Awed by the Universe

Awed by the Universe

How far back can you recall memories from your childhood, and how far can you stretch your mind into the future? For Kapi‘olani Community College (Kapi‘olani CC) student Leah McCabe, she recalls spending summer nights in a sleeping bag, gazing up at the sky and counting satellites against the backdrop of the Milky Way. With the absence of light pollution, Leah was awed by the night sky and she wanted to know everything she could about the Universe. By high school, she knew she wanted to be an astronomer.

What was daunting, Leah reflects, was the lack of a support system from people who understood but did not encourage her scientific inquiry. She kept hearing that astronomy did not offer any future and because she respected authority, she pushed her dreams aside. Leah’s early college years were therefore uneventful and lacked any semblance of dedication. Inspired by nothing for several years, she moved to Hawai`i and her life soared and catapulted into endless adventure, discovery, and has become exponentially expansive by engaging in activities that challenge her and inspire her to learn more.

Since moving to Hawai‘i, Leah has climbed mountains in the dark to watch the stars fade in the sunrise, she has learned to skydive and SCUBA dive, she has acclimated to the Island culture, and she has discovered her future in research. She is a voracious reader and has re-connected her original fascination with astronomy. Kapi‘olani CC’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program fueled her passion with undergraduate research and from her first semester of study, she believes that Kapi‘olani CC’s faculty, programs, fellow classmates, resources and opportunities have been instrumental in helping her to rekindle her dreams.

Leah’s accomplishments at Kapi‘olani CC are phenomenal: She is a founding member of The Undergraduate Cylinders, a chemistry club at the College; she is consistently on the Dean’s List; she has received several prestigious awards and grants some at the national level; she continues to be a peer mentor in the STEM Lab; was recognized as the Outstanding Teaching Assistant by the American Chemical Society, Hawai`i Section; was awarded the Marie and Victor Cole Scholarship from the UH Institute of Astronomy; and through a travel grant, she traveled to Washington, D.C. for a poster presentation on ProtoDUNE, a temperature gradient monitor. The list continues with her impressive accolades, but one project that has captured her interest and that as given her international recognition is her research on neutrinos.

This past summer, Leah was invited to Geneva, Switzerland by the French Counseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) to continue her research on the ProtoDUNE. CERN is at the top of research. Founded in 1952, CERN was mandated to establish a world-class fundamental physics research organization in Europe.

This Fall, Leah continues to work with Radovan Milincic and his wife Jelena Maricic at the physics and astronomy laboratory at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. They are involved with the deep underground neutrino experiment (DUNE), a neutrino detector that is being built in South Dakota.

Whether studying orbital dynamics, specifically escape trajectories from Earth’s gravity field, or being a peer mentor for the MIM (Math Immersion Model) or the MIPI (Math Immersion and Physics Integration) programs, Leah is leaving indelible impressions with everyone she meets.

Leah McCabe has become an unstoppable force in her universe.

Kapi‘olani Community College x