[meteorite-list] Reaching For The Stars
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:42:02 2004
Reaching for the stars
Former Lisle student pursues lifelong passion at Rice University in Texas
By Richelle Kerns
The Sun Lisle
January 19, 2001
Rebecca Elsenheimer, 18, is on her way to achieving her dream of
working for NASA. Spending much of her childhood studying the stars through
a telescope in the back yard of her Lisle home, Elsenheimer is now pursuing
astrophysics as a fresman at Rice University in Houston.
Rebecca Elsenheimer would like to live on the moon someday - it give her a
perfect view of the earth.
As a freshman studying astrophysics at Rice University in Houston, Texas,
the 18-year-old Lisle woman is well on her way to calling the stars her
When Elsenheimer was a little girl, she liked to wait until the sun set
to play outside so she could watch the stars. She has owned a telescope most
of her life and spent many summer nights in the back yard of her family's
home studying the sky.
"When most children were off doing other things, Rebecca had her head in
the clouds wondering what was going on up there," said Pearl Schoenberger,
Elsenheimer said she's always had a vivid imagination, spending hours
reading science-fiction novels and thinking about intelligent life in space.
She has watched the movie "Contact" more times than she can count and hopes
to someday follow in the footsteps of the film's character, Ellie Arroway.
Arroway, a radio astronomer played by Jodie Foster, discovers intelligent
radio signals from deep space and deciphers them as instructions for
building a mysterious machine.
"I think that a lot of the reason I originally liked astronomy was
because I have such a good imagination," Elsenheimer said. "All the
science-fiction books I would read were filled with these romantic ideals
about space. But as I have learned more scientific facts about space, I have
learned that you have to throw out those romantic ideals. But that is OK
because space is filled with wonder on its own."
Elsenheimer attended school in Lisle School District 202 through her
freshman year of high school, and then, at the encouragement of Lisle Junior
High School Principal Roger Wanic, enrolled in the Illinois Math and Science
Academy in Aurora.
"Rebecca was a very talented young lady who was successful in every
educational endeavor she embarked upon so we encouraged her to enroll at the
Academy," Wanic said.
At the academy she took math- and science-heavy course loads, but also
spent three years taking German and Russian. In addition to her studies,
Elsenheimer participated in a mentoring program through the University of
Chicago's Geophysical Sciences Department. There, she spent every Wednesday
for two years studying a small piece of a meteorite under a scanning
electron microscope to get a better idea of what conditions were like 4.5
billion years ago.
"It was great," Elsenheimer said. "I now know how to use a scanning
electron microscope, which most people my age don't know how to do, and I
also got to work with something older than the Earth. That was interesting."
At the conclusion of the mentorsing program in May, Elsenheimer traveled
to St. Petersburg, Russia, to present her findings from the meteorite study
at the Sakharov Readings, an annual research and ethics conference held in
honor of the late physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov.
More than 200 high school students from five countries were invited to
present their work at the conference, including five from IMSA. As the only
U.S. student to present her paper in Russian, Elsenheimer was awarded top
honors at the conference.
"I drafted the paper pretty much from scratch in Russian," she said. "And
I practiced reading it a lot before I presented it."
Though Elsenheimer was accepted at the University of Chicago and
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she chose Rice to pursue her degree.
"I thought about going to the University of Chicago, but I have been here
my whole life and it was too close to home," Elsenheimer said.
As a second-semester freshman at Rice, Elsenheimer continues to study
Russian, as well as taking upper-division math, physics and astronomy
Of course, like any average college student, she enjoys watching movies,
reading, working on her computer and playing on the girls' Powder Puff
football team. She also enjoys spending time at the planetarium across the
street from the university.
"It's kind of redundant for me to go to a planetarium, though," she said.
"They are kind of designed for the lay person. But I do like going when they
feature something where I can learn special facts, and I like going with
other people who I can teach about astronomy."
Before leaving for school in the fall, Elsenheimer volunteered at the
Adler Planetarium, where she had the opportunity to do what she enjoys most:
share what she knows about astronomy.
"Someday I would like to have a job where I can work with the public
because I would enjoy sharing my knowledge," she said.
After finishing her degree at Rice, Elsenheimer plans to pursue a
doctoral degree in either astrophysics or astronomy to prepare her for a
potential career with NASA.
If Elsenheimer's dream comes true and the time comes for her to work at
NASA, she would like to study planetary science, plan planetary missions or
even study life in deep space, much like the role played by Foster in
"I would definitely be interested in discovering how other solar systems
are formed and learning about the fate of our own universe, which I think is
something that could be accomplished in my lifetime," she said.
Richelle Kerns can be reached at (630)416-5234 or at
Received on Sun 21 Jan 2001 06:59:42 PM PST