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Someone You Should Know: Jeyhan Kartaltepe
Posted on 05/19/2021

Rochester, N.Y. — A local scientist is about to embark on a journey back in time - 13.5 billion years - to the very beginning of the universe.

Jeyhan Kartaltepe is an assistant professor of astronomy at Rochester Institute of Technology and being chosen for this project makes her someone you should know.

The $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch on Halloween. And, in a way, Kartaltape will be along for the ride.

"It was incredibly exciting and shocking," she said. "I think we're still in shock that we actually got this program. It is daunting. It's going to be a lot of work. It's already starting, but we're very excited."

Kartaltepe will help lead a team of 50 researchers in mapping the earliest structures of the universe. The power of this new telescope makes it possible.

"So we're going to be able to see galaxies 500 million years after the Big Bang,13-point-something billion light years away," she said. "We've barely been able to see the tip of the iceberg for this time period. We're hoping to discover thousands."

Being chosen for this program is a coup for RIT and for this young astronomer, a woman in a universe where men tended to be the biggest stars.

"I think it is important because many of us in the field grew up and did our degrees with senior men in astronomy and they were the ones who got the grants and had the awards and I think it's important for us and for the next generation to have women as role models."

So future scientists can continue to explore a universe so large that light from the farthest galaxies has yet to even reach the Earth.

"I'm most excited about the things we can't even imagine. We have these ideas and these things we propose we want to learn, but with a new telescope like this we're going to see things we didn't even expect. We can't even predict what they are. Those will be the most exciting things," she said.

The playing field is becoming more level for Kartaltepe and other young scientists. The proposals for this project were anonymous so the decision makers couldn't favor a particular person or institution.