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Global Research: Atacama Observatory

A team of top researchers from Europe, North America, and East Asia are collaborating on one of the most ambitious astronomy projects ever — the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), a revolutionary, ground-based telescope in Chile's Atacama Desert.

The goal is to learn more about the formation of stars and planets, but it's a big investment. The project is expected to cost more than a billion dollars. The site is one of the driest places in the world, on a plateau 5,000 meters above sea level, and so far off the grid that the observatory has to generate all of its own power. You're just an undergrad. What do you do?

If you're a Drexel student, you pitch in and help. That's what Isaac Babik did.

Isaac studied Business and Engineering in the LeBow College of Business. With classmate Adam Marsh and Mechanical Engineering major Alfred Uzokwe, he worked on a project to power the ALMA observatory, not just efficiently but sustainably.

Isaac and Adam flew to Chile along with Professors Hande Benson and Neil Desnoyers to meet with the scientists at ALMA and explore the site. It was Isaac's first time in the South American desert, and the views reminded him of pictures he'd seen of lunar landscapes.

The team checked in with Alfred back in Philadelphia daily by videoconference. He was working on a simulation model using weather data to explore their options for wind and solar power.

Once they were all back together in the States, they developed their proposal, finally presenting ALMA with over 20 cost-effective and sustainable recommendations for design, construction, and operation of the site.

"It's really exciting," says Isaac. "The chance for an undergrad to work on a project like this is pretty rare."

But this is the kind of global, cross-disciplinary research that Drexel students engage in every day. There's nothing like using what you've learned in class to make the world a better place.

You can learn more about Drexel's research programs and opportunities on the Office of Research's page.