I was a good student in high school and have had a love for both astronomy and physics since childhood, research wasn’t something I considered pursuing as a career.

Instead, after graduating from high school in 2000, I was convinced that my calling in life was to head overseas as a Christian missionary. By the time I determined that was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my life, I chose to find work and start making a living for myself. I had only two jobs over the next decade: first working at a software company as an office manager and later working for a small, family-owned business,…

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