Summer internship gives ASU student hands-on experience with US Supreme Court

Logan Higgins traveled to Washington to work in court's public information office

July 31, 2023

Arizona State University student Logan Higgins has had a long-standing interest in public policy and politics. So when it came time for the California native to decide where to attend college after high school, ASU’s offerings in those fields made her decision an easy one.

“I knew I was prelaw and I knew I wanted to go to Washington, D.C., at some point, so I was looking for schools that had good programs for that,” Higgins said. “ASU is partnered with the McCain Institute, and I knew they would have good opportunities for what I wanted to do, and that was the deciding factor.” Logan Higgins on the steps of the Supreme Court doing the forks up hand gesture. Logan Higgins on the steps of the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy Logan Higgins Download Full Image

Based in Washington, D.C., the McCain Institute at ASU offers policy research, events, student internships and other activities meant to support American global leadership. The program’s goal is to advance democracy and human rights, combat issues such as targeted violence and human trafficking, and empower character-driven leaders.

While Higgins busied herself with attending events and seminars offered by the McCain Institute, an internship offered through the School of Politics and Global Studies gave her the opportunity to put what she was learning to use at the public information office of the U.S. Supreme Court this summer. The Capital Scholars Program allows students to gain valuable skills and hands-on work experience at government agencies and network with professionals from a number of fields.

“I saw the program on social media and I looked it up and thought why not just apply. … It’s definitely something I would want to do,” Higgins said.

After applying to the program, she was delighted to receive several callbacks for interviews as she advanced throughout the application process, and she was eventually offered an internship with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Higgins said that sharing any type of experience can be helpful in an interview.

“Experience can be the number-one thing internships look for, but it doesn’t matter where your experience comes from. It is what you’re able to do with it. I worked at a fast food chain and that’s what I talked about for these interviews,” she said. “I talked about customer service, I talked about working with a diverse group of people, and they were impressed and mentioned that those skills were great for this type of position.”

In her role at the public information office, Higgins served as a liaison between the U.S. Supreme Court and the press, and assisted with distributing court statements and decisions.

Now about to enter her third year at ASU, the Barrett, The Honors College student is double majoring in political science at the School of Politics and Global Studies and family and human development at the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. This fall, she will serve as a learning assistant for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as well as a community assistant.

“I’ve always wanted to be a district attorney, but now with this internship and my majors, I am more open to what might happen and whatever I fall in love with," she said.

Marketing assistant, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

ASU-led team awarded $5.7M NASA grant to predict range of rocky exoplanet compositions

July 31, 2023

An interdisciplinary team of scientists led by Arizona State University has received a $5.7 million award from NASA's Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) program to provide expertise on the design and operation of space telescopes designed to look for life on exoplanets.

“Learning whether life exists on other planets is one of the most profound questions there is. We’ve wondered for centuries, but this century, for the first time in history, humans are developing the technologies to actually answer that,” said Steve Desch, principal investigator of the project and professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Artistic rendering of people frolicking in a field with a swirling galaxy in the sky above them. Image courtesy NASA/NExSS Download Full Image

Since 1995, thousands of exoplanets have been discovered around sun-like stars. Dozens are known to be Earth-like in mass and size and are presumably rocky planets with metal cores like Earth.  

Observatories like the James Webb Space Telescope, or the planned Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO), provide researchers the best opportunity to look for life outside the solar system, hopefully by measuring abundances of life-produced gasses in their atmospheres. 

With this grant, the researchers will assess the geochemical cycles on their exterior layers to identify how many vital elements — carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, etc. — generally exist on their surfaces. The data will allow for future measurements to identify life and is the primary goal of the Tracing Rocky Exoplanet Compositions (TREC) team.  

“Confidently identifying life on an exoplanet requires understanding its chemistry, but that depends on so many variables. Because we can’t simply pick up and examine an exoplanet rock like we would on Earth, our TREC team will use our experimental and theoretical toolbox to map out all the different ways rocky planets can manifest chemically,” said Cayman Unterborn, deputy principal investigator, former School of Earth and Space Exploration postdoctoral researcher and now a research scientist at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.  

Predicting the surface compositions of planets light-years away is a challenge. Direct observations by the radial velocity technique (measuring the back-and-forth tug of the star by the planet) or the transit technique (measuring the amount of starlight blocked by the planet as it passes in front of it) yield only the mass and radius of an exoplanet. 

From this, researchers know the average density, which is only enough to tell the makeup of a planet — rock and metal (like Earth), ice and rock, or mostly gas. 

"The TREC team will start with measuring elements in exoplanet host stars. Earth is close in composition to the Sun, and exoplanets should be similar to their stars," said Desch. "But Earth does not appear to have formed proportionally as much carbon or other key elements as the sun. Moreover, many key elements it acquired are trapped in Earth's core or mantle and are not involved in geochemical cycles on Earth's surface."

The TREC team will use a combination of sophisticated models and laboratory measurements to understand how Earth and other rocky planets in our solar system formed, then apply those models to exoplanetary systems to determine how much or how little carbon, nitrogen, etc., can be on rocky exoplanet surfaces. The data collected will enable future searches for life on rocky exoplanets.

In addition to principal investigator Desch and deputy principal investigator Unterborn, the TREC team includes seven co-investigators from ASU (Kara BrugmanHilairy Hartnett, Larry Nittler, Joe O'Rourke, Molly Simon, Christy Till, Patrick Young) and seven co-investigators or collaborators from other institutions (Brad Foley, Pennsylvania State University; Natalie Hinkel, Louisiana State University; Alan Jackson, Towson University; Stephen Kane, University of California, Riverside; Zachary Maas, Indiana University; Wendy Panero, National Science Foundation; and Aaron Wolf, SETI Institute). They bring expert knowledge across astronomy and astrophysics, geophysics and geochemistry, planetary science and meteoritics, exoplanets and education research. 

NASA's NExSS program is a research coordination network within its Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research.

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