‘Probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life’ - UNI grad works on the James Webb Space Telescope

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 10:32 PM CDT
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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KCRG) - The most powerful space telescope ever has a connection with an Eastern Iowan.

James Webb Space telescope launched back in December of 2021, with the first pictures coming back just last month.

Christopher Stark graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with his Bachelor of Science in Physics in 2004.... Now he’s a Deputy Observatory Scientist for the James Webb.

But science was the last thing Stark ever imagined ending up in.

”Anything he set his mind to he became an expert at,” said Paul Shand, the Department head for the Physics Department at UNI.

Christopher Stark started his time at the University of Northern Iowa planning to major in Marketing.

”Growing up, I had no inkling to be a scientist, let alone an astronomer,” said Stark.

To fulfill his core curriculum his brother suggested he take the physics in everyday life class.

”I was enthralled. I was learning about the world in new ways. I was using math and applying it to things around me. And I just fell in love with physics. So, I switched my major immediately and never looked back. That’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” said Stark.

After completing his undergraduate degree Stark went on to pursue his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland... just 10 minutes away from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

”I figured maybe I could get my Ph.D. while getting my foot in the door at NASA,” he said.

Paul Shand, the Department head for the Physics Department at UNI said it’s no accident Stark has had this much success in his field.

”Chris was such a wonderful student. And, you know, he was one of those students that just, could do anything. Anything that he set his mind to he did and he did it really really well,” said Shand.

Stark said UNI taught him to think like a scientist.

”I wouldn’t be a scientist. And I wouldn’t be an astronomer if it weren’t for my time at the University of Northern Iowa. They basically had to take a student that had very little scientific background that thought they were going into business and transform them into a scientist,” said Stark.

”I felt a tremendous amount of pride that Chris is involved in this en devour,” said Shand.

Stark said once Webb was launched and everything went well, there was a sense of relief in the room. He said while the first photos that came down were phenomenal... that was just the beginning.

”I feel like we’ve just taken it around the block. So, I think over the next few years, we’re really going to see what this thing can do when we put the pedal to the metal. And when we stare at a patch of sky for a week or something... I think we’re going to see something amazing,” said Stark.

Shand said Stark will be returning to UNI in March of 2023 for the University’s Begeman Lecture Series.

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