Svet ShkolyarMay 31, 2018

Visiting northern Thailand? Be a Stopover Astronomer guest at Thailand’s national astronomy institute

I am an astrobiologist. My husband and I took our honeymoon to Thailand in December, 2016. We visited Bangkok, Sukhothai, Koh Pra Tong, Khao Yai, Khao Sok, and Chiang Mai. Our vacation was paradise in every sense of the word. After eating our way around Chiang Mai, getting daily massages, and even volunteering for a week at an elephant sanctuary, we did something that your typical honeymooner wouldn’t do: We stopped at the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, or NARIT, as "Stopover Astronomers." I'd like to encourage other space professionals to participate in this program, because it fosters new international collaboration opportunities.

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand Chiang Mai includes a variety of must-see attractions that we enjoyed, such as the famous night market, colorful temples, and a walking food tour of authentic food stops that only the locals know about.Image: Svet Shkolyar

Not even a decade old, NARIT is Thailand’s national space science research institute, specializing in topics such as stellar astrophysics, extragalactic astronomy, elementary particles, high energy phenomena, and astronomical optics. We came as guests through the Stopover Astronomer program, which is essentially a colloquium visit to the institute for space scientists who are already traveling through Chiang Mai. Its purpose is to expand NARIT’s international collaborations. I learned about the program from a friend in my PhD program at Arizona State University, Piyanat "Boom" Kittiwisit, and I hope this great opportunity reaches broader audiences.

We went to Thailand just after I graduated with my PhD in geological sciences from ASU. At NARIT, I discussed my work on informing Mars Sample Return strategies, planned as part of NASA’s upcoming campaign to return carefully selected cached sample cores from Mars for life detection analysis on Earth.

My presentation at NARIT on December 26, 2016
My presentation at NARIT on December 26, 2016

NARIT staff were very welcoming. The organizers even sent us home with NARIT swag. We surely deserved our daily massage after that day!

I was grateful for the opportunity to share my research. The audience (probably 20 researchers and a few students) asked us great questions afterwards. One pre-doctoral student, Chanenath "Kitty" Sriaporn, came to chat with me. She came to NARIT to hear my talk from Chiang Mai University because she is interested in astrobiology. Since then, I have been keeping in touch with her as she embarks on a PhD program as Thailand’s first astrobiologist. She will be researching biosignatures in silica-rich hot spring deposits as possible analogs of features observed with NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers, through projects funded by NARIT and her PhD program in Auckland, New Zealand. Who knows? Maybe we’ll collaborate on a Mars analog biosignature study some day. 

If you work in the planetary or astronomy fields, and plan to visit Chiang Mai, you can contact NARIT staff and express your interest in the program, no matter how loosely you define yourself as a planetary or space scientist. (My work is largely focused on instrumentation and geobiology, but NARIT still welcomed me.) Even though the institute is astronomy-focused today, NARIT is eager to expand their range of research topics and collaborations. They are flexible in terms of accommodating your schedule and the process of applying consisted of sending a few short emails, my CV, and a talk abstract to the Director of Research Facilitation.

In short, if you happen to be in or even passing through northern Thailand, why not be a Stopover Astronomer at NARIT? You never know what international opportunities might come out of your visit to Thailand’s emerging space studies institute.

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