Ben Sharkey Receives 2017 Carson Fellowship

The Lt. Col. Kenneth Rondo Carson and Virginia Bryan Carson Graduate Fellowship is an endowment established by the estate of Virginia B. Carson, honoring her husband, a former member of the "Flying Tigers," a former member of the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff Strategic Air Command, retired master navigator and enthusiast of space exploration. Colonel Carson greatly admired the professionalism and accomplishments of NASA's space program. The Carson Fellowship is awarded to students pursuing degrees in the Department of Planetary Sciences, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, selected on the basis of academic achievement and the promise of further scholarly endeavor.

2017 Carson Fellowship Awarded to Benjamin Sharkey

Benjamin Sharkey is the recipient of the 2017 Carson Fellowship Award, which provides one academic year of support, including salary, tuition, and a small supply stipend. Ben is a first-year graduate student at LPL. 

Ben grew up in Westhope, N.D., a small farming town situated six miles from the Canadian border; he remembers taking the clear, dark, night skies there entirely for granted at the time. His interest in science grew during high school, sparked by passionate science and math teachers (Jocelyn Grann and James Devilbiss), as well as his English instructors. English teacher Allison Kirk customized a unit for him, assigning a comparison of the Cosmos television series with its companion book. Ben credits that project with humanizing science for him and inspiring him to pursue a career in the physical sciences.

Ben attended the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) from 2013-2017, graduating with a B.S. in Physics and a B.S. in Astrophysics. He had the opportunity to work as a research assistant for Professor Chick Woodward thanks to an undergraduate research scholarship. The research with Woodward and Dr. Erin Lee Ryan was a study of asteroids beyond the main belt. His first project involved observing Hilda asteroids with Dr. Ryan at the Bok 2.3m telescope on Kitt Peak (Arizona). Ben also completed a Latin honors thesis in Astrophysics, investigating the physical shape properties of asteroids using data from the Kepler spacecraft.

While an undergraduate, Ben spent two summers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, working as a research assistant for the planetary radar group, which runs the largest planetary radar system in the world. There, he assisted with observations while developing shape models of a near-Earth asteroid, advised by Dr. Patrick Taylor. His research at Minnesota and Arecibo provided an understanding of how collaborative scientific research is done. For his academic and research work at Minnesota, Ben was received the 2016 LaVerne and Ted Jones scholarship in Astrophysics.

Ben plans to continue his studies of small Solar System bodies, which provide clues to the history of planetary formation. He is currently investigating asteroids and the irregular satellites of the giant planets with Dr. Vishnu Reddy, and hopes to develop his career in observational research in planetary science.