Tabitha Smith’s passion for studying space is rooted in her desire to see more efforts made in peace, not war.
“It is known that projects involving space take up the most money, effort and require the most international corporation,” Smith says. “Space missions and studies are big projects we can work on internationally where we are not flinging missiles or bombs at each other, we are cooperatively putting defense money into something that is very peaceful.”
Smith, of Charles Town, will graduate from West Virginia University with a dual degree in physics and sociology. She has received early acceptance and a full fellowship to attend George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
While there, she plans to focus on Russian studies and space at the Space Policy Institute within the Center for International Science and Technology Policy.
As a 2009 Boren Scholar, Smith studied in Russia for a summer, but she hopes to return to live and work in the country during her second year of the Elliot School’s graduate program.
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“It is fascinating. People there are really into science _ they go outside and watch the stars a lot instead of the TV. I like being in that atmosphere,” she said.
She also hopes to study at the International Space University in France during the summer of 2011 and to visit the space agency in China. At each place her visit will be focused on learning more about the countries’ space programs and technology.
Smith’s time at WVU helped to introduce her to astrophysics research in ways she might not have been exposed otherwise. She worked hand-in-hand with Assistant Professor in WVU’s Center for Astrophysics and pulsar researcher Maura McLaughlin, who she plans on continuing her research with while in graduate school.
“I was able to start my network in Russia because of Dr. McLaughlin. If it was not for her, I never would have been able to do research when I was in Russia,” Smith said.
While at WVU, Smith was also able to participate in research on special kinds of pulsars, known as RRATs or rotating radio transients, and perform pulsar searches at the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.
In the future, Smith hopes to hold a position working for the U.S. government, such as the U.S. Air Force Space Command, the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs or NASA, where she is able to work with Russia’s space agency and create, fund and monitor international space projects.
“The International Space Station is the world’s most expensive science project in history and there are so many benefits that come from it. Most of our technological advancements during modern times have one way or another come from our research in space or through funding provided to NASA and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency),” she said.
When not researching, Smith enjoys volunteering at a local animal shelter. She helps clean, play and foster the animals, among other things.
For more information on WVU’s Center for Astrophysics, visit http://astro.wvu.edu/ .
By Colleen DeHart
WVU News and Information Services
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