Physics Graduate Student Explores the Galaxy for Winning Virtual Poster
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – NOVEMBER 27, 2012 – Do not blame Jose McKinnon for being a little starry eyed these days.
McKinnon, 28, of Brownsville and a graduate student in physics at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, recently won first place in the Human Exploration and Operations category in Earthzine’s URC Virtual Poster Session. He entered the virtual poster “Mapping the Milky Way Galaxy with LISA.” Contest judges used social media to question the participants about their projects.
“I didn’t expect to win but I was surprised,” said McKinnon. “This is the topic I have latched on to the whole time. I hope to use this research for my doctoral research.”
McKinnon will graduate with master’s degree in physics at the 2012 Winter Commencement at 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 on the Cardenas South Hall Lawn.
What McKinnon looked at with LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, is whether it can map the galaxy. He used computer programming, coding and simulations to base his research on a set of Close White Dwarf Binary gravitational wave sky.
“LISA will only be sensitive to a particular set of stars,” he said.
McKinnon is scheduled to receive his master’s degree in December. He defended his thesis “Mapping the Galaxy with LISA” in early November.
“Jose has been my graduate student for about three years,” said Dr. Matthew Benacquista, an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “He is a very hard worker who will stay on a problem until it is solved.”
The work for McKinnon’s virtual poster and thesis was taken from his internship last summer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. He created a research poster as part of his internship which he added detail to for the virtual poster.
McKinnon’s typical class days are spent at his computer in his office in the Science, Engineering and Technology Building doing coding and programming work. He also teaches a weekly introductory physics laboratory class.
“I think it has helped teaching because the material you don’t see in the classes you see in the lab,” said McKinnon. “I refresh myself with old material.”
McKinnon was born in Tampico, Mexico where he also attended elementary school.
“When I got home from school I would go outside and play soccer,” he said.
He moved to Brownsville with his family and attended Vela Middle School and graduated in 2003 from Porter High School. While at Porter he played on the junior varsity soccer team.
He chose to enroll in fall 2003 at the university because of its affordability and location.
“I think it was easier to go here,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed everything. I was able to save money. Everything came to me well staying here.”
Once on campus, McKinnon began studying engineering and found out about the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s reputation.
“I heard about the great research they are doing,” said McKinnon. “They were interested in me.”
McKinnon received a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics – electrical from the university in December 2008.
McKinnon wants to next pursue a doctoral degree and eventually pursue research.
When he is not in classes or studying, McKinnon enjoys playing online first-person video games involving shooting at targets. He also enjoys playing recreational league soccer on defense and following the FC Barcelona soccer team. He is also learning how to develop his own smartphone applications.