Student Spotlight: Lucas Smith

Lucas Smith, a graduating senior, has accepted an offer to begin pursing a PhD in Planetary Science at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) of the University of Arizona (U of A). Congratulations Lucas for all of your hard work and achievements!

Smith started his time at Appalachian as a biology major, but attributes Dr. Thomas's 1103 introductory physics class for leading him to major in physics. Once a major, he enrolled in Astrobiology with Dr. Rachel Smith and his undergraduate career took off when he accepted a research position with her. What was initially meant to be a summer internship at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, turned into a four year experience at JPL (pending Summer 2020). While at JPL, Lucas has worked in Dr. Murthy Gudipati's lab on a project called "Investigating Carbon inheritance in the early solar nebula: an interdisciplinary approach”.  This project utilizes astronomical observations led by Dr. Smith, experiments directed by Dr. Gudipati, and modeling by Dr. Karen Willacy. Smith stated that "While I may not use the exact same experimental techniques in my PhD program, the general skills I have gained through lab work will help me adapt to the new research environment. Specifically, the importance of “outside the box” problem solving, critical thinking, lab safety, and the confidence to learn about new instruments by adopting a hands-on approach."

At the University of Arizona, Smith will be working with Dr. Pierre Haenecour on studying organic molecules in meteorites, and/or samples returned from an asteroid. Smith chose this program based off of his research experiences with Dr. Smith, as he had an opportunity to meet Dr. Haenecour at a conference where he became very intrigued by the research being done in Dr. Haenecour's lab. Smith said "The prestige and diversity of research at LPL, my desire to experience the Southwest, and the opportunity to work with Dr. Haenecour were the key factors in my decision to pursue my PhD at U of A."

Lucas attributes his success and opportunities to many in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and at JPL, but specifically would like to thank Dr. Smith, Dr. Gudipati, Dr. Briley, Dr. Amet, and Dr. Thomas for all of their guidance throughout the years. 

Dr. Gudipati, Dr. Smith, Robert Lewis, Lucas Smith

There are many opportunities like this in the department every semester. If you are interested in conducting research like this, email Dr. Burris at

Published: Apr 29, 2020 10:16am