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Intellectually speaking, Aditya Khuller has his head in the stars. The Barrett Honors College junior is majoring in aerospace engineering-astronautics with a minor in materials sciences.
“I have always been interested in space and astronomy and I thought, why don’t I learn to make things that go into space?” said Khuller, an international student from Delhi, India, explaining how he chose his scholarly path.
With support from the Bidstrup Foundation Undergraduate Fellows Program for Barrett students, he is following that path working as an undergraduate researcher with famed NASA and Arizona State University scientist Phil Christensen on his theory of the formation of recent Martian gullies.
Through the Bidstrup Foundation Undergraduate Fellows Program, students like Khuller may partner with a faculty member to apply for research funding. The funding pays for student researchers who want to engage in scholarly work under the tutelage of a faculty member and are required to earn money to address their ﬁnancial need.
Khuller became interested in Christensen’s work after taking an introductory course with him in 2015.
“He talked about the Mars space flight program at ASU, his work on instruments for NASA, and what he does for their missions. It was more interesting than anything I had heard before,” Khuller said about his first interactions with Christensen. That experience led to Khuller taking a seminar about Mars taught by Christensen in Spring 2016. That was it. He was hooked and he and wanted to delve further into the study of Mars.
Christensen had written a scientific paper on his theory of the formation of gullies on Mars and suggested Khuller help with his ongoing research on the subject.
“I realized his theory may be relating to what other people were observing about the seasonality of gully formation on Mars and I wanted to learn more,” Khuller said.
With Christensen’s encouragement, Khuller applied for and received funds from the Bidstrup Foundation that allowed him to work on research without the worry of getting another job.
Khuller is now using computer programs, including JMARS, Matlab, and FORTRAN, to numerically model recent gully formation processes and the effects of carbon dioxide on Mars, work that could help determine whether there is water on the red planet that could be used in future manned missions.
The results of this research “could mean there may be liquid water on Mars that could be accessed by future astronauts,” Khuller said.
Khuller said the opportunity to work with Christensen and receive funding for it is “beyond my dreams. It’s a dream come true. It’s incredible. I’m an international student from India and because of that I’m extremely limited in the type of financial aid and scholarships I can apply to. To get support from Barrett is fantastic and I’m grateful.”
In addition to his work on Mars gullies, Khuller also is a volunteer NASA OSIRIS-Rex Mission to Bennu Ambassador. In this role, he helps to inform the public and students about the mission in which the spacecraft OSIRIS-Rex will travel to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu in 2018 and bring a small sample back to Earth for study in 2023.
He also is industry relations manager of the Sun Devil Satellite Laboratory, a mission operations engineer for the Phoenix Undergraduate Satellite Mission, and the project lead of a small spacecraft electric propulsion team, all at ASU.
“When I was applying to universities, I could only apply to state schools. I applied to ASU, State University of New York in Buffalo and Iowa State University. What stood out to me with ASU was the amount of work the university was doing with NASA; it’s within the Top 5 schools in the U.S. for working with NASA. I also had heard of Barrett as the ‘gold standard’ of honors colleges,” he said.
“Everything I heard was true. I have gotten so many opportunities at ASU and Barrett. I feel like I am part of a family and it has really made a difference.”
Khuller said his future plans include graduate school to pursue a masters or a doctorate in planetary science, aerospace engineering, or plasma physics.
“All thanks to ASU and Barrett, the opportunities are seemingly limitless,” he said.