Saturday, June 15, 2024

13 years after summer program at NASA Puebla woman builds space telescopes

Margaret Domínguez didn’t know it but her life was about to change when Jonathan P. Gardner from the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) came to a physics conference she organized at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP) in 2008.

Gardner encouraged the young physics student to apply for a summer internship at NASA and her acceptance took her career down a new path that has led to forming a part of a team of scientists and engineers building some of the world’s largest and most advanced telescopes at NASA.

Now an optical engineer, Domínguez grew up in rural Puebla state in the municipality of Tecamachalco, in a country where only 12% of engineers nationwide are women. She went on to obtain a Masters at the University of Arizona, but even in the United States she was a minority in her field: only 13% of engineers are women in the U.S.

At this week’s Woman + Science Week 2.0 at the Monterrey Tec university, Domínguez encouraged other women with a passion for science and math to follow in her footsteps.

“’Life is not easy for any of us. We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves.’ That’s a quote by Marie Curie, the first person to win Nobel prizes in both physics and chemistry. If she could do it, we all can,” said Domínguez addressing the conference.

Domínguez seems to have been blessed with those qualities. She was part of the team that launched the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 and is now helping to design what was the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), renamed the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope after the American astronomer and first female executive of NASA.

Following some delays due to COVID, the Roman Telescope is set to launch some time before 2027 and will study dark matter, exoplanets, and the formation of the universe. The telescope will have 100 times the visual field of the Hubble, which will allow it to study up to 10,000 galaxies at the same time.

At 31, Domínguez has become an example for young women interested in the sciences and is often asked to speak at events dedicated to women in science as well as at a Ted Talk in 2018. But despite her growing celebrity she insists that her feet are on the ground even if her eyes are in the heavens.

“Normal people work at NASA, we aren’t geniuses, we are just people who like to research and work hard.”

With reports from El Sol de Puebla and Muy Interesante

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