The Team

Shubhanga Ballal

Shubhanga Ballal

I am a rising senior at LASA in Austin, Texas. My interest in astronomy was sparked in elementary school when watching “The Fabric of the Cosmos” on NOVA. After this initial exposure to the subject, I continued to explore astrophysics in general. What has kept me hooked to the subject all these years is the constant stream of groundbreaking discoveries like the detection of exoplanets by Kepler, and more recently the detection of black hole collisions by LIGO. Currently, the subject in astrophysics I find most interesting is cosmology, as it seeks to understand the most fundamental properties of our universe.
Aside from Astronomy Olympiad, I captain my school’s Science Olympiad team and compete in quiz bowl. For the past nine years, I have been singing Carnatic music, a type of Indian classical music. I routinely perform at cultural events and participate in the Austin Hindu Temple’s annual competition. When I go to college, I plan to study aerospace engineering.

Hagan Hensley

Hagan Hensley

I’ve been looking up at the sky for as long as I can remember. When I got my first telescope at age ten, a 10-inch Dobsonian push-to, I was instantly hooked on observational astronomy, and I’ve been volunteering at public star parties and outreach programs ever since. Within the field of astrophysics, I’m most fascinated by cosmology because of the way it gets at a lot of the deep, unanswered questions about the fundamental nature of the universe. In recent months, I’ve been developing a model that determines and visualizes best-fit orbital parameters for double star systems. The college-like academic schedule that I lead as a full-time student at Stanford Online High School (OHS) gives me a lot of flexibility to pursue my astrophotography hobby. I can head out to darker skies in the Texas hill country when the sky clears up, the moon is new, and conditions are just right for that perfect middle of the night long-exposure image. I am grateful to my OHS astronomy club sponsor and physics teacher for supporting my love of all things astro-related and steering me to the USAAAO. Hiking, math, history, and reading (I recommend any book by Neal Stephenson) are my other big interests.

Siddharth Sridhar

Siddharth Sridhar

I was born in the year 2000 at Fremont, California. Since the year 2002, I have lived in Chennai, India. I am currently in my senior year in high school.
I have been fascinated by the universe from a very young age and my interest in astronomy and astrophysics grew because of my desire to learn how the universe works. My favorite subject in astronomy and astrophysics is celestial mechanics because it is the most essential part of the tools needed to model the universe.
I also love stargazing and I spend several nights using my telescope to spot deep sky objects.
Other than astronomy and astrophysics, I like mathematics and physics. My hobbies include playing chess and table tennis, participating in quiz contests, and reading books – both fiction and non-fiction.
In the future, I plan to pursue one of the engineering fields, astrophysics, or mathematics at college.

Jason Yang

Jason Yang

I’m a senior at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North. I’ve been interested in astronomy for as long as I can remember. In particular, one of my favorite topics in astronomy is extrasolar planets, and I find the possibility of discovering habitable exoplanets and maybe even alien life fascinating. In addition, I also avidly follow news of space exploration, such as the advances of NASA, SpaceX, and similar groups. One of the upcoming planned space exploration missions that I’m excited about is the Europa Multiple Flyby mission, which is intended to investigate the possibility of life and habitability on Europa. Another astronomical topic that I find interesting is supernovae, since the amount of energy released in one of these explosions is astronomically large, and supernovae leave behind intricate structures glowing in the sky. Besides studying astronomy, I also enjoy going outside at night and stargazing, and occasionally attempting to capture the night sky through astrophotography. In addition to astronomy and astrophysics, I am also interested other fields of science,such as biology and technology, and have participated in Science Olympiad and Biology Olympiad, as well as the USA Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad. Outside of school, I have played soccer and piano since I was in elementary school. In the future, I wish to go into scientific research and pursue topics that I find fascinating.

Andy Zhu

Andy Zhu

I remember in 2nd grade my teacher asked us to write our dream profession on a piece of paper. I, along with most of my peers, wrote down the word astronaut, not knowing what that actually entailed. Back then, I was just interested in the idea of going to space and meeting ET.
However, due to imperfect eyesight, I would never be able to sail off to the moon.
Since I couldn’t blast off to space, I decided to pursue something else. I learned that math and sciences provided the foundations to understand the way our world functions.
When I heard about my middle school’s Math and Science Olympiad programs, I naturally joined both.
I soon fell in love with both as they both taught one common idea: problem-solving.
Through applications of basic principles, complex problems were broken down into bite-sized, manageable pieces. These math and science competitions honed my ability to solve problems.
In 10th grade, I had the opportunity to take an astronomy course at a local college. After the first class, my childhood fascination was immediately reawakened. But this time, I was more interested in the problems solving, technical side than the dream of going to space.
Since then, I’ve furthered my studies by completing An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics by Carroll and Ostlie. Throughout my astronomy journey, I’ve developed an interest in a few particular subjects, namely those that we do not understand. Space contains some of the most extreme phenomena such as colliding black holes and degenerate matter. In order to better study these, I wish to improve telescope capabilities in the IR range.
Outside STEM activities, I enjoy ultimate frisbee, card games, and movies.

Team Leaders

Ana-Roxana Pop

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I am a graduate student in astrophysics at Harvard University and this year I am one of the team leaders and coaches of the US team at IOAA 2017.
I was born in Romania and came to the US to pursue a degree in Physics from Princeton University, which I am now following with a PhD at Harvard.
Back in high school, I participated in numerous olympiads (such as IOAA 2010, IAO 2010, IPhO 2011). I have extremely fond memories of each of those olympiads and especially the training camps leading to them. Those competitions nurtured my interest in science and allowed me to interact with many curious students from around the world. Together, we shared our passion for science, resources such as books and websites that we found useful in our preparation, and lastly, we spent a lot of fun time observing together! Through olympiads such as the IOAA, I was introduced to fascinating topics in astronomy and physics that went beyond the high school curriculum, and I got a first taste of what it’s like to do research in astrophysics.
Nowadays, my research focuses on galaxy evolution and high-energy astrophysics using numerical simulations. My latest projects involve studying galaxy mergers and their stellar substructure signatures (such as shells) using the Illustris cosmological simulation, and measuring the X-ray emission and the Sunyaev-Zel’dovich signal from simulated hot galaxy clusters.
I am very passionate about teaching and mentoring students, and the work I did together with the rest of the USAAAO team in selecting and training this year’s team has been extremely rewarding.
In many ways, my research path today has been shaped by my participation in science olympiads, and I am very happy to have the chance to give back by training a new team of students for IOAA 2017!

Ioana Zelko

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I am a PhD researcher in astrophysics at Harvard University. I am originally from Romania, and I came to the USA in college to pursue a physics degree at MIT. During my time in high school in Romania, I participated in many international science competitions, like IPhO, IOA, IJSO, and most importantly, two editions of the International Olympiad of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The olympiads meant a lot to me, on personal and professional level. They gave me the chance to pursue a rigurous training in science, and to connect with many peers with similar interests. Eventually, they ended up informing my career choice.
I find passion in teaching and learning, and I appreciate the chance of doing both of them at the side of the USA national astronomy and astrophysics olympiad team, as a coach and team leader. Organizing the selection and training the team is a hard but rewarding process.
In my day to day life I spend time working on research, and a couple of other projects. During my time at MIT, my research focused on building a interferometer telescope. You can see a video of the result here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGK7t__mTRc . Now, during my PhD, I am looking at interstellar dust. Aside from research, together with three friends, I started the project PhysicsDen (https://www.physicsden.org/), a website that hosts physics problems related to published research, in attempt to bridge the gab between class material and research. Check us out!

Volunteers

Evan Tey

I’m an undergrad at MIT planning on majoring in both physics and EECS, and I was on 2nd US IOAA team back in 2014. At the time,
the only experience I had with astronomy and astrophysics was just whatever I read in textbooks or looked up on the internet. I hadn’t touched a telescope or looked at any data or even met anyone else who was interested in this type of thing. Preparing for and participating in the olympiad was the first time I got to talk to people about exoplanets or other random DSOs or other problems in astrophysics. I’ll always remember staying up late and talking about all the Messier objects with my team members.

I volunteer to help run the USAAAO (through website management, test logistics, etc) because I want to help foster other students’ interests in astronomy / astrophysics and help them find a community of people that also get excited when talking about stars, spectra, and anything else up in the sky.

Others

There are many other volunteers who help make the USAAAO happen!