Dean’s Medalist observes the early universe with fearless enthusiasm
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.
This May, Junehyoung Jeon will be graduating from ASU with a Bachelor of Science degree in astrophysics from the School of Earth and Space Exploration with honors from Barrett, The Honors College and a minor in physics. He is also the School of Earth and Space Exploration Dean’s Medalist for 2021, having earned this award through his excellent academic performance, his collaborative spirit doing research and his fearless enthusiasm toward solving new problems.
Jeon was born in Seongnam, South Korea. His father's work sent his family to Liberia, where he attended the American International School and finished elementary school.
“My parents thought that I wouldn't fit very well coming back to Korea, so they enrolled me in a school in New York to continue with the American school curriculum,” said Jeon. “I decided that I wanted to study astrophysics during that time and graduated high school. Since then, I have been just trying to achieve my goal which led me to Arizona, and after graduation, I will be moving to Texas.”
At ASU, Jeon was active in Professor Rogier Windhorst’s cosmology research group and in Windhorst’s AST 322 course (Introduction to Galactic and Extragalactic Astrophysics). As part of the AST 322 class, Jeon wrote a Python solver for the set of Friedman equations that govern the expansion of space in general relativity.
“Junehyoung Jeon has been one of my very best undergraduate students in my research group at ASU in the last 34 years,” said Windhorst. “He single-handedly took it upon himself to model and address how much ionizing radiation can come from galaxies in the first billion years as observed with the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes and has submitted his paper for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.”
Jean has been accepted into the doctoral program for astronomy at the University of Texas in Austin, where he will work with faculty to use the James Webb Space Telescope to build on this important work.
“Keep an eye on him,” said Windhorst. “A lot more good work will be forthcoming from him.”
Jeon answered some questions about his time here at Arizona State University.
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: It was around middle school when I started thinking about what I wanted to do in the future. Science always interested me, and among the different fields of science, physics seemed the most interesting being a more fundamental natural science. In physics, astrophysics seemed to be a topic with the most interesting phenomena and objects to learn about and study, so I chose to study astrophysics since then.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I thought before that research was something you'd mainly get involved in at a higher level of education. However, by contacting and working with different professors at ASU, research has been my main work, apart from my classes, especially towards the last few semesters. If you are able to dedicate the time, you could start to work on things you want to in the future, as the faculty here supports you through it for as much as you need.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I was accepted into the Barrett Honors College, which I knew was a unique opportunity. Furthermore, ASU offered me a New University Scholarship, which was a rare opportunity for an international student like myself who could not apply to many scholarships offered only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Professor Rogier Windhorst was the most influential to me at ASU. He guided me through writing of my senior/honors thesis, which also is becoming my first publication. It's not a single piece of advice or a tip that Rogier gave me, but a general lesson on doing research in astrophysics and presenting the results.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Ask for help when needed. The professors helped me when I wanted to be involved in research. The classmates helped me through classes. The university houses other various people who are willing to help you, so ask for help, maybe even asking to find who you can go to for help.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: The Noble Library was located between many of the buildings where I usually had classes, with comfortable seats and an environment for studying. I used it for versatile reasons: studying for my classes, resting before moving between buildings on campus, or meeting with others for various reasons.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: As someone interested in astrophysics, I would use the funding for machine learning or creating simulations of astrophysical objects. With the Hubble Space Telescope and the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope, the data available in astrophysics is getting too large to be handled by people alone, and machine learning would be the logical next step to better analyze the observational data. We need powerful computers to run complex simulations of globular clusters, reionization and such to discover how the universe evolved and to help solve intellectual questions and problems that currently exist.