Charlie Fallon with his poster at the Undergraduate Research Symposium

Fallon awarded the Baines Family Planetary Science Scholarship

Charlie Fallon, class of 2025, has been awarded the Baines Family Planetary Sciences Scholarship this year.

Fallon was nominated for this scholarship by Manel Errando, assistant professor of physics, and Ryan Ogliore, associate professor of physics, both fellows of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences.

Errando said, "During the summer of 2023, Fallon received a McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship and was actively involved in our research, working with my research group for ten weeks. His focus was on simulating how CeBr gamma-ray detectors respond, with the goal of developing compact gamma-ray spectrometers for planetary science applications. During his time on this project, Charlie demonstrated an impressive ability to grasp complex concepts quickly and apply them effectively. He became skilled in using the MEGAlib software, a simulation package we use to understand detector responses, and he showed a remarkable talent for independently troubleshooting any issues that arose during the simulations. Charlie's dedication even led him to proactively seek guidance from the code developer to overcome challenges encountered during his work.

"Additionally, Charlie was an invaluable asset in our laboratory experiments. He assisted in conducting measurements of effective area and energy resolution for the detectors he was simulating. His keen attention to detail and meticulous approach to lab work greatly contributed to the success of our experiments.

"Beyond his technical abilities, Charlie possesses qualities that make him a truly outstanding team member. He is highly independent, taking the initiative to tackle challenges and seek solutions on his own. His self-motivation and determination have consistently impressed me and his colleagues. Moreover, Charlie is incredibly enthusiastic about his work, and his passion for scientific research is contagious. He has a natural curiosity and an eagerness to learn that make him an asset to any research team."

Fallon had Errando as an instructor for Nuclear and Radiochemistry Lab and appreciates Errando's exceptional teaching style. He said that Errando proved to be an excellent mentor for research as well, dedicating time and effort to work with the summer interns. This opportunity allowed Fallon to gain valuable knowledge and skills in working with the software used in the research. Additionally, the graduate students in Errando's group were supportive and contributed to Fallon's learning experience.

Fallon found the MCSS summer research fellowship experience highly valuable. Besides the academic aspect, the social activities organized by MCSS provided opportunities to meet fellow researchers. As a result, Fallon formed strong friendships within his research group and among other summer research undergraduates. Fallon presented his summer research at the fall 2023 Undergraduate Research Symposium with a poster, "Optimizing Gamma Detector Geometries for Astrophysics and Planetary Science," describing the significance of gamma radiation in nuclear astrophysics and planetary science.

Ogliore also expressed his enthusiasm about Charlie’s skills and attitude after he took his optics laboratory course. Ogliore said, “Charlie Fallon was one of the top students in my Optics Lab class in the spring of 2022. The class requires a lot of creative problem solving and Charlie performed very well with this in multiple labs. He had clever ways to do measurements that I had not seen students try before, and was always willing to help other groups out if their measurements were not working. Charlie worked well with his lab partner and completed the work very efficiently. He is an excellent writer as well; his lab reports were always among the best-written for the class.”

As a result of his summer research, Fallon crossed paths with Lee Sobotka, professor of chemistry and physics and MCSS fellow, and is working with him during the current academic year. This collaboration focuses on scintillating fiber detectors, which aligns with Charlie's interest in astrophysics and his enthusiasm for exploring various fields within physics.

Last year's recipient of the Baines Family Planetary Science Scholarship was Angelina Minocha, BA Physics 2023, who was nominated by Ryan Ogliore and Brad Jolliff. While at Washington University, she collaborated with Ogliore, Jolliff, and research scientist Paul Carpenter to develop the Quantitative Microanalysis Explorer (QME) Tool. This tool provides a comprehensive visualization platform for optical, electron, and quantitative X-ray images and maps. Also during her time at WashU, Angelina conducted astrophysical research, working with a team to commission dilution refrigerator cryostats and develop key technologies for studying cosmic microwave background radiation.

According to Jolliff, Angelina has already made significant contributions to NASA astrophysics and planetary science projects. Angelina worked with the WashU group on NASA’s Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) program. She did a summer intern project in the Department of Physics and then began working with Ryan Ogliore to help with programming in his effort to provide high resolution, online meteorite image data. Angelina assisted with method development and programming to first register images taken with different sensors and different distortions, and then to retrieve the quantitative compositional EPMA data using an online portal for image display.

Jolliff said, "The result of this collaboration was nothing short of brilliant. Working with Ryan, Angelina developed the methodology to coregister and stack the image data (optical photomicrographs, backscattered electron images, and elemental x-ray images), and retrieve the compositional information by simply selecting an area on one of the images. Angelina worked during a McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences summer internship, under the pressure of deadlines, to produce a smoothly working web interface that could be presented at the Apollo 17 – ANGSA workshop, held at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in October 2022. We call this interface the “Q-tool” for short or, more formally, the “QME-tool” (for Quantitative Microanalysis Explorer). Angelina wrote an abstract for the workshop and then attended and presented it at that meeting. She did a fantastic job, and the Q-tool was on display in the poster area, garnering significant crowds to “ooh and aah” when they witnessed the Q-tool in action. She then wrote up the project in an extended manuscript as a senior honors thesis. Angelina gave a superb and polished oral presentation of the Q-tool. She played a key role in its development and this product will be used by scientists around the world who might not otherwise have access to the data."

Minocha is currently a physics teacher at Solebury School, a college-preparatory high school in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

The Baines Family Planetary Science Scholarship is an annual award made possible by Dr. Kevin H. Baines, Physics PhD 1982, to help support the education of a student of planetary science.