|First aerospace Ph.D. to graduate at winter commencement|
Vishnu Reddy Kanupuru, a native of India and a well-known asteroid hunter, is set to receive his Ph.D. in Earth System Science and Policy (ESSP) with a focus on space studies, Friday, Dec. 18 at the UND winter commencement ceremonies. The graduate degree ceremony takes place at 10 a.m. in the Chester Fritz Auditorium, with UND alum and Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter delivering the commencement address. Kanupuru’s will be the very first doctorate granted by the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences (the Odegard School).
“The graduation of our first doctorate is truly a historical landmark for the Odegard School,” said Bruce Smith, dean of the school. “Over the course of the past decade, we have taken steps to strengthen the academic reputation of the School.”
Kanupuru, who developed a reputation as an active and very successful asteroid hunter long before his studies at UND, said getting this Ph.D. is the highlight of his professional career, which included a recent research mission at Germany’s internationally prestigious Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. Kanupuru has accomplished some of his discoveries at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Keo in Hawaii, a place that awards observation time only to a select group of accomplished astronomers.
Besides his academic work, Kanupuru is well known in local astronomy circles as one of the regular hosts of UND “Star Parties” which welcomed members of the public to explore the night skies from various locations in North Dakota. His Ph.D., which he completed through two departments - ESSP and Space Studies, both in the Odegard School - was guided, in part, by his dissertation chair, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Space Studies Mike Gaffey, himself a noted expert on asteroids and other near-Earth objects.
Kanupuru, who has discovered more than 20 confirmed main belt asteroids, several twin asteroids and a supernova, also achieved a note of regional fame by discovering an asteroid which he named “North Dakota.” After getting the name approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Kanupuru presented N.D. Governor John Hoeven with an “Asteroid North Dakota” IAU certificate at the Capitol in Bismarck earlier this year.
Kanupuru’s freshly minted doctorate symbolizes the dramatic expansion of the Odegard School’s academic prowess. “We have grown from four academic departments, with only three offering master’s degrees, to five academic departments, with all five now offering master’s degrees and four offering doctorates,” Smith said. “Our faculty includes three Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors and a recipient of President Obama’s Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers award. This event places our academic programs in the same spotlight as our world-class aerospace programs.”
Kanupuru has been interested in astronomy since childhood, but took degrees in visual communication and journalism to pursue a career in film and journalism in India. But he also dabbled in asteroid research, and eventually ended up as a graduate student in UND’s Department of Space Studies. Two of the faculty members there, Paul Hardersen and Mike Gaffey, are among the handful of scientists globally studying the physical composition of asteroids; both have helped advise Kanupuru during his UND studies. “You often don’t get to work with the best people in the world who are also nice to you,” Kanupuru said.
-- Juan Pedraza, Writer/Editor, University Relations, email@example.com, 777-6571