Montana State University

Lost in space, student finds galaxy of opportunities

August 2, 2006 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Brandon Anderson builds a flange for what is believed to be MSU's first vacuum ultraviolet light source. The light source will be used to test new instruments for space research. It may prove useful for testing the longevity of materials in space. (MSU photo by Jay Thane).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- People were amazed when they learned what Brandon Anderson was allowed to do as an undergraduate student at Montana State University, says the recent graduate.

Not only did his work fly on a NASA rocket, but he started building a plasma light source that will simulate the sun and shine into a vacuum chamber that used to belong to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. If the project works out, Anderson said students and faculty researchers may be able to test light in a vacuum and calibrate optical instruments at MSU instead of flying to labs in England or New York. Anderson, for one, went to the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York to conduct a calibration test.

"I guess that's pretty extraordinary. I'm glad I had a chance to do that," Anderson said about the opportunities that elicited comments when he visited graduate schools.

Anderson will attend the University of California, Santa Cruz this fall to start working on his doctorate in astrophysics. While there, he'll interpret data from a gamma ray satellite. In the meantime, he'll continue working at MSU in Charles Kankelborg's laboratory. Kankelborg was Anderson's advisor, and experiences in Kankelborg's lab sparked Anderson's interest in solar science. Anderson started out as an engineering major, but switched to physics.

"Physics seemed to get more toward the root of things," Anderson explained. "It seemed a little more important to me."

Realizing how that might sound to engineers, Anderson said, "My friends tease me about that, because it's not (more important). If I figure out the fate of the universe, nobody cares. But it's important to me."

Anderson grew up in Helena, a self-described "science kid" who loved experimenting and taking things apart. He's the son of Gavin and Susan Anderson and a graduate of Capital High. At MSU, Anderson worked three years on the MOSES project that sent a 1,000-pound payload into space in February. The equipment took pictures of the sun to help scientists understand its explosive nature. Anderson's involvement ranged from wiring and building to calibrating equipment and writing software. MOSES refers to multi-order solar extreme ultraviolet spectograph.

For those and other accomplishments, Anderson was named the physics department's Senior of the Year this spring and Rotary Student of the Month for April. He graduated with highest distinction in the MSU Honors Program.

"He's just a good all-around researcher, really fantastic," said Lewis Fox, an MSU graduate student who worked with him on the MOSES project.

MSU President Geoff Gamble and MSU Provost and Vice president for Academic Affairs David Dooley praised Anderson in a letter for his 3.79 GPA and his involvement with the gifted children's program at Emily Dickinson School in Bozeman, radio station KGLT and a judo academy. Of particular interest was his work with Kankelborg and MOSES.

"We are fortunate to have a student of your abilities and motivation at Montana State University," the administrators wrote.

Back in the lab, Anderson explained the intricacies of the vacuum chamber that looks like a giant baked potato and monopolizes the room where he works. He said he enjoyed undergraduate research and appreciated the freedom he had to carry it out.

"What I really, really like is that they kind of trust you," said Anderson who plans eventually to teach and do research at a university.

Anderson also enjoys writing music, playing guitar and listening to "tons of music." He likes rock climbing, rafting, camping and skiing. He teaches judo at the Ultimate Submission Academy, a name he said that doesn't describe him in any way.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or