Esteban Araya

by George Zamora

SOCORRO, N.M., February 14, 2005 – Esteban Araya, a doctoral candidate in the astrophysics program at New Mexico Tech, has been named this year’s recipient of his native country’s top science award.

Araya recently was informed by Costa Rica’s Ministry of Science and Technology that he had been chosen to receive the Dr. Clodomiro Picado Twight National Award in Science.

The annual award, named in honor of one of Costa Rica’s most renowned scientists, is presented each year to the country’s top scientist as determined by a selection committee comprised of Costa Rican scientists, educators, and engineers.

At age 26, Araya becomes the youngest Costa Rican scientist to ever be so honored by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“As far as I know, I am also the first person from Costa Rica to conduct research in radio astronomy,” Araya said. “I am greatly honored to have been selected to receive this prestigious award by unanimous approval, especially at this early stage in my career.”

Fernando Gutierrez, Costa Rica’s minister of science and technology, announced that Araya’s award is in recognition for his research, titled “Search and Discovery of a New Formaldehyde 6cm MASER in Our Galaxy.”

Araya currently is involved with an international research group in an ongoing investigation of how massive stars are formed throughout the universe.

“By ‘massive stars,’ we mean stars that are eight solar masses or larger,” Araya explained. “Most of the heavy elements in the Universe are created by massive stars, so it is important to learn more about them and understand the mechanisms of how they are formed.”

In particular, Araya has used the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (NRAO) Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope, located about 50 miles west of Socorro, to search for and characterize massive star forming regions that emit certain frequencies associated with formaldehyde molecules.

Up until Araya’s recent work at the VLA, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, and the NRAO’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, there had only been three known massive star forming regions where formaldehyde 6cm maser emission was detected.

Now, in large part due to his continuing dissertation research, there are an additional three on the roster of these types of astral regions.

“So far, it’s been a very productive project,” Araya said.

Araya's research was partially supported by grants from the Research Corporation and the National Science Foundation