University of Hawaii at Hilo

Natural Sciences Division

Department of Physics & Astronomy

Robert M. Albarran

B.S. Astronomy, Minor in Physics with honours (Class of 2012)

Clubs organizations:
  • 2008-2009: Student Network Team Coordinator, National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS)
  • 2009-2010: President, University Astrophysics Club (UAC)
  • 2010-2011: Board member of Mauna Kea Observatory Outreach Committee (MKOOC)
  • 2010-2011: Co-founder and Director of AstroTalk Scientific Lecture Series
  • 2011-2012: Co-founder and Vice-President of UHH SACNAS Chapter
Where you are now and what you're doing: 

Since my time at UHH, I have received an M.S. in Engineering Physics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL in 2014 with a thesis titled “CubeSat Wakes in the Earth’s Ionosphere” under advisor Aroh Barjatya. I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Engineering Physics program at Embry-Riddle studying under Matt Zettergren. The dissertation focuses on remote-sensing of ion outflows in the polar region by the in-situ detection of energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) from a sounding rocket, called VISIONS, sent in an auroral substorm.


Areas of specialty:

I specialize in space plasma physics with an emphasis on heliophysics, ionosphere-magnetosphere interactions, ion outflows in the polar ionosphere, spacecraft-plasma interactions, spacecraft instrumentation design and diagnostics, mathematical physics, and data analytics.


Places you have worked, interned or traveled to for your career: 

I was born in Mexico City, Mexico with American-Mexican citizenship. After graduating high school from the American School Foundation in Mexico City in 2005, I studied at Suffolk University in Boston, MA until 2008. I realized that I did not identifying plants and decided to study astronomy abroad. I entered UH Hilo Physics & Astronomy in 2008. Throughout my undergraduate career at UHH, I worked at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai’i as a planetarium operator and tutored at the UHH Kilohana Science Center. In 2009, I interned at the Subaru Telescope in part of the Akamai Workforce Initiative. I presented the research at the 2009 SACNAS Annual Conference in Dallas, TX and the 2009 Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society Annual Meeting in the Woodlands, TX. In 2010, I helped install and commission the 0.9m Hoku Ke’a Telescope on Mauna Kea and traveled to Alabama A&M University for the Space Weather Weekend hosted by the Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling (CISM). For the summer of 2011, I interned at the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center was honored with a prestigious undergraduate travel grant. I used the grant to visit select graduate programs in physics in the US and Canada. I volunteered at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center from 2008-2012.

From 2012-2014 I was a graduate student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach in the M.S. Engineering Physics program. I received a Graduate Teaching Assistantship from the department where I taught physics labs for pilots and engineers and tutored physics and chemistry at the science college tutoring center. Upon completing the degree in December of 2014, I had interned at the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and presented the research at the 2014 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting in San Francisco, CA. My thesis was on spacecraft-plasma interactions- spacecraft charging, sheath formations and plasma wakes- of CubeSats. I defended my thesis and presented it at the 2015 Coupling, Energetics and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions (CEDAR) meeting in Seattle, WA. Today, I am a Ph.D. Candidate at Embry-Riddle with a Residential PhD Teaching and Research Assistantship and am undergoing a rigorous analysis of sounding rocket data with high-capacity space plasma modeling. I seek to continue work in the collaboration of government and academia in STEM fields upon matriculation.


What attracted you to UH Hilo Physics & Astronomy?

As a biology student at Suffolk University, I yearned to study the night sky from somewhere remote. As a rising scientist in my undergraduate career at UHH, I developed the critical thinking skills, discipline and fundamental technical skills in astronomy, physics and mathematics that enabled me to continue to climb to new heights.


Advice for prospective/current students of UH Hilo Physics & Astronomy:

The undergraduate opportunities beyond the classroom at UHH Physics & Astronomy are unparalleled in the field while the program expands continuously. I would encourage any prospective or current student to use these resources with ethical and rigorous pursuit. Do not be discouraged by any obstacle. Use your resources wisely and realize that by being there you have a unique advantage over any other astronomy program in the world.

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  • (Updated November 2, 2015)