Prize Recipient

Toro Martinez, Irene


My name is Irene Toro Martínez. I'm a rising junior at Pomona College in Claremont, California, and I'm double-majoring in Physics with a Concentration in Astronomy and German. I have been interested in astronomy since I was young girl and watched the movie "Contact", which opened my eyes to the possibility of studying space as a job (wow!). My mother encouraged me to attend star parties hosted by the Minnesota Astronomical Society (and drove me there!) and bought me books and, in eighth grade, a telescope! I attended the Summer Science Program, an intensive six-week astrophysics program complete with observational research, just after my junior year in high school, and entered college knowing that I wanted to major in physics. I am now halfway through my undergraduate years and still greatly enjoying "studying space". I spent this last summer working with a Pomona professor on quasar absorption line spectroscopy - observing gas and dust as absorption in the spectra of background quasars. This allows one to examine the abundance of different elements in collections of matter too faint and small to be otherwise detected. We discovered extremely low-metallicity Damped Lyman-Alpha systems (very big gas clouds), which is exciting because it allows scientists to more precisely model the early universe before it was enriched by heavy elements produced in the deaths of the very first stars. I hope to continue to do such research and pass on my knowledge to future students.