Dr. Alexander Konopelko's fascination with outer space may have been influenced by pop culture, but his scientific research in astrophysics these days is without a doubt far beyond the average star gazer - both intellectually and in proximity.
"I watched a lot of movies about space research growing up. I loved Star Trek," said Konopelko, a physics professor at PSU whose area of study focuses on black holes millions of miles beyond the Earth's surface.
Not a bad place for space experts to begin. After moving to the United States from Germany three years ago, Konopelko spent a year as a research associate at Purdue before being recruited to teach at Pitt State. Since then, he has quickly proven why he is part of a selective group of highly regarded astrophysicists in the country: this fall, he and his researchers were awarded a $140,000 grant from NASA to study black holes. Their goal is to catch one in a flaring state, which he says would ultimately help explain the evolution of the universe.
"We want to understand the nature of this ultra-high energy gamma ray emission," he said. "If we can track the absorption of it, we can explain different models of evolution and how the universe will evolve from now on. Black holes are one of the best things to study to give us these answers."
His connections with NASA will certainly help with that endeavor, along with his work to recruit students to the program. Crediting his team of students, faculty and staff with helping to secure the grant, he's headed in the right direction when it comes to showing potential students what they can achieve at PSU.
"We want to make this school a place where students want to come to study this," Konopelko said. "Physics education has evolved, and we are seeing that graduates with physics degrees can find jobs everywhere. People are interested in this research."