The Hernando Christian Academy student will assist in a two-week Duke University astronomy research project.
BROOKSVILLE - Patricia Gavin has always been in love with the stars. As a little girl, she would stare into the deep night sky behind her home in Brooksville and marvel at the endless spectrum of twinkling lights, wondering what was out there.
That intense interest grew stronger as she grew older. A couple of years ago, when Patricia received a telescope as a gift, one of her first missions was to gaze upon the planet Saturn as it hung in the southern sky. Peering into the lens, she almost gasped at the sight.
"It was so awesome," the 17-year-old recalled. "It doesn't matter how many pictures you've seen of it, there's just no comparison to what it looks like live. The rings have so many colors and are so brilliant, you almost want to reach out and touch it."
Since that time, Patricia has been swept away by the subject of astronomy. She joined a local astronomy club that meets monthly at Hickory Hill to study the night sky. But perhaps her biggest thrill yet will come this summer when the Hernando Christian Academy 11th-grader will have the opportunity to take part in a two-week Duke University astronomy research project in the mountains of North Carolina.
"You don't get many opportunities like this in your life," she said. "It's very exciting to be chosen to take part in it."
The opportunity to join the Duke study program emerged when the institution decided to target six academically talented high-schoolers for its annual academic talent identification program.
Two years ago, Patricia was one of a handful of junior high school students selected to be part of a similar program at Clemson University, where she spent two weeks attending special science workshops and college-level classes.
Through teacher recommendations at her school, she was again nominated, this time for placement in the first collegiate-level study program at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in the Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina.
The observatory is home to one of the most advanced radio telescopes ever built in the United States and is staffed by some of the country's most renowned astronomical researchers.
And though she is still uncertain as to what type of research she will be involved with, Patricia says she was told to be prepared to stay busy throughout her visit in June.
"They told me it's not going to be summer camp," she said. "Everything we'll be doing is for real, and that's okay with me."
In addition to working on her own astronomy-related project, the teen will be asked to assist researchers with collecting and storing data gathered by the team.
Needless to say, the honor student hopes her summer experience will help further her aspirations to study astrophysics when she gets to college.
"I guess I'm like a lot of people," she said. "Whenever I looked up in the sky, I always had questions. Someday, maybe I can become someone who will be able to give answers."Patricia Gavin, 17
Hobbies: sports, astronomy
Favorite subjects: science, math