Alana Sanchez | An art lover dreams of space

Alana Sanchez. Photo: Gretchen Ertl
ACT at MIT

Alana Sanchez, a senior physics major with a focus on astronomy, has worked at ACT as a communications and events assistant since her first semester.

Below are excerpts from the article “An Art Lover Dreams of Space” by Hannah Meiseles, originally published on MIT News on February 3. Read the full article here.

Prior to high school, Sanchez was primarily interested in visual arts and movies. She taught herself animation and aspired to work in the creative realm. However, her dreams quickly transformed after watching the popular science documentary, “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” Today, Sanchez is an MIT senior majoring in physics with a focus on astronomy. “After watching ‘Cosmos,’ I fell in love with space. I got really into STEM after that,” says Sanchez.

Her fascination with space increased as she took on her Florida high school’s AP Physics curriculum. While she occasionally struggled as the only female student and student of color in her class, Sanchez says her passion helped her through the course. “I wasn’t the best student in my physics class, but I was the most interested one,” she says….

Drawing upon her early interests in visual arts and space, Sanchez finally found a subject to make her two worlds unite. The project, led by Professor Michael Person, the head of the MIT Wallace Astrophysical Observatory, focused heavily on fieldwork. Sanchez and the group often traveled together to Waltham, Massachusetts, to use the local telescope and take pictures of the night sky. “Most of what we know about stars comes from light recordings and images,” she adds….

Today, Sanchez works with the Space Enabled research group in the MIT Media Lab. The group focuses on designing accessible space systems that advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Sanchez’s own work combines her technical and visualization expertise to create a sustainable rocket fuel source out of beeswax. The mission is to incentivize the deorbiting of retired satellites, since many are left as dangerous waste in our atmosphere. Her lab’s fuel will be tested on the upcoming Blue Origin flight and on the International Space Station this year….

When she isn’t doing research, Sanchez pursues her interest in art as a public programming assistant in the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology. Her help behind the scenes, from website to installation management, allows visual artists to share their work with the MIT community. The best part of the job, she adds, is getting to witness these presentations, which have included a variety of movie screenings, performance art, and visual displays.

Sanchez is currently applying for PhD programs in aerospace engineering. Sustainability in space continues to be her key focus, inspired by her work with Space Enabled. While most of her chosen programs are focused on real-world applications for space travel, Sanchez still admits to being fueled by her childhood curiosity in what lies beyond our atmosphere.

The full article can be found here.