ASU graduate lands dream job at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.
Aditya Khuller has always been captivated by the world of science. Inspired by his late grandfather, Khuller demonstrated his dedication from an early age, sneaking into his friend’s physics classes and reading books gifted to him by his family.
This spring, Khuller is graduating from ASU with a PhD in planetary science and geology. He also earned a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering in 2019 and a Master of Science in 2021 here.
Raised in a tiny apartment in Gurgaon, India, Khuller always knew he wanted to do something space-related, with hopes to one day work for NASA.
Khuller began to explore his passion for science more deeply and realized that ASU could offer him the resources and support he needed to pursue his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering.
Every week after Professor Phil Christensen’s “Introduction to Exploration” class, Khuller would come up with questions to ask Christensen. Sometimes he would already know the answer, but didn’t care — he just wanted to talk to Christensen and learn from him.
When Khuller asked what it would take to work for Christensen, he replied, “Keep bugging me, and get good grades.” Khuller persisted and started working at ASU’s Mars Space Flight Facility in 2016, and they have been working together since.
“Adi is without question one of the best students I’ve ever worked with. I pointed him in the direction of some interesting problems, and he figured out what he needed to learn and learned it and who he needed to work with and began collaborating with them,” said Christensen, in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “It was great fun to just stand back and watch. I have no doubt that Adi will go on to do amazing things in his career, and I plan to just keep watching and enjoying.”
In addition to his degrees, Khuller was awarded 15 scholarships throughout his time at ASU, including the R. Greeley Planetary Geology Scholarship and ASU Outstanding Graduate Research Award. He also benefited from the ASU Graduate Research Support Program.
Following graduation, Khuller has accepted a postdoctoral research position at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he is studying the radiative heating effects of dust within the water-vapor-dominated coma around the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Khuller shared more about his experience at ASU with ASU News.
Question: Why did you choose ASU?
Answer: It’s funny because when I was applying to ASU in 2015, I never knew how deep our connection with NASA was, even though it had always been my dream to work at NASA. I’d never heard of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, or that we were one of a handful of schools in the world that builds instruments that fly on NASA missions! I’d heard that Barrett, The Honors College was incredible (and it really is), and that’s probably what swung it for me. I loved my experience at Barrett, it gave me so many opportunities — ranging from extra research opportunities and scholarships to friends and my incredibly transformative job as a community assistant in the dorms.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Phil Christensen has taught me so much about imbuing the key tenets of being a scientist — to be open, humble and understanding of all ideas and people. I have learned a tremendous amount from him, and I will forever be grateful for his generosity and kindness.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: One of the main things I’ve learned at ASU (and really, life in general) is that if you want something, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. Asking for help can seem scary at first, but more often than not, people are happy to help and give you advice.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My favorite building on campus is the rather quaint-looking Virginia G. Piper Center, which has a really peaceful fountain and benches that are shrouded from view. Sitting there you can be at the heart of the busy ASU campus (right next to Palm Walk), yet worlds apart.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: There are so many problems on our planet, and I would love to help kids and dogs all around the world live a happier, healthier life. If I had to pick one problem, it would be the problem of trying to cheaply and efficiently desalinate the water in the oceans for consumption. It seems almost ludicrous to think that 70% of our planet is covered with water, and yet we still haven’t figured out how to use that water to tackle droughts and provide people with clean water to drink.
Q: Any influences from past teachers, friends or family?
A: My love for science and physics began a long time ago, with my late grandfather, Amrit, and the wonderful books that my parents bought for me when I was a kid. I also have a circle of very close friends — Alejandro Martinez, Deolu Ogunmefun, Sarah Rogers, Arnav Banerji, Heather Lethcoe, Leann Bowen and Sarah Braunisch. They have always been there for me when I needed their help; when I was sad, feeling alone or planning petty larceny. My mother has sacrificed a lot to help me, and her indefatigable love and sacrifices help fuel my determination, and I am forever indebted to her.