Student Profile: Kevin Ortiz Ceballos

August 7, 2019



University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras | San Juan, PR | 2021


Academic Major: Physics, Philosophy


Hometown: Toa Baja, PR

“I love making music, and I play the bass, guitar, and the Puerto Rican cuatro.”

Tell us…


What is the topic of your research this summer and what are your related goals?


"I am working with Dr. Sam Quinn, studying a planetary system (KOI 315) first observed by Kepler. This system is particularly exciting because of its unusual architecture: the star at its center is orbited by a transiting, small planet and a non-transiting, giant planet. The planets are near resonance, which leads to observable dynamical interactions between the planets. I am using the REBOUND N-body code to simulate the evolution of this system. The significant tilt (or mutual inclination) between the planets may hold clues of the origins of the system, but this tilt not constrained by our measurements. The simulations I create using REBOUND allow me to explore a range of mutual inclinations and determine which ones are stable or consistent with our observations. I’m hoping that working on this project will prepare me for graduate studies in astronomy."


What area of astronomy fascinates you most or brings out the most passion in you?


"I am most fascinated by how astronomy stands out as a science because of its natural limits on research and exploration, but I can’t yet say with any certainty the subfield I’d like to work in. As astronomers, we use observation to study physical phenomena happening at all scales (from particle interactions to the large-scale structure of the universe), but we don’t have the luxury of controlled experimentation available to researchers in other fields. We rely mostly on emitted electromagnetic radiation as our only source of data from which to study the phenomena that interests us. What draws me to the field is precisely how astronomers apply their creativity to get the most out of what we have available to us, in addition to the sense of awe that comes from studying things out in the Universe."


What do you aspire to do?

"I want to share the wonder of astronomy with communities that don’t have exposure to it, and I want to use my academic preparation for the greater good. More specifically, I want to be an astronomy professor in Puerto Rico and help foster interest in astronomy back home. I also wish to deepen my activism and engagement to advocate for responsible, evidence-based public policy. Generally, my priority is to spread goodwill by sharing the passion that astronomy brings out in me."

What significant lessons have you learned this summer so far?

"I learned quite a few lessons that I did not expect to from this experience. What will surely help me in my career is discovering how to learn—funnily enough—and how to collaborate with others who don’t share my experience in astronomy and in life. Insight into how academia functions in the U.S. has been particularly valuable too, and I’ve learned how its structure can discourage or push out many talented people who are otherwise interested in research and teaching. These lessons did not come passively, so I intend to apply them to help construct institutions and practices in astronomy that are more inclusive."


What parts of your experience with Banneker would you like to see modeled in the broader astronomy community?


"The  focus on building community has been the most treasured part of my Banneker experience. In this program, learning happens collectively, and there is an intentional effort to build a community that upholds and supports everyone in our collective journey in the field. The natural outcome of this approach is that learning is more effective for the entire group, especially because our progress is not measured by traditional (and arbitrary) metrics nor by competing against our peers. We place value on meaningful understanding of the material, on the development of the skills needed for research, and on a sense of responsibility and respect for those we work alongside."

What would you say to a student who is considering applying to Banneker in the future? Can you recall the reasons you applied?

"One great thing about applying to the Banneker Institute that the application is designed to minimize or counter some of the traditional metrics for assessing applicants for undergraduate internships. Whereas other programs require items such as letters of recommendation and personal statements on what we have accomplished as a researchers so far, Banneker does not. Instead, applicants are asked, for example, to submit an essay reflecting on our intentions as scientists, or asked to submit a personal narrative to supplement our formal academic transcript. As a student coming from a university more disconnected than most from the broader astronomy community and related opportunities, I felt confident that my relatively limited experience and background were not disadvantages when it came to applying."