Reaching for the Stars: Undergrad Explores Astronomy at AUC, Harvard

Sandy EL Moghazi helped to conduct research on astronomy at Harvard University
Sandy EL Moghazi helped to conduct research on astronomy at Harvard University

When graduating senior Sandy El Moghazi was in third grade, she discovered a passion for astronomy that would push her to reach for the stars.

“The first time I learned about planets and space was in grade three science,” said El Moghazi, a mechanical engineering major concentrating in materials science. “I was dazzled by all the stars. My interest in astronomy never went away, and when I came to AUC, I knew I had to find ways to learn more.”

Today, El Moghazi not only leads AUC's Astronomy Club, but also seeks ways to expand its reach outside of the University community. A member of the Undergraduate Research Program, she has received three different grants for research, one of which was a summer internship to work at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics.

To Harvard and Back

El Moghazi never expected her mission to lead her all the way to Harvard University. In Summer 2013, El Moghazi was a research assistant with Harvard’s Digital Access to a Sky Century (DASCH) project, where she helped to archive historical photographs of the night sky critical to astronomy research. “You’re getting a 100-year-old lifecycle of all the stars and planets, so you get to see the changes to stars, planets, constellations or whatever else you’re looking at over a span of 100 years,” she explained.

For El Moghazi, conducting research at Harvard was not only an opportunity to learn more about astronomy and astrophysics, but also to share what she learned with her peers at AUC. “Being an ambassador for AUC was a big responsibility,” noted El Moghazi. “Not only was I representing my University abroad, but also I learned so much. All the astronomy I’ve learned is self-taught, so there’s a lot for me to learn still. By going to Harvard, I was able to surround myself with experts in astronomy and astrophysics, and later I got to bring what I learned back to AUC.”

Astronomy in Egypt

On a national level, El Moghazi aims to build Egyptians’ interest in astronomy. “Astronomy is actually very important for Egyptians because it’s in our roots,” she pointed out. “The Pharaohs (for example) studied the stars and the motions of the planets. They were able to find their routes and directions whether they were in the sea or the desert.”

President of AUC’s Astronomy Club last year, El Moghazi and her peers have started astronomy clubs at three universities so far; Ain Shams University, the German University in Cairo and Misr University for Science and Technology. AUC’s Astronomy Club works alongside students from across Cairo, hosting lectures, film screenings and an annual astronomy conference among other activities.

Graduating this Spring, El Moghazi looks forward to new opportunities to learn about astronomy. “My dream has always been to combine astronomy with mechanical engineering and hopefully study aerospace engineering,”  El Moghazi explained. “I’m not sure what my final destination will be, but I’m excited to start the journey after graduation.”