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Since he was five years old, Ajay Hirani ’04 has been fascinated with the stars, so mysterious “because they’re far away and you don’t know much about them.”

Today, he’s still lured to a telescope as an EXCEL Scholar involved in a radio astronomical research project. In Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL program, students assist faculty members with research while earning a stipend.

A double major in math and physics, Hirani is working with Lyle Hoffman, professor of physics, to examine high velocity clouds — gas clouds in space that are controversial because astronomers haven’t determined whether they’re in our galaxy or another one.

“We’re studying the shape – or if there are some parts separate from the main part,” says Hirani. “We’re studying how they evolved.”

The student traveled to an observatory in Puerto Rico for 12 weeks to map out the gas clouds with a huge radio telescope. Although radio telescopes can operate night and day, Hirani says, he went to work at three in the morning, when the clouds were within the instrument’s scope and outside sources caused less interference.

“We’ve got the data, and now we’ll analyze it,” says Hirani. “It’s a bunch of numbers and from it we’ll create a picture.”

Thrilled to be the youngest person working on a project at the observatory, Hirani says, “They asked how old I was and when I said 19, they said – `What?!’ It was just great.”

He calls EXCEL “a great opportunity” unlikely to be found at a large university. “You can work hands-on,” says Hirani.

A graduate of Mahinra United World College of India in Bune, India, Hirani takes photographs for The Lafayette, belongs to the International Students Association and Soccer Club, and plays intramural sports.

Categorized in: Academic News