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Maryam Haytham Esmat ’21: Pursuing an education that is out of this world

Maryam Haytham Esmat ’21: Pursuing an education that is out of this world

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It’s not every day that you meet a student who has a certain poise about her — a genuine sincerity, intelligence, talent, and compassion — that draws you in and makes you want to learn more about what makes her tick. Maryam Haytham Esmat ’21 is that student, and you can’t help but find her passion infectious.

The international student from Cairo, Egypt, is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in astrophysics with a mathematics minor as well as a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing with a fiction track, and she makes it appear effortless.

Esmat has completed a long list of enhanced academic experiences during her time at Lycoming. Her first research experience was with the Radio Jove Project team in Lycoming’s astronomy and physics department. The highlight so far, however, has been her six-month research experience involving NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in Baltimore, Md.

“My research assistantship at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) was a dream materialized! I grew up learning about space through STScI’s public outreach articles online; through them I learned about the JWST — which has been my favorite telescope since I was fifteen,” says Esmat. “It’s hard to believe that I got to be one of the people working on it at its very own headquarters. Helping scientists use the telescope’s instruments to literally look back in time to observe our universe as it was 13.5 billion years ago and observing planets outside of our Solar System was all very wonderous!”

Notably, Esmat is a co-translator of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center published Webb Key Facts International for the JWST, a translation she provided from English to Arabic for the telescope's media department.

As a Joanne and Arthur Haberberger Fellow this academic year, Esmat is modeling the electron density in our home galaxy, the Milky Way, which will allow astronomers to measure astronomical distances from Earth to astrophysical objects at a high level of accuracy. Her research in the field of gravitational waves, under the guidance of Christopher Kulp, Ph.D., professor of physics at Lycoming, and Katelyn Breivik, Ph.D., Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, will culminate in a scholarly departmental honors thesis titled “Constraining the Galactic Electron Density with Multi-Messenger Astronomy.”

“Maryam’s Haberberger Fellowship project is in the cutting-edge field of gravitational wave astronomy. This exciting new field has been made possible due to the discovery of gravitational waves during the last five years,” Kulp explains. “She is investigating the number of pulsars within our galaxy which are observable using both radio and gravitational waves. The goal is to see if gravitational waves can provide additional information about the composition of the pulsar systems.”-

Esmat is excited to have co-edited a physics college textbook, co-authored by Kulp, that integrates coding into classical mechanics. “I worked on the textbook for about a year and a half, and I thank Dr. Kulp so much for letting me be a part of this project!” Classical Mechanics: A Computational Approach with Examples Using Mathematica and Python, co-authored with Vasilis Pagonis, Ph.D., from McDaniel College, will be released in November 2020 by Routledge. 

“Part of Maryam’s role was to read our text from the perspective of a student, pointing out sections that needed further clarification and parts she thought would be particularly helpful for students. Our book is much better thanks to her efforts,” says Kulp.

In addition to scientific research, Esmat embraces the beauty of creative writing. She has taken creative writing courses abroad in Bath, England, with the help of Allison Holladay in Lycoming’s Center for Enhanced Academic Experiences. While in Bath, she interned for Advanced Studies in England as a blogger and social media marketer. “Ms. Holladay worked so hard to find me a suitable and cost-effective study abroad program specific to my creative writing interests.”

Most impressively, Esmat is the author of The Escaping Flashback, published by Dar Al-Shorouk in 2017, which earned her the title of Youngest Author in the Arab World by the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, as well as a Goodreads author recognition. The book, written in English, is a mix of mystery, action, literature, and sci-fi, and the second and third books in the series are forthcoming.

“Maryam entered Lycoming as a published novelist, and at times I didn’t know whether I was teaching her or unteaching her, but she had her hand up always with questions, and she worked diligently at whatever writing task was before her,” says G.W. Hawkes, Ph.D., professor of English.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Esmat’s summer internship in Dubai was cancelled, but she didn’t let that stunt her productivity. “I took a college course, helped found a startup, volunteered for Education USA, and went on road trips with my friends along the Mediterranean and the Red Sea coastlines,” she shares.

“I also began my elected term as the associate zone councilor for the Society of Physics Students (SPS) National Council for the 2020-21 academic year.” This is the highest position a student can hold on the council, and Esmat is the first student from Lycoming to be appointed. In this role, she will oversee and represent all SPS chapters on university and college campuses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

When asked about her return to campus this fall amid a global pandemic, Esmat’s ever-optimistic personality shines through just like the stars in the galaxy she loves dearly.

“I like being back on campus. Navigating the hard times the entire world is going through currently, I believe, requires a sense of community. Being around my people is motivating my productivity this semester, which has surprisingly, given the circumstances, been my favorite semester throughout my college career so far,” admits Esmat. “My days revolve around Shakespearean plays and American literature, researching gravitational waves and pulsar physics, and my friends. I can't ask for more on a good day, let alone during a pandemic.”

“I chose to attend Lycoming College because it gave me the variety and flexibility to pursue my passions for astronomy, physics, writing, and literature. The small size of campus also was a huge factor in my decision because I needed guidance in the diversity of my interests and help as an international student, learning to navigate my way in a new community.”

Esmat says that it was after a phone conversation with David Fisher, Ph.D., professor of physics, facilitated by the Lycoming admissions office during her senior year of high school, that she knew Lycoming was the right choice. “We talked about his love for physics, space, and creative writing. During my time in the department, we’ve engaged in these conversations, and we’ve read each other’s poetry and fiction pieces and discuss them together, sometimes on our SPS trips to observatories, national laboratories and conferences, and NASA flight facilities.”

She continues, “I have been provided numerous opportunities that have enhanced my academic experiences. Having these networking and research experiences coupled with faculty and staff support have given me confidence and valuable assets needed for my future pursuits.”

“I have had the pleasure of having Maryam in six different courses ranging from Introductory Physics to Quantum Mechanics. It has been a lot of fun watching her develop as a scientist. Maryam is very intelligent and an exceptionally hard worker. By leveraging her talents in science and creative writing, she has charted her own path to success,” says Kulp.

Following graduation, Esmat plans to pursue her callings as a scientist and artist. We’d like to tell her to reach for the stars, but we have a feeling she will go even further.

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